In Vita case, court upholds city's rules for citizen appeals

Judges eye 'Grove' suit and agree Littleton can deny hearings

Posted 3/12/18

Extant litigation involving the Vita Littleton senior apartment complex — formerly called the Grove — ended on March 8, when the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld a prior ruling that the city was …

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In Vita case, court upholds city's rules for citizen appeals

Judges eye 'Grove' suit and agree Littleton can deny hearings

Posted

Extant litigation involving the Vita Littleton senior apartment complex — formerly called the Grove — ended on March 8, when the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld a prior ruling that the city was within its rights to deny neighbors the ability to appeal staff's approval of the complex.

The initial lawsuit was filed by Leah Burkett, who formerly lived across the street from the site where the complex now stands at Littleton Boulevard and Bemis Street. Burkett leads a grassroots group called Advocates for Littleton, which opposed the city's approval of the complex, arguing that the plans violated city zoning and building codes.

Burkett filed suit against the city and the complex's developer, Zocalo Community Development, in 2015, saying the city unfairly denied her the right to appeal the approval of the site development plan for the complex.

A judge issued a summary judgment in favor of the city's right to deny such appeals the day before the case was scheduled to go to trial in 2016.

Burkett appealed the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Oral arguments were heard in the case on Feb. 27.

The court's decision, which all three appeals judges agreed upon, read in part: “Because the city's interpretation of the Code is consistent with the legislative intent as manifested by a harmonious reading of the plain language of the Code as a whole, we defer to the City's interpretation.”

Burkett said she felt disappointed with the court's decision.

"I feel like maybe the judges don’t completely understand the entire scenario," Burkett said. "I’m befuddled how differently people can interpret language."

City officials welcomed the decision.

“The city is gratified with the Court of Appeals decision,” Littleton City Attorney Steve Kemp said in the press release. “The court correctly recognized the importance of giving due deference to the decision of the city council and how the city interprets its own code.”

Burkett responded to the city's press release on Nextdoor.com, saying in part: “Let it be known that the City Council NEVER heard or approved the Grove/Vita project. It was approved by non-elected city employees only. In my opinion, the decision to allow staff to approve that building was deliberately planned to bypass the City Council (since City Council decisions require public process — which previous experience had proven that a project like this would not be seen favorably by the public). It's maddening when City officials try to mislead the public with quotes like this!”

Burkett said she can still apply to have the case heard by the Colorado Supreme Court, but isn't sure if she'll do so. In the meantime, she said she plans to advocate for changes to city code.

"They need to clarify the language, and absolutely neighbors should have the right to question zoning interpretations," Burkett said. "If they’re untouchable, it opens the door to corruption."

Zocalo CEO David Zucker declined to comment.

Units at Vita Littleton are expected to start opening for occupancy in May.

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