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Rockies aren’t playing so well with neighbors

Times Staff Writer

Before the Colorado Rockies became the darling of this sports-mad town by winning the National League Championship Series and their first trip to the World Series, one of the side pleasures of going to a baseball game was looking at the mountains beyond the outfield.

Fans could ignore the lousy play on the field (the Rockies have had only five winning seasons in 15 years of play) and gaze at the snowcapped peaks. Whatever the team’s fortunes in World Series play against the Boston Red Sox, Rockies’ executives want to preserve that view by limiting the height of buildings west of the park.

“We believe the Rocky Mountains are the single most important attraction for both Denver and the state, and we believe Denver simply cannot afford to lose this backdrop,” said Gina London, a spokeswoman for the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District, an agency formed by the state to administer Coors Field.

But the proposal to limit surrounding building height has owners of nearby properties crying foul. The measure was triggered when Bill and Paula Leake attempted to sell the land on which their light-bulb distribution business is located, just behind the park’s left-field fence. The city’s zoning law allowed the single-story building to be replaced by one as tall as 140 feet.

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The Leakes said reports of the Rockies’ push for height restrictions scared off two buyers.

“Why does Goliath want to squash a little mom-and-pop business?” said Bill Leake, 65. “This has an incredibly large impact on our ability to retire.”

The Leakes acknowledged that their land would not have its current value were it not for the Rockies.

They bought their business in 1975, and, in 1979, moved it to a 26,000-square-foot lot on the industrial fringes of Denver’s then-faded downtown.

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“It was pretty much weeds, warehouses and winos,” Bill Leake said.

When Denver was awarded an expansion team in 1991, seven counties chipped in to help build Coors Field just east of the Leakes’ property. The stadium helped propel a revitalization of the western edge of downtown, now crammed with restaurants, boutiques and bars.

The Leakes’ current neighbors aren’t other warehouses but sleek apartment complexes.

The couple plan to move their business, which has more than doubled in size since they bought their original building, to an industrial area in northeast Denver.

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About 18 months ago they put their property up for sale. Like many neighboring parcels, its zoning allows buildings as tall as 140 feet.

Because an elevated roadway wraps around the side of the Leakes’ property, any developer would have to build high to recoup their investment, they acknowledge.

That prospect alarmed the Rockies and the Denver stadium district.

For years, Denver planners had mulled over proposed height restrictions on the west side of the ballpark.

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Now stadium officials have asked the city to enact a “view plane” to preserve the mountain vista.

The initial plan would have limited heights to 74 feet, and the latest draft would cap them at 87.

Denver has 13 other view planes to protect views from public parks or spaces, said Brad Buchanan, an architect working with the Leakes.

“I equate it to: ‘If I’ve got a view of the mountains from my back porch, I want that view protected,’ ” Buchanan said of the Rockies’ proposal.

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The issue was to have come before the planning commission this month, but was delayed until November to allow time for negotiations.

Supporters of the height restriction say the view from the ballpark is not just for those who pay to sit in the stadium. During televised games, cameras pan the diamond and show the distant mountains.

“We’d like to preserve that,” London said, especially because Rockies games are being televised to a national postseason audience.

“We hope this is the beginning of something great.”

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David Tagieff, a businessman who owns several properties near the stadium, said that if the buyers of the Leakes’ property could build to 140 feet, other owners in the area would quickly follow suit.

“Once one person does that, they’re all going to be lining up, and then the view’s going to be gone,” Tagieff said. “Just imagine if all the properties did that -- blocked the view -- and the team starts losing again.

“It’s one less reason to go to the ballpark.”

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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