Parking impasse delays decision

Proposal for Santa Fe and Mineral stuck on whether developer should build garage

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/27/21

A city council meeting meant to conclude more than three years of wrangling over how to develop one of the city’s largest remaining plots of vacant land ended in an impasse on April 20, with …

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Parking impasse delays decision

Proposal for Santa Fe and Mineral stuck on whether developer should build garage

Posted

A city council meeting meant to conclude more than three years of wrangling over how to develop one of the city’s largest remaining plots of vacant land ended in an impasse on April 20, with council and the developer at loggerheads over how to accommodate cars.

Council tabled until May 4 a proposal by Evergreen Devco to rezone 33 acres at the southwest corner of Mineral Avenue and Santa Fe Drive after deciding more work is needed on a call by city staff to curtail surface parking in the proposed mixed-use development.

Evergreen hopes to build a development called Riverpark on the site, featuring 270 multifamily residential units, a 170-bed senior housing facility, two anchor stores, two restaurants, three “quick-service” restaurants, three shops and one gas station.

Click here to review documents submitted by Evergreen to the city

Evergreen seeks to amend the site’s 1985-vintage planned development zoning, which calls for commercial uses along the river and residential uses by the highway. The developer hopes to flip those uses, saying residential makes more sense beside the quiet South Platte River while commercial should be by the highway where it can be seen and accessed by motorists.

Though Evergreen bought the property for $6.5 million in 2017 and submitted plans in 2018, the proposal has been the subject of three years of review by city staff and the Littleton Planning Commission, which held several meetings and public hearings on the site in recent months.

April 12: Development at Santa Fe and Mineral could get green light

Staff’s final recommendation to council called for a maximum of two surface parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial space and a maximum of half a surface parking space per residential unit, well below the zoning standard of five surface spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial and 1.5 spaces per dwelling unit.

The goal of the reduced parking standard was to encourage the developer to build a parking garage or underground parking, said Jennifer Henninger, the city’s community development director, saying staff arrived at the number after assessing numerous corridor planning documents prepared by city staff and consultants over the years -- which called for a project emphasizing walkability, character, and connection to public transit.

Henninger called the parking restriction an “attempt to get a different type of parking and get our partners like RTD and federal (agencies) that could fund a parking garage,” though she acknowledged RTD is in dire financial straits of its own.

Evergreen managing partner Tyler Carlson asked for the parking restrictions to be loosened, saying the viability of the entire development hinges on how much surface parking can be built, as the cost of building a parking garage without outside funding would cause commercial and residential rents to skyrocket.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin said the property, with its proximity to the South Platte River and location along a major highway, is important to get right -- and that means not handing over too much acreage to parking.

“If council sides with the applicant in your request for parking ratios, we will end up with a development that will be fundamentally different than the negotiated proposal staff has worked three long years to get to,” Melin said. “We won’t get the aesthetics represented tonight, the character, or the walkability. We will get something that looks, I think, I fear, like a parking lot ... I have pretty much zero tolerance for anything on this property that’s underwhelming or doesn’t rise to the occasion of this being a legacy property.”

Carlson was adamant that sufficient surface parking is a necessity, and that a parking garage — estimated by staff to cost more than $9 million — would be prohibitively expensive.

He called the condition in staff’s proposal and the call for a parking garage “a zoning act of war against our property.”

“I won’t be sucker punched in the face on a parking standard that is fairly arbitrary and contrived, doesn’t exist anywhere in the metro area, or the entire Front Range,” Carlson said. “I cannot build it. I’ve told you that a million times. The residential residents can’t afford it. The commercial tenants can’t afford it. This property will continue to sit vacant.”

Carlson asserted that passing the zoning amendment with the curtailed parking requirement “borders on a taking, forcing a property owner to build structured parking which is not economically merited.”

He also asserted that the city’s plan for a “quad road” — a mini-beltway cut through the property in hopes of reducing congestion on Santa Fe and Mineral — means the property’s accessibility to pedestrians will be limited.

“Littleton is a suburban community dominated by automobiles,” Carlson said. “If you choke parking in the suburbs, you will choke these businesses to death.”

Councilmember Kelly Milliman echoed Melin, saying she was concerned Evergreen’s parking request would render the development a “drive-through auto-oriented development” not befitting its status as one of the final remaining parcels of undeveloped land, in such a strategic location.

“Do something spectacular,” she said. “What’s being proposed is the same-old, same-old.”

Carlson said councilmembers need to put up with parking.

“I’m sorry people can’t ride unicorns there and they have to drive, but that’s the way it is,” he said.

Milliman also said the project could benefit substantially from a pedestrian bridge over Mineral to make it more accessible to light rail users, saying a transit-oriented development would be hard to fully realize if pedestrians are expected to cross a major thoroughfare to access public tranist.

The pedestrian bridge proposal is supported by city staff — though Henninger said the idea would likely cost $10 million and require partnership funding with entities like CDOT or RTD.

Carlson said calls for a parking garage and pedestrian bridge are prime examples of projects that could be addressed by an urban renewal authority, which Littleton famously mostly dismantled after citizen outcry in 2016.

“I know (urban renewal) is a dirty word in the city of Littleton, but this is the type of site that would benefit,” he said. “We don’t have that, so we have to get creative.”

Councilmember Pat Driscoll disagreed with Melin and Milliman, saying the developer’s request was reasonable.

“For staff to put council in a position to make this call, I don’t feel like that’s very fair,” he said. “These guys are in the business to build, and to make a great community out of a great parcel of land ... What Evergreen has done is very positive, and would be a great asset to the community. I’m over the parking. I’m with the developer on this one.”

Council voted 6-1 to table the proposal until May 4, in hopes of giving staff and the developer more time to come up with a solution to the parking impasse.

Councilmember Karina Elrod was skeptical the delay would produce a different result.

“Staff and the developer have been working on this for three years,” she said. “They have discussed parking over those three years ... What do we expect the outcome to be in another week?”

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