From left to right: Renee Martinez-Stone of Perspective3 LLC, Carl Koelbel of Koelbel & Co., Susan Powers of Urban Ventures LLC, and Heidi Majerik of Forest City Stapleton participating in the "How Colorado Builds Healthy Places" general session of the Housing Opportunity 2014 conference.

From left to right: Renee Martinez-Stone of Perspective3 LLC, Carl Koelbel of Koelbel & Co., Susan Powers of Urban Ventures LLC, and Heidi Majerik of Forest City Stapleton participating in the “How Colorado Builds Healthy Places” general session of the Housing Opportunity 2014 conference.

Developers in Colorado—which has a statewide vacancy rate of just 4.5 percent—are responding to increased demands from millennials and baby boomers for housing focused on healthy and intergenerational living, said Patrick Coyle, director of the state’s housing division, at the closing general session of the ULI Housing Opportunity 2014 conference in Denver.

Heidi Majerik, director of development for Forest City Stapleton, says that Stapleton, Denver’s redeveloping former airport, supports healthy active living, connectedness, and social engagement. Stapleton features almost 1,800 acres (more than 700 ha) of parks, trails, and open space for a 4,000-acre (1,600 ha) master-planned community at buildout. Connectivity for the now 15,000 residents includes an urban street grid with bike lanes, sidewalks, and 40 miles (64 km) of multiuse trails linked with the city’s 800-mile (1,300 km) trail network.

“Everyone lives within a quarter-mile of park or open space, so it’s easy to walk, bike, and be active and healthy,” said Majerik. Because of mixed-use development patterns and urban density, she added, services are close, and internal car trip generation is low. Design features like front porches and the programming of 120 events a year encourage tight community bonds.

At Aria Denver, a new community being developed on the 17.5-acre (7.1 ha) site of the former Marycrest Convent in north Denver, codevelopers Urban Ventures LLC and Perry-Rose LLC have built 72 affordable rental apartments and 13 townhouses of 450 planned homes. Future phases include a 72-unit senior apartment building and cohousing developed in the 55,000-square-foot (5,100 sq m) former convent.

Aria contains pocket parks, a production farm, community gardens, and a “pay-what-you-can” farm stand. Through the Cultivate Health initiative with adjacent Regis University, which has the region’s largest health professions program, Aria will feature an on-site medical clinic and a healthy-living coordinator. The initiative extends to the surrounding mainly low-income neighborhoods, where the partners have identified four census tracts of 15,000 people they want to influence regarding healthy living, said Urban Ventures president Susan Powers.

Carl Koelbel, development director for Koelbel & Co., described two transit-oriented projects next to new light-rail stations in Denver that his firm developed with Mile High Development. Yale Station features 50 units of affordable housing for seniors on 1.5 acres (0.6 ha), with 2,000 square feet (185 sq m) of ground-floor commercial space. Every resident uses the light rail or bus at least once a month, 20 percent use transit daily, and 40 percent are car free. Yale Station also sponsors a library, nurse visits, monthly potlucks, and annual events.

Koelbel & Co.’s University Station provides 60 age-55-plus and income-restricted housing units on a compact former stormwater detention site across from the University of Denver (DU). Active-living opportunities include a dense urban environment and DU’s continuing education, fitness, cultural, and sports events. Koelbel said that lessons learned for developing active, healthy, and affordable living include finding creative sites, such as small infill and condemned property sites that maximize transit and car-free opportunities, and priming the transit pump with user passes.

Renee Martinez-Stone, principal of Perspective3 LLC, described healthy living at Mariposa, the mixed-income and mixed-use redevelopment of Denver Housing Authority’s former South Lincoln Homes public housing project. Located next to the new Tenth and Osage light-rail station, the 17-acre (7 ha) community includes 100 affordable units for seniors, 87 mixed-income multifamily units, and six townhouses, with a total of 800 homes planned.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum–certified and aiming for LEED–Neighborhood Development certification, Mariposa meets Enterprise Green Communities standards, with health amenities including new bike lanes, bike-share access, and in-house bike service/storage. Mariposa’s holistic approach includes on-site social services, classrooms, computer facilities, and art and music programs, as well as an emphasis on healthy eating with community gardens and a culinary academy and healthy-foods café that provide youth job training. The number-one amenity, said Martinez-Stone, is the new light-rail connections to jobs, economic opportunity, and education. Project outcomes include residents’ reporting feeling a greater sense of safety, security, pride, responsibility, and belonging.

When asked about the business case for developing healthy housing, Majerik said that emphasizing health and well-being has been a draw, even during the recession, when Stapleton, Colorado’s best-selling master-planned community, continued to hold its value. Koelbel said that properties lease up within a month or two if they’re near transit, which is especially important for seniors.

Regarding the importance of mixing residents of varying incomes, Powers said, “Diversity is part of a healthy community,” with Aria modeled on the idea that communities are “much more interesting when people are living with others who aren’t exactly like them.” Martinez-Stone said that Mariposa’s mix of incomes “has been fabulous thus far.” Affordable and market-rate units have been designed the same, she said. “It’s a lottery for who gets which units—there are no boundaries.”

Kathleen McCormick, principal of Fountainhead Communications LLC in Boulder, writes about design, the environment, and healthy communities.