Meadows apartments over first hurdle

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Several Littleton Planning Board members admitted to feeling confused about the proposal before them July 22, but they voted 5-2 to advise city council to approve the Meadows at Platte Valley apartment complex.

Evergreen Devco, based in Phoenix, wants to rezone an empty field at Mineral Avenue and Platte Canyon Road from commercial to residential. The company plans to build 250 apartments in 10 two- and three-story buildings on 13 acres, along with a dog park, detached parking and a clubhouse. The three acres in the northwest corner along Mineral would be reserved for small commercial, along the lines of a bakery, day care or sandwich shop.

Converting retail to residential has historically been frowned upon in Littleton, with the comprehensive plan emphasizing the need for sales-tax revenue for the city. But in March, council approved doing just that for Littleton Commons on County Line Road, and at least three other projects pending would do the same.

“Our desire for retail is fine, but it doesn’t drive the market. The market drives the market,” noted board member Mark Rudnicki.

Part of the problem is that there is no official plan for the neighborhood. It didn’t exist when the comprehensive plan was completed in 1985, the same year the current owner bought the land and the city annexed it. And development didn’t start until the mid-1990s, after Mineral was extended to the west across Santa Fe.

The owner sold the land across Mineral, which is now a high-end neighborhood of single-family homes, and the land to the east, now the Pinnacle at Mountain Gates apartment complex. But the quest to lure retail to the final plat has been unsuccessful.

“I wish I could deliver you a Sprouts deal,” said Tyler Carlson, managing principal at Evergreen. “That’s what I was hoping to do.”

Carlson says major retailers are holding out for the “Christmas present” of 1.2 million square feet of retail space that likely will develop at Santa Fe and Mineral. It’s a busier intersection with more rooftops around it, he said.

Jeff Wikstrom, vice president at Evergreen, said a retail project needs 20,000 people within a mile to be successful. The neighborhood was originally zoned for 2,400 units, but only 688 were built. A total of 6,700 people live within a mile.

Ruth McGee, who lives in Pinnacle, said she’s “severely opposed” and would like the site turned into a park.

“We do not need any more people or cars,” she said.

Michelle Miller agreed. She lives in the nearby Overlook subdivision and says there’s been a rash of robberies in the area.

“It doesn’t make you feel good to see a bunch of strangers in your neighborhood. I don’t want to give offense to anyone,” she said, gesturing toward McGee.

Rudnicki responded with what he calls the Rudnicki Axiom: “Never be the last undeveloped piece of property, because the neighborhood will demand a park, even though it’s private property.”

Several people were concerned that children from the new apartments would put too much strain on what they say is an excellent but already overcrowded neighborhood school, Wilder Elementary.

Board member Andrew Graham’s kids go there, and he thinks apartments could contribute to transience in the community. He worried that people would temporarily move into a rental just to get into Wilder, making it permanently their home school, then move away.

Betty Harris, who has been active with a grassroots group organized against certain high-density projects proposed throughout the city, agreed.

“(This project) will cram even more people into this area, where, I’m told, the students and perhaps even some of the teachers already hate the children who live in the Pinnacle,” she said.

The project will get one more public hearing when council makes the final decision, scheduled for Aug. 20.

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