The city clerk's office has verified about 800 more signatures than community activists needed to get their ballot question in front of the voters, which means there will be a special election on March 3, 2015.
Voters will be asked to decide whether they should get the chance to weigh in on every urban-renewal project city council might consider that includes the use of eminent domain, condemnation, tax increment financing, revenue sharing or cost sharing — in essence, every project that might come forward.
“It will kill urban-renewal efforts in Littleton, and this is its intention,” Councilmember Debbie Brinkman said in August.
That's when the grassroots group Citizens for Rational Development got the ball rolling on its citizen initiative, widely circulating the petition required to get their language on the ballot. Supporters ultimately rounded up 3,926 verified signatures, hundreds more than the 3,152 required.
“A bunch of us worked our buns off circulating our petitions,” said Paul Bingham.
"We obviously feel that this is a worthwhile undertaking or we wouldn't have spent our time and money to do this. It was not fun.”
But another group, Keep Littleton Strong, is working to oppose CRD's efforts. A letter dated Nov. 7 calls for voters to reject the initiative and keep an open mind when it comes to urban renewal.
“The real issue is that they want to cripple and eliminate urban renewal, a tool that dozens of Colorado cities use every day to reinvest in their communities and activate their local economy,” say the 23 signatories, who include three former mayors, some real-estate agents and several business executives, including Darrell Schulte of Colorado Business Bank and Bob Golden, president of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.
A core concern is that the areas had to be declared “blighted” to be included, and CRD says that leaves them open to the possibility of condemnation. Council passed a resolution in August that prohibits its use, but CRD activists say they could repeal it on a whim.
“City council also produced Resolution 88, saying they will not proceed without the approval of all of the taxing entities, but it has not been adhered to,” said Bingham. “Arapahoe County has not approved of two of LIFT's plans, and city council is proceeding anyway. What makes us think they will abide by their resolution on eminent domain or condemnation?”
Arapahoe County has not signed off on the areas, though Littleton Public Schools and South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, the two other major taxing entities affected, have. Council has said Resolution 88 pertains to particular projects within the plan areas, not to the areas themselves.
Both sides are hoping to get their supporters to check their mail for ballots starting Feb. 9 and get them back by 7 p.m., March 3, to the City Center, 2255 W. Berry Ave. Alternate drop-off locations are the Arapahoe County building at 5334 S. Prince St. and the county election warehouse at 5251 S. Federal Blvd.
If the initiative passes in March, City Manager Michael Penny said he'll honor it.
“My job is to implement council goals within established laws of all levels,” said Penny. “If the community passes the charter amendment, then, just as with council passage of ordinances, I will implement the council goals within the new law.”
The initiative sponsored by Citizens for Rational Development was spurred by the activities of Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, the recently amped-up version of the city's urban-renewal authority. They've approved four plan areas in which urban renewal can occur: The Santa Fe corridor from Prince Street to just south of Mineral Avenue; the Broadway corridor from north of Powers Avenue to south of Littleton Boulevard; the Columbine Square area at Belleview Avenue and Federal Boulevard; and the Littleton Boulevard corridor from Windermere Street to Bannock Street.
City council gave the final OK to the Santa Fe and Columbine Square areas in November, and was set to vote on the other two on Dec. 2. If council ultimately approves them, 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.