With a special election looming that could shut down the whole thing, Littleton City Council on Dec. 2 approved the last two plan areas recommended by Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, the city's urban-renewal authority.
"I would ask folks to think about the possibilities we could have, and not just their own properties," said Mayor Phil Cernanec. "And I know that's hard."
Despite his urging, five property owners attended the meeting to ask to be removed from the areas.
"The word blight is like an arrow in your heart when you hear it," said Bruce Myers, who manages the Littleton Professional Building at Littleton Boulevard and Lakeview Street.
Teresa Tucker grew up in Littleton, and her family owns the building on Littleton Boulevard that houses the Farmers Insurance firm with the orange tractor out front. She says they've made lots of improvements on their own.
"We are invested in keeping Littleton a vibrant, beautiful city," she said.
"We did not need public money to do this, and will not need any in the future."
Council and Anne Ricker, LIFT's consultant, struggled to make clear that the "blight" designation required to create a plan area applies to the entire area, not specific properties within it. Criteria for the designation include things like overhead utilities and sidewalks that aren't wide enough to comply with city code.
"I can't understand why you would fight a funding source that's out there, that doesn't cost you anything, and is only there if you want it," said Ricker.
Regardless, council agreed to exclude Myers' and Tucker's buildings, along with Coriano and Sons Plumbing and Heating at 5699 S. Greenwood St., Pyramid Liquors at 599 W. Littleton Blvd., Randy's Tire and Auto at 1059 W. Littleton Blvd., and Woodlawn Plaza on the east side of Littleton Boulevard between Datura and Gallup streets.
Those are all in the Littleton Boulevard area plan, which runs from Windermere Street to Bannock Street. Council also approved the Broadway plan, which runs from north of Powers Avenue to Orchard Road. Both were approved by a vote of 5-2, with councilmembers Peggy Cole and Jerry Valdes dissenting.
The vote was the same on the plans council approved on Nov. 4 - the Santa Fe corridor and Columbine Square Shopping Center at Belleview Avenue and Federal Boulevard - although Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Beckman joined Valdes and Cole in voting against the latter.
With the plans now in place, property owners will be able to approach LIFT with specific redevelopment projects and reasons why they can't happen without financial assistance from the authority. If the board members are persuaded, they can enter into an agreement that whatever new taxes are generated from the project get divided between the authority and the property owner for 25 years. The money has to be spent on public improvements like roads, drainage, sewer and sidewalks - major expenditures that often impede development.
But LIFT still has a variety of hurdles to clear before anything is a definite go. For starters, there is pending arbitration with Arapahoe County. The board of commissioners has voiced objections to each plan area, which define the areas where urban renewal can occur and sets in place the financing tools that will be available.
Ricker said she's been submitting the same reports to the county on behalf of other municipalities for 15 years, and they've never objected before. This time, she believes, it's an effort to get the deal that Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed last year. The legislation would have given the county a seat on LIFT and forced cities to set aside the same percentage of their sales-tax revenue for the areas as the percentage of property-tax revenue that gets diverted from the county.
There's also the citizen-initiated special election on March 3 that will ask voters if they want to vote on potentially every project proposed for urban renewal. Valdes wanted council to hold off on approving the plans until after the election.
"If they come back and say we don't want more of a voice in this, then we're essentially taking that away from them," he said. "I really feel like we're being rushed into this."
The activist group Citizens for Rational Development initiated the process that led to the election.
"Citizens want problem-solving, targeted, high-quality, cost-capped redevelopment for Littleton," reads the group's flier. "But City Council and LIFT are proposing extensive prime areas for potential urban renewal public financing, without due diligence, without appropriate feasibility analyses, without any scenario that shows the promised fiscal or infrastructure returns."
A new group, Keep Littleton Strong, has emerged to counter CRD's efforts.
"The reality is that developments and projects take significant time, planning and preparation, and even more so for projects that are in urban-renewal areas," Pat Cronenberger, once mayor of Littleton, said in a news release. "Littleton residents should be very concerned that, if this ballot measure passes, the people who want to build the good projects will go to other cities. The future health of the city depends on sound investment with the private and public sectors in sync. It's a complex world; we simply can't afford to not work together."