Marathon plan reaches finish line with a victory

Marathon Oil moved out of the 77-acre site on Broadway between Dry Creek Road and Fremont Avenue in 2000, and the location has not seen much activity since then.
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While history has shown that one should never presume any plan is a done deal, the mixed-use Littleton Village proposal for the old Marathon property does seem to be wrapped up for now.

Littleton City Council unanimously approved a zoning change on Aug. 6 that allows Watt Investment Partners to move forward with the purchase and development of the 77-acre site at Broadway and Dry Creek Road. It's basically the same plan approved after a substantial amount of public debate in 2006, which went into suspended animation after the economy crashed.

“We went through a lot of brain damage in 2006,” recalled Councilor Jim Taylor.

But then Watt entered the picture late last year. Its team wanted to build basically the same community, but needed council's approval to change the layout somewhat to better accommodate retail.

Council's approval paves the way for 250,000 square feet of commercial property and up to 900 residential units. The west side will be oriented toward Broadway, with boutique shops in front, and medium-size boxes — like Kohl's or a grocery store — behind. In the middle are a park and two apartment buildings, limited to no more than four stories. Single-family homes will fill the east side, backing up to the existing residential neighborhood.

Even Littleton resident Paul Bingham, who fought the plan in 2006 and has recently been actively working against proposed multifamily projects around town, said he now supports Watt's vision.

“It isn't perfect, but it is better, and we can live with it and support it,” he wrote in comments to council. “And the point I'm trying to make is that when we people protest something, and the city council listens, often it works out for a good, rational solution.”

Geoff Lawton, vice president of operations at Littleton Adventist Hospital, said the project not only will create space for proximate health-related businesses, it will provide housing opportunities for the hospital's 1,200 employees and 1,300 affiliated doctors.

“It will allow them to serve the needs of our community and live in our community, as well,” he said, noting that about 30 percent of them now commute from outside Littleton's borders.

Of course, not everybody is thrilled. Littleton resident and former city council member Tom Kristopeit wants more specifics, which city staff says will be worked out later.

“I think you should wait for a project that you are really proud of and that you know what you're getting, because if you approve this, I think you're getting a pig in a poke,” he told council.

Mayor Debbie Brinkman urged Watt representatives to take extra care with the site. Close to the highest elevation in town with sweeping views of the mountains, it's the last prime piece of developable land save the acreage south of Aspen Grove on Santa Fe Drive.

“If it looks like everybody else that's out there, then it's not going to be special,” she said. “And we really need it to be special, because it's our last shot.”