Board delays decision on urban renewal

Late-running meeting prompts postponement

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The Littleton Planning Board heard from the public about the final two proposed urban-renewal areas Nov. 11, but put off making a decisionon whether to deem them such until Nov. 24.

The plans were set as the last item on the agenda and weren't addressed until 9:30 p.m., and policy requires the board to vote on whether to continue meetings past 10 p.m. The members agreed to conduct the public hearing but hold off on their deliberations. They need to make a decision before city council's Dec. 2 meeting, when the final vote will occur, or their voices will not be heard on the matter.

Anne Ricker is the consultant for Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, the city's urban-renewal authority. She gave a presentation that mirrored the many she has given in the past on all four of the areas. Council approved the first two, Columbine Square shopping center and the Santa Fe corridor, on Nov. 4.

The two areas now being considered are, generally speaking, the Broadway corridor from north of Powers Avenue to south of Littleton Boulevard, and the Littleton Boulevard corridor from Windermere Street to Bannock Street.

If council ultimately approves them, property owners will be able to approach LIFT with specific redevelopment projects and reasons why they can't happen without financial assistance from the authority. If the board members are persuaded, they can enter into an agreement that whatever new property taxes are generated from the project get divided between the authority and the property owner for 25 years. The money has to be spent on public improvements like roads, drainage, sewer and sidewalks — major expenditures that often impede development.

The board heard familiar refrains from familiar faces during the Nov. 11 hearing. Several people affiliated with the grassroots group Citizens for Rational Development are very opposed to urban renewal in Littleton, and have faithfully attended every meeting on the topic to voice their concerns.

“It is time to listen to the people and act accordingly,” said Betty Harris, one of seven people who spoke.

Harris decried the “subsidization of apartments” she thinks will occur under the plan, but Ricker continues to stress that not only are there no new apartments in the plan, there are no specifics at all. Once the plan areas are approved, individual property owners will approach LIFT with whatever projects they see as being marketable.

What Harris and others who share her concerns are referring to are impact reports prepared for Arapahoe County and other taxing entities in the affected areas. Those, explained Ricker, are based on current zoning and market assumptions, not on actual proposals.

“We have to make an estimate of what's possible,” she said. “The market brings the projects.”

Arapahoe County has in fact objected to the plans, which simply define the areas where urban renewal can occur and sets in place the financing tools that will be available. Ricker said she's been submitting impact reports to the county on behalf of other municipalities for 15 years, and they've never objected before. This time, she believes, it's an effort to get the deal that Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed last year. The legislation would have given the county a seat on LIFT and forced cities to set aside the same percentage of their sales-tax revenue for the areas as the percentage of property-tax revenue that gets diverted from the county.

Regardless, the board's only job is to decide whether the plans conform to the city's comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan, updated by the planning board and approved in January, does seem to leave room for the funding methods, like tax-increment financing, made possible through LIFT. At least two particular policies speak to the issue:

“Encourage private and public investment that takes advantage of the city's light rail stations and the opportunities they provide for enhanced connectedness.”

“Encourage underperforming properties to be redeveloped so that they provide a sustainable mix of uses and are designed to mitigate possible negative effects on adjacent uses.”

But CRD supporter Paul Bingham notes that the board was in the beginning stages of revising the neighborhood portions of the plan before a public meeting went awry in early October and council shut the process down.

“Do these two plans conform to the comp plan that's not finished?” he wondered.

At least one new face in the commenting crowd offered some support for LIFT. Dan Flynn lives on Broadway, right in the midst of the Broadway plan.

“The area has great potential,” he said. “Urban renewal might be an opportunity to partner to get some changes that have been difficult.”

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