Remember when Littleton City Council approved rezoning the Marathon property seven years ago after several long and contentious public hearings?
Barely, right? Since then, the ground has grown fallow, the wire Christmas tree stays up all year, the critters have gone largely undisturbed and the neighbors have gone back to business as usual.
But wait. Did you hear something stirring? It’s developer Watt Investment Partners of Santa Monica, Calif., which has submitted a proposal to the city for the 77-acre site on Broadway between Dry Creek Road and Fremont Avenue. It went on the market last summer for $23 million.
“We are still reviewing the project so have not scheduled it for any public hearings,” said Glen Van Nimwegen, the city’s community-development director.
The plan is very similar to what council approved in March 2006. It’s residential on the east side, mixed use on the west.
“They are requesting to reconfigure and realign the commercial area, while maintaining the core, ‘main street,’ mixed-use design from the original planned development,” said Van Nimwegen. Plans are available for viewing in his office at the Littleton Center.
Marathon Oil moved out of the complex in 2000, and Denver oil tycoon David B. Richardson bought it for $14.5 million in December of that year. His plan was to create a main-street feel on the west side of the 78-acre property, including lofts, small shops and medium-size retail, with townhouses, single-family homes and parks moving east. After battling away a Lowe’s Home Improvement store in 2004, neighbors initially expressed cautious optimism.
Until they didn’t.
Nearly 70 people arrived to address council during a five-hour meeting in March 2006, and about half signed up to speak. Most were actually residents of Centennial, which borders the property on two sides. Only five or so of the speakers had much nice to say, and most of those were former council members or members of city volunteer boards.
Littleton resident Jennie Staritsky started with a positive attitude during the initial neighborhood meetings but felt much differently by that March.
“It’s too dense, too tall and too greedy,” she said. “I think the developers were very slick and very professional in their marketing.”
At the time, concerns included density (the zoning allows 900 residential units), more than 14,300 new vehicle trips per day, drainage, home values and bringing “new urbanism” into suburbia.
Some saw that last one as a good thing.
“This is smart growth,” said Councilman John Ostermiller before casting one of four votes necessary to approve the rezone. “This is taking care of what the market wants. … This is what new urbanism is all about.”
The controversy became moot as the economy tanked and the project followed.
“To have a project not come to fruition is a huge waste of time and resources,” Al Klipp, an architect who designed the current plan, said in May 2011. “I’d rather have something built than to have it sit in my drawer.”
He and developer Don Slack of Westfield were visiting the Pub Policy group at Buck Recreation Center. Klipp said he’d been trying to revive interest in the Marathon site, but Slack said that as it’s zoned, he doubted it would ever be developed.
But with economic green shoots appearing and a few tweaks, Watt Investment Partners appears ready to give it a go. Stay tuned.