Braving the blueprint

Posted 3/24/09

Littleton is still deciding what it wants to be when it grows up. The Planning Commission, which is responsible for providing guidance for the growth …

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Braving the blueprint


Littleton is still deciding what it wants to be when it grows up.

The Planning Commission, which is responsible for providing guidance for the growth and development of the city, is working to update Littleton’s comprehensive policy plan, or Complan, originally written in 1985 and last revised in 2000.

Inside the Littleton Report, which is slated to be mailed out March 26-27, will be a survey regarding the Complan. Commissioners are hoping to solicit input from key community members or stakeholders identifying key areas and resources in the community.

The Complan is designed to be a guiding principle for all aspects of city planning. It addresses parks and open space, transportation, land use, annexation, housing and urban design — such as trees, landscaping, etc.

Reading the 1985 version is a trip down memory lane. It discusses depressing the railroad tracks under Main Street, plans for the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds if it hadn’t been annexed into Littleton (Cornerstone Park is there now), what would happen if Grant Junior High School was sold for development (Littleton Public Schools retained the building; it’s now the Education Services Center), and developing “commercial and multifamily residential mixed used if (Centennial) racetrack is ever relocated of vacated.”

Now there’s Aspen Grove, RiverPointe, fast-food restaurants and oceans of townhouses and apartments — all of which aren’t included in the existing plan.

But the Complan has been a matter of contention for some time. In 2006, the Planning Commission was tasked with updating the document. With the aid of a citizen advisory committee, the planners presented what was called the Littleton 2030 Comprehensive Plan, detailing visions for the future of the city. However, city council rejected this document in 2007.

“Since the project was initiated in March 2006, ComPlan 2030 has generated a great deal of debate and discussion in the community,” the council’s annual workshop report said. “Consequently, the 2008 city council wanted to conduct an overview of the current draft plan and determine if a new direction was needed.”

Council identified three major issues with the plan.

First, they said citizens had expressed concern that the planning process was a “top-down” rather than a grass-roots “bottom-up” approach to seeking community input at a neighborhood level.

Second, concerns were raised about the degree of protection for existing neighborhood plans, and the fact that some areas of the city were not covered by the plan.

Third, questions were raised about the concept of the draft 2030 plan as being primarily a “vision document.” Citizens were concerned the document wouldn’t be useful for specific land use decisions.

Recommendations from the 2030 plan were broader, suggesting the consideration of mixed-use projects in areas of change, including the South Platte River and increasing connectivity and transit throughout the community.

With senior planner Dennis Swain at the time, and community development director Mary Roberts providing technical assistance, there was an open-ended and vigorous discussion with all seven councilmembers contributing their observations and opinions about both the process and the content of the 2030 Plan, and also the strengths and weaknesses of the existing 1981 Plan, according to the workshop report.

“The purpose of the Complan is to describe what development people will tolerate. We have this whole mechanism in place, our zoning code, that says that's the document we use,” Mayor Doug Clark told the Littleton Independent in July 2008. “And then you have the 2030 plan that went over here, and they're creating something completely different.”

Council considered allowing the planning commission to complete its work on the 2030 draft, with recommendations on areas that appeared unacceptable.

In March 2008, the planning commission was directed to start over with a new process, a new plan and several new board members. In an unusual move, council removed three members from the commission when they made their annual appointment to the city's 14 boards and commissions in April.

The commission and council in a joint meeting decided Aug. 12, 2008 that the new comprehensive plan would follow the same format as the 1981 plan — highlighting goals, policies and neighborhood plans.

The new planning commission was concerned about clarifying details, so their plan wouldn’t also be rejected.

“We want to make sure that before we go too far along in the process — when we’ve already seen a process that went too far along — that we are on the right track before we go out and start taking steps that are going to be expensive and time consuming,” said Commissioner Pavlo Stavropoulos at the meeting.

But some councilmembers expressed that it was not their place for council to give the commissioners direction.

“City council has made the planning commission responsible for the preparation of the comprehensive plan. All city council does is ratify it,” said Councilmember John Ostermiller. “I sat on planning commission for 20 years and only once did city council say what they wanted. We should not be telling them how to do something we’ve given them the responsibility to do.”

Councilmember Debbie Brinkman also said the planning commission should seek input outside of meetings, identify stakeholders in each community and ask them what they want.

“It’s going to be easier to make decisions once you hear what the community thinks,” she said.

While the nine planning commission members seemed to agree that community input is a valuable part of the process, Commissioner Julio Iturreria pointed out it’s also a time-consuming and costly endeavor. Before putting in the investment, he wanted to make sure everything was on the right track, especially given that several commissioners were just appointed to their positions in April.

“Some of us who haven’t been around can’t go forward and say, ‘This is what the city council wants,’” Iturreria said. “We’re really trying to get a better foundation so when we get the go-ahead, we can go.”


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