LIFT forges ahead with urban renewal plans

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Littleton's urban renewal authority, Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, OK'd the boundaries of its final two enterprise zones on Oct. 20, sending the Broadway and Littleton Boulevard plans to the city's planning board and then city council for final approval.

The votes were not unanimous, with LaDonna Jurgensen saying she was uncomfortable voting on documents that are not complete. Anne Ricker, the authority's consultant, had explained that much of the surveying of individual properties still has to be done, but that the basic plan is the same as the two areas the board approved in August.

"We're approving the essence of the plan, is that what we're doing?" asked Jurgensen. "... I'm not very excited about approving something that's not even written."

The board's attorney, Kendra Carberry, agreed.

"It would be preferable to approve a plan that you've seen," she said.

Some members of the public also agreed, with a former chair of the planning board, Linda Knufinke, calling it "vaporware."

"It makes me think the process is being obfuscated," she said.

Board members Jim Collins and Dennis Reynolds noted it was the same situation when they approved the plans for the Santa Fe corridor and Columbine Square in August, and Jurgensen voted in favor of both.

"The plan is not able to contain specifics as to projects," said Collins. "It's a boilerplate applicable to all four areas. I know what I'm voting on."

The two areas 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 taxes are generated from the property, above and beyond what was coming in before the urban-renewal project, gets divided between the authority and the property owner for 25 years. The property owner's share would have to be spent on public improvements like roads, drainage, sewer and sidewalks - major expenditures that often impede development.

It's an issue that is dividing many in the community, with some property owners worried urban renewal will spark a wave of condemnation. City council has the ultimate say about when eminent domain can be used and passed a resolution on Aug. 19 to ban its use in any of LIFT's efforts, but a citizens group is still gathering petitions in an attempt to place any such decisions in the hands of voters.

Others have a problem with the term "blight" being applied to practically all of the city's commercial properties. According to a LIFT document, one of the biggest contributing factors is the lack of sprinklers in older buildings. They would need to be installed to bring them up to code if any other major renovations were being done.

"Whereas code upgrades can be costly, many property owners avoid improvements that cause them to exceed the thresholds," reads the document.

Jennifer Orrigo Charles, programs manager with Colorado Preservation Inc., reminded the board that CPI named Littleton's midcentury buildings among Colorado's Most Endangered Places for 2014. They include Taco House, Savers, the "checkerboard" building at Spotswood Street and the "curlicue" building next to 7-Eleven, among others.

"I urge you to consider what you have, and don't lose it," she said.

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