An Oct. 28 forum on Littleton's recent urban-renewal efforts did manage to sway the opinions of some nervous citizens, which is exactly what city officials were hoping for.
“A high tide raises all ships, and that's really what this is about,” said Councilmember Debbie Brinkman.
A survey of the audience at the beginning of the event indicated only 46 percent of the 300 or so people in the Arapahoe Community College cafeteria believed urban renewal works to improve a city's economy. By the end, 57 percent said Littleton should use such tactics for economic development.
“Most cities play a very strong and active role in economic development,” said City Manager Michael Penny. “… What we get as a community, is that we get these public improvements built.”
One approach of urban renewal is for the authority to share the increased taxes resulting from projects with the developer, but the money has to be spent on public infrastructure like streets and sidewalks.
Lakewood used urban renewal under the supervision of former Mayor Steve Burkholder, and he was there to sing the praises of its results: Replacement of Villa Italia with Belmar, which he says does $200 million a year in retail sales.
“Cities never stay the same,” he said. “They either get better or they get worse. How do we honor our heritage and still move forward?”
After some small-group discussions, attendees were asked to briefly state their concerns about Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, more commonly known as LIFT. Common themes were how it would affect small businesses, condemnation, open space, preservation of midcentury buildings, protection of senior housing, traffic and procedure.
Brinkman took the stage to attempt to quell those concerns, noting council passed a resolution banning the use of condemnation unless a property owner requested it. Additionally, she pointed out, the city cannot convert open space to any other use without voter approval.
There were some concerns about what might happen without LIFT, as well, including struggling shopping centers and the ability to attract a younger generation.
Burkholder warned Littleton officials to make sure the community was involved at every step.
“The process is as important as the product,” he said.
That's been a big complaint among some associated with Citizens for Rational Development, a grassroots organization that has protested many of the new development projects around town. They've lately focused their efforts on LIFT, the city's urban-renewal authority.
In fact, there was a mini-showdown of sorts between one of them, Paul Bingham, and Penny before the meeting started. Penny asked Bingham to stop passing out anti-LIFT flyers, noting the college is private property and saying the campus cops in the room would be “happy to have the conversation with him.”
Bingham stopped, but his friend Martin Brzeczek was later seen outside the building recruiting people to sign a petition being circulated by some associated with CRD. If they gather enough signatures, Littleton residents will decide whether any LIFT project that proposes condemnation or public financing would have to go in front of voters.
“We believe that if the city council approves an urban-renewal plan that includes (tax-increment financing) and the use of eminent domain that voters should have a say in whether or not their tax dollars that were intended for the schools and other taxing entities should go to the urban-renewal authority,” reads the group's website.