Littleton’s urban renewal authority met on April 13 for the first time since the appointment of five new members, discussing a possible tax increment-financed project at the vacant Columbine Square shopping center.
Littleton Invests for Tomorrow narrowly avoided being disbanded altogether late last year, and three of the city’s four urban renewal plan areas were repealed, leaving only the Columbine Square plan area, a 35-acre site centered around the eponymous shopping center at the southwest corner of Belleview Avenue and Federal Boulevard. The council had debated LIFT’s existence for the better part of 2016, and by January five of the seven members either resigned from the board or gave notice that they would not seek reappointment.
The owner of Columbine Square, Redwood-Kairos Real Estate Partners, has told the city that it has interest in using tax increment financing to build a project at the site, with Redwood-Kairos owner Carl Chang speaking before the Littleton City Council at the Dec. 6 public hearing over the plan areas and LIFT.
Redwood-Kairos has not put forth any proposal yet, but has speculated that a mixed-use project with owner-occupied residential units, apartments and retail may be in the site’s future. An amphitheater and a farmer’s market location have also been spoken of.
However, critics of urban renewal have treated Chang, who has owned the property since 1989, with suspicion, saying that his company “self-blighted” Columbine Square by not renewing the leases of tenants of the center. Proponents of tax increment financing have said it can be used as a way to get developers, who are currently keen on building residential properties and not the sales tax-generating retail sites that city officials crave, to make concessions to the city, including public infrastructure improvements and mixed-use sites that bring in retail components.
“I don’t believe that urban renewal funds should be used on this property, as Mr. Chang is not poor,” Jeanie Erickson, who lives near Columbine Square, said in public comment. “He does not need help, he does not need extra money for an amphitheater, for wider sidewalks, for a sprinkler system, for a couple of trades to make the community look better.”
Ryan Toole, one of the two holdover members from the last board and the new vice chair, said that he had been in contact with Chang about a month ago regarding whether a plan will be introduced to redevelop the center.
“He was noncommittal,” Toole said. “He said that, yes, he would like to but he didn’t understand how it worked and what are the first steps.”
Carol Brzeczek, a longtime critic of LIFT who is one of the new members, is among those suspicious of Redwood-Kairos.
“They were desperate for urban renewal to survive,” she said.