Littleton City Council sends mixed-use developer back to drawing board

Council votes 5-2 against rezoning at Mineral and Santa Fe, developer ‘shocked and heartbroken’

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/11/21

Littleton City Council sent a developer back to the drawing board on May 4, voting 5-2 to reject a rezoning plan from Evergreen Devco to build a sprawling mixed-use project at the southwest corner of …

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Littleton City Council sends mixed-use developer back to drawing board

Council votes 5-2 against rezoning at Mineral and Santa Fe, developer ‘shocked and heartbroken’

Posted

Littleton City Council sent a developer back to the drawing board on May 4, voting 5-2 to reject a rezoning plan from Evergreen Devco to build a sprawling mixed-use project at the southwest corner of Mineral Avenue and Santa Fe Drive.

Evergreen, Planning Commission and city staff spent more than three years hashing out the plan for a development called RiverPark, which was slated to include 270 multifamily residential units, a 170-bed senior housing facility, two restaurants, three “quick service” restaurants, three shops and a gas station.

Planning for the 33-acre site, which Evergreen bought for $6.5 million in 2017, culminated in a rezoning proposal that sought to reverse the parcel’s 1985-vintage zoning, which called for commercial development by the river and residential development beside the highway.

Evergreen sought to reverse that zoning, hoping to place residential uses beside the quiet river and commercial uses beside the highway where they could be seen and accessed by motorists.

The plan grew to include other stipulations, including tight restrictions on parking which city staff said were intended to push Evergreen to build a parking garage in hopes of preventing the site from becoming a “sea of parking.”

Those stipulations came to a head at the April 20 city council meeting, with Evergreen managing partner Tyler Carlson calling the parking restrictions “a zoning act of war” and hinting at lawsuits should the city press ahead.

Council tabled the rezoning proposal until May 4, when staff came back with a compromise: The new proposal upped the parking restrictions to seven surface spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail space, up from two per thousand in the original proposal, and 1.5 surface spaces per residential unit, up from 0.5 spaces.

The compromise also included stipulations requiring the city to participate in lining up funding partners to build a parking garage, estimated to cost more than $9 million, and to dedicate land on the site for a future pedestrian overpass to connect the site to the RTD Mineral light rail station to the north.

Carlson praised the compromise proposal from city staff.

“That’s what this is all about,” Carlson told council. “We encounter obstacles, roll up our sleeves and collaborate. More collaboration gets better results.”

But council still had questions about the compromise proposal. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin asked how realistic the parking garage plan was — what was the timeline? The square footage? Who would the funding partners be?

“Frankly, I don’t know,” said Public Works Director Keith Reester. RTD is in financial disarray, he said. A multi-agency study of potential improvements to Santa Fe is ongoing. The Colorado Department of Transportation doesn’t typically fund parking garages in private developments.

Reester said he was optimistic that the city would do its best to establish working relationships with local agencies to seek funding, and said increased federal funds could be forthcoming.

“But I can’t guarantee any time frame or application,” he said.

Majority balked at plan

Several councilmembers said they remained unimpressed with the overall plan, saying the parking garage and pedestrian bridge seemed tenuous, and the rest of the proposal fell short of the city’s guiding principles for new development — especially for one of the city’s largest remaining parcels of vacant land.

Melin said the proposed housing appeared to be largely high-end, and even the assisted living portion would not accept Medicare, placing it out of reach for many, and not meeting calls for a diversification of Littleton’s housing stock.

He also said he feared despite increased setbacks, the proposal still encroached too close to South Platte Park’s East Trail, a rugged riparian area. The site’s commercial development also risked siphoning business off existing retailers, he said.

Other councilmembers agreed. Karina Elrod said she was dismayed that the plans for a pedestrian bridge were still too flimsy, and without one the site wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of its proximity to light rail.

“A pedestrian bridge is a must,” she said. “Not a possibility or a hope. We can’t rely on that. That should have been an absolute requirement from day one.”

Councilmember Carol Fey said even though the proposed rezoning sought to flip the location of commercial and residential portions to make better use of the site, “It’s the same usual uses. I want so much to say yes to the changes proposed, but with transit oriented development, it’s not enough to honor the opportunity we have.”

Two votes in favor

Mayor Jerry Valdes and councilmember Pat Driscoll were the two votes in favor of the rezoning, and said the proposal was a solid middle ground.

“It’s a good compromise,” Driscoll said, saying he received many emails from residents saying the site should be kept as “open space.”

“This was never open space,” he said. “Well, I guess maybe it was back with the American Indians ... what the developer is asking is very fair.”

Valdes pushed back against councilmembers who called the plan blasé.

“If you weren’t being imaginative and forward-thinking, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” Valdes told Carlson. “This is a very good plan you’ve put on the table for us.”

Carlson declined an interview request after the meeting, but provided a statement by email:

“After three years of intense collaboration with city staff, CDOT, adjacent property owners and other public and private stakeholders Evergreen is both shocked and heartbroken by city council’s decision last night. It’s unfortunate they did not share our progressive vision for a vibrant, mixed use community at RiverPark because we will now be forced to develop the property under the constraints of its flawed 1985 zoning. It’s a missed opportunity I will always regret.”

Evergreen may not be limited to the old zoning, said Mike Sutherland, Littleton’s deputy community development director.

The city is just a month away from unveiling a draft of the United Land Use Code or ULUC, a total overhaul of city zoning that could have implications for Evergreen’s parcel. City council is currently scheduled to ratify the ULUC in October.

The Evergreen parcel is a planned development or PD, Sutherland said, and it’s yet to be seen what will happen after the ULUC passes — PDs may expire immediately, may sunset gradually, or may stay in place. Applicants may be able to request an early sunset. Afterward, the site would likely fall under the new Corridor Mixed Use designation.

Evergreen could submit new plans under future zoning, but one possible reason for them to stick with the 1980s-era zoning: It does not require impact fees, assessed on newer developments to offset the cost of providing city services.

The failure of the rezoning proposal also leaves murky the future of plans for a “quad road,” a mini-beltway planned to cut through Evergreen’s parcel to take pressure off traffic congestion.

Sutherland said city staffers plan to meet with Evergreen in a couple weeks.

“There are still opportunities here for the applicant,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the next steps.”

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