The war of words got turned up another notch during Littleton City Council's Aug. 19 meeting, even as council made a gesture of goodwill to critics who fear urban-renewal efforts will destroy the city.
“Human nature tends to have concern when there is not certainty,” said Mayor Phil Cernanec before casting a yes vote on a resolution that bars council from authorizing the use of eminent domain for redevelopment unless a property owner requests it.
The resolution passed without the support of Councilmembers Randy Stein and Jerry Valdes, who both represent properties included in the four areas under consideration.
“I think taking this tool away from future councils is not a good way to go right now,” said Valdes, possibly surprising some of the other Sunshine Boys-affiliated folks in the room who attended to voice their very strong opposition to the city's urban-renewal efforts via the Littleton Invests for Tomorrow (LIFT) authority.
Carol Brzeczek is one of those. She says a mere resolution doesn't have the same teeth as a petition being circulated by the Sunshine Boys — a group of local residents who consider themselves to be watchdogs of Littleton government — and the grassroots Citizens for Rational Development. If they get enough signatures, voters could force a special election on any project approved by LIFT.
“If you're going to do this, do it in a way that provides assurance to the property owners that your words have meaning,” said Brzeczek.
Stein, noting that he got a lot of support from some Sunshine Boys during his campaign, said he feels they really missed the boat this time.
“There's been a level of divisiveness created around this particular topic that saddens me,” he said, noting that it costs the city $40,000 to $60,000 to hold a special election.
“It will kill urban-renewal efforts in Littleton, and this is its intention,” agreed Councilmember Debbie Brinkman, who once enjoyed Sunshine's support but helped get the ball rolling on urban renewal as mayor in 2012.
Stein took offense at the activists' actions during the Western Welcome Week parade, where he says he saw them “furtively sneaking around” asking people to sign their petition and holding signs reading “Stop Eminent Domain Abuse,” which he called fear-mongering.
Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Beckman remembered back to budget talks in 2011, when he was considering running for council. Doug Clark, who has been a vociferous critic of LIFT despite sitting on the authority in the 1980s, was the mayor at the time, and things weren't looking great for the city's finances.
“Perhaps the most appropriate term to describe the outlook for 2012 is `murky,'” reads the 2012 budget. “If sales tax returns continue at a rate of 2 percent to 3 percent annually for the foreseeable future, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain a balance between core services and quality-of-life services.”
According to the 2014 budget, revenues in 2013 climbed 3 percent over 2012.
“They said then that future councils will have to take a drastic look at the city's functions and the expectations of the community,” said Beckman. “The can was kicked down the road, and now here we are.”
Clark himself was in the room to point out that despite the fact that LIFT says it excluded all occupied single-family homes not being used for a business, there are two homes on a small farm Gary Sutton owns just south of Denver Seminary, and one has been occupied by the same family for 54 years.
“What they say will never happen is, in fact, happening,” said Clark.
Jim Rees, LIFT's executive director, said on Aug. 20 that he would check into the Sutton property, but adds the criteria the board set is that the homes have to be owner-occupied.
“If it is, they may want to exclude it,” said Rees. “I don't believe he has contacted anyone about it, though.”
LIFT has only acknowledged two property owners who have asked to be excluded. The board voted to accept Littleton Equine Medical Center's request, but did not address one by Evergreen Motel's owner.
LIFT approved plans for the Santa Fe corridor and Columbine Square on Aug. 18. They were set to move on to the planning board on Aug. 25, then to council for final approval.