Belleview Corridor Plan approaches final stage

Columbine Square still a mystery as document calls for 'placemaking'

Posted 7/6/18

A document setting goals for the future of Littleton's Belleview Avenue Corridor is headed to city council for approval, spelling out high hopes for turning the busy thoroughfare into a more friendly …

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Belleview Corridor Plan approaches final stage

Columbine Square still a mystery as document calls for 'placemaking'

Posted

A document setting goals for the future of Littleton's Belleview Avenue Corridor is headed to city council for approval, spelling out high hopes for turning the busy thoroughfare into a more friendly and attractive place. Questions remain, though, about the future of Columbine Square, the notorious derelict strip mall demolished earlier this year.

The Belleview Avenue Corridor Plan is the culmination of nearly a year of studies, hearings and data gathering to create a guiding vision for the stretch of West Belleview Avenue from South Santa Fe Drive to the city's western border just past South Perry Street. With a population of roughly 4,500 and an area of about a square mile, the corridor represents a significant chunk of Littleton.

The plan's purpose is to provide “guidance on future land use decisions and investment within the Belleview Avenue Corridor over the next 10 to 15 years,” the introduction reads in part.

The plan is non-binding and merely seeks to guide city decision-making in future work with developers, particularly in instances that require zoning changes, said Patrick Driscoll, the city councilmember whose district incorporates the corridor.

“Obviously in the case of development that's use by right, there's not a lot we can do,” Driscoll said, adding that he hopes the plan will help prevent a repeat of uproar over the process that saw the Grove apartment complex approved near downtown Littleton.

“This hopefully helps us not alienate a group of citizens because we didn't do our homework,” Driscoll said.

The plan identifies a set of issues and opportunities in the corridor. Among the issues are the area's “lack of distinct identity,” dated retail centers, concerns over bicycle and pedestrian safety, limited connectivity to the rest of Littleton, and a sensitivity of neighbors to greater housing density.

Opportunities include chances to improve those conditions, strong neighborhood support for reinvestment in shopping centers, and the chance to build on the popularity of local anchors like O'Toole's Garden Center.

Land of opportunity

The plan identifies a variety of “opportunity areas,” which data-gathering suggests could use upgrades.

Not all the opportunity areas are aging. One, the Riverside Downs Center, was built in 2007 and hosts hip tenants like the Pint Room and Anthony's Pizza and Pasta. The interior of the center, though, has struggled with vacancies that the plan attributes to a lack of visibility from Belleview.

Another is slated for improvements. The Centennial Square Shopping Center on the north side of Belleview, between South Prince Street on the east and King Soopers on the west, is due for upgrades starting later this year, thanks to an infusion of cash from Armstrong Capital Development, the company that bought the property last fall.

The property will get a revamp to its parking lot to allow better traffic flow to the light on Prince, said Jarrett Armstrong, one of the company's partners. The property's five buildings will get interior and exterior upgrades, and the whole shebang will be rebranded as “The Belleview Connection,” Armstrong said.

“With the right creativity and capital — and it'll be a meaningful amount of capital — it can really be something special,” Armstrong said.

The elephant in the room

The future is far less clear for Columbine Square, easily the corridor's most fretted-over property. The shopping center was demolished earlier this year after years of neglect that left the site a haven for squatters and transients, drawing the ire of the neighborhood.

No formal application to redevelop the site has been filed, and Redwood-Kairos Real Estate Partners, the site's owner, has ignored months of requests for comment on the property's future.

Frank Melara, the head of Sundance Mountain Development, said in February that he had been hired to redevelop the site, but went silent soon after. Reached for comment in early July, Melara said he was prohibited by the owners from discussing the property, but would reach out to seek permission to speak. He did not return a followup call.

Councilmember Driscoll, however, said that the city has been interacting with Lauren Brockman, the principal of Convergence Multifamily Real Estate Group, about redeveloping the site.

Reached by email, Brockman said that Melara is no longer involved with Columbine Square, and that it's too soon to say what's coming.

“Other than getting feedback from the city nothing has been formulated at this time,” Brockman said. “It is worth noting that a pure retail/commercial development is not an option as the market clearly spoke over the years showing its viability for retail is not feasible.”

High-density housing would be an undesirable outcome for the site, said John Watson, a resident who sat on a now all-but-defunct panel of citizens and local officials regarding Columbine Square's demolition.

“We have approved so much (high-density residential development) in the recent past,” Watson said. “The corridor is not prepared for that level of increased traffic and emergency services.”

Watson said he would like to see mixed-use retail and residential development, especially because retail would help support the city's sales tax base.

Seeing the site turn into solely high-density housing would be unfortunate, said Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman.

“I'd be incredibly disappointed,” Brinkman said. “I'd like to see some creative uses — maybe some park space.”

As far as the overall corridor plan, Brinkman was less than impressed.

“I wanted to see more creativity and imagination,” Brinkman said. “So far it's pretty standard. The city needs to look seriously at making Belleview into a more interesting streetscape. At least this plan gives us something to build on.”

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