What does it look like? A falling-down shopping center, or a rambling 1913 estate? A brand-new car lot, or a 1970s-era apartment building?
A study by the city's new consultant on urban renewal says all of the above, to some degree.
“'Blight' is a horrible word. We hate it,” Anne Ricker, a principal with the consulting firm Ricker/Cunningham, told a room full of people who attended the Littleton Invests for Tomorrow board meeting at Bemis Library on May 22. “But it's a legal word. We don't hide behind it. We hate it with you, but it's a legal term.”
Of course, “hate” is a strong word. But it seems mild among other words tossed out that night from citizens who are not fans of the city's new focus on redevelopment. They used words like “outraged,” “perverse,” “sham,” “overreaching,” “embarrassed,” “disgusted,” “tragedy,” “risk” and “mistrust.”
“Over the last 10 years or so, I have developed a mistrust of a lot of things that have happened in this city,” said Teresa Tucker, who owns property in one of the four areas under study for possible urban renewal.
LIFT, the city's urban-renewal authority, has hired Ricker/Cunningham to examine redevelopment possibilities in Littleton. Ricker looked at four areas: The Santa Fe corridor from Prince Street to just south of Mineral Avenue; the Broadway corridor from north of Powers Avenue to south of Littleton Boulevard; the Columbine Square area along Belleview Avenue, including the shopping areas on both the east and west sides of Federal Boulevard; and the Littleton Boulevard corridor from Windermere Street to Bannock Street.
The affected property owners have all been notified and invited to a series of informational meetings, said Ricker. Dr. Charlie Vail, who is an owner of the Littleton Equine Medical Center, is one of them. His clinic is housed in the stately white 1913 mansion at 8025 S. Santa Fe Drive.
“So far, at the open house and at this meeting, there have been more questions raised than answers,” he said.
Ricker stressed that just because a property is in the study area doesn't mean it's blighted, but its surrounding infrastructure might be.
“It's not to put blame for the problem, it's to shine the light on the problem and the people around it who are being affected,” she said. “There is a method to the madness here, and it's not to take beautiful, green open space.”
A lot of citizens worry about the fact that urban renewal sometimes involves eminent domain, or a forceful taking of property, which council approved the use of when it adopted its economic plan last year. Pam Nies, for example, is outraged about Vail's clinic being included in the plan area.
“It's a perverse use of a statute of law and a sham,” she said. “It's the last remaining truly pristine unblighted area, untouched by development in Littleton.”
Ricker noted that Nies does not own property in the plan areas, and that there were only five people who do in attendance.
“You guys have to change your thinking,” she said. “The property owners I talk to get it. You're speaking on their behalf, and you're not speaking consistently with what they're saying.”
Nies countered that she's a taxpayer with every right to be concerned, but Nies stressed that urban renewal does not raise taxes, and that everything LIFT does has to be given final approval by city council.
LIFT will give the plan areas' boundaries their go-ahead — or not — on June 16. If council approves them, Ricker's next task is to recommend subareas within those boundaries that could benefit from urban renewal and the financing mechanisms that come with it.
“The property owners get that it could be a benefit for them,” said Ricker. “There's a whole layer of outreach that you guys aren't seeing.”