Lakewood Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that City Council approve rezoning the land at 2090 Wright St. for the Rocky Mountain Deaf School to build a new facility on May 16.
The City Council will consider the second reading of the proposed rezoning for the 10-acre site and hold a public hearing June 25.
The commission heard three hours of public comment from residents of the area and staff, students and family members of the Rocky Mountain Deaf School before making its decision.
Council chambers were full to capacity for the meeting, and the overflow crowd watched a video feed of the hearing in the atrium of the Civic Center. The crowd included a group of people in blue shirts with Rocky Mountain Deaf School printed on them, and a group that wore green shirts to show their unity in opposing construction of the school in the neighborhood.
“We have over 450 pages of public comment on this topic,” said Planning Commission Chairwoman Carrie Mesch before starting the proceedings. “While everyone is free to share information with us, I want to remind everyone that repetitive testimony does nothing to further your cause.”
Tim Reed, director of planning for Jefferson County Public Schools; Nancy Bridenbaugh, director of the Rocky Mountain Deaf School; Evelyn Baker, manager of the planning-development assistance division; and Tim Cox, city attorney, all made presentations to the commission recommending it support the school’s proposal.
“The analysis that we undertook has not been outcome driven,” Cox told the commission. “The city of Lakewood has no ownership or interest in this piece of land.”
A request was made that children not be allowed to testify, but Mesch said the commission was interested in hearing all testimony, and so the request was denied.
Many who spoke against the Deaf School building on Wright Street said thy are part of the 2090 Coalition, a community organization of residents from neighborhoods surrounding the site.
“We want to lead tonight with the understanding that there is not a person here that is opposed to the Deaf School, and we’re not opposed to education either,” said Greg Kelly, a resident and member of the 2090 Coalition. “We’ve analyzed the city comprehensive plan and believe that the Rocky Mountain Deaf School will violate that plan.”
Those connected to the school spoke about the need for a permanent location for the students to learn. Since the school would be specifically designed by those within the deaf community to meet the needs of deaf children, it would be the first school of its kind in the country.
“In the past 14 years we’ve moved to four different locations, and none of them has been designed for us,” said Joyce Brubaker, a member of the school staff. “This new site is ideal for the school. It offers the chance for us to become part of the community and let the community be part of us. The nationwide recognition that would come with the center would help the community.”
Some of those opposed to the rezoning argued that the ownership of the land is in dispute, because of a reverter clause and unclear history, and hinted that there could be legal action if the landing is rezoned.
Many cited the Lakewood Comprehensive Plan, article 17-17-7, which sets the standards for approval of a rezoning plan and said that the school would cause harm to the neighborhood, which violates the article.
Concerns were also voiced over the fact that many in the area bought their homes because the land was open space and would remain undeveloped. Traffic and increased noise were also among the issues residents brought up.
Supporters of the school focused on the history of having trouble finding an acceptable building for students, and all the work they’ve done to reach out to the community to prepare the site.
Parents of students who attend the Deaf School said that deaf students in Colorado don’t have options when it comes to school selection, and that the school would finally offer students a learning experience tailored to their needs.
Supporters pointed out that the BEST Grant the school received only allows for 100 students, so the school couldn’t grow to unmanageable size, as some neighborhood residents fear.
Not all neighbors were against the school construction.
“I’m dismayed by my neighbors because, frankly, I think this is the right place and right thing to do,” Barbara Satorius told the commission. “This is an opportunity for our neighborhood to participate and contribute to Lakewood.”
In the end, what the commission could consider — despite all the testimony about the land’s past and the school’s history — was the actual rezoning request and the impact it would have on the community.
“There’s nothing easy about this for anyone here,” Mesch said. “We have to remember the decision is based on the 2-R zoning change, not who the school will be.”