With a 4-3 vote at the Dec. 6 city council meeting, Littleton kept its urban renewal authority, although three of the city's four urban renewal plan areas were repealed.
The authority, Littleton …
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The meeting went into the early morning hours and included public comment from members of the government watchdog group Sunshine opposing the authority, Littleton Invests for Tomorrow. Supporters of LIFT also spoke.
LIFT opponent John Watson mocked the oft-repeated slogan of LIFT supporters that urban renewal is "a tool in the toolbox."
Addressing the audience as "fellow taxpayers," Watson said, "Sometimes tools are just too expensive."
The authority had been on the chopping block for months, with an ordinance to abolish it first being proposed in March. In that time, the council has discussed the matter at length in several meetings, including joint meetings with the LIFT board.
Councilmember Jerry Valdes, who has been critical of LIFT, voted to keep the authority, joining the council's urban renewal supporters, Bill Hopping, Debbie Brinkman and Phil Cernanec. However, Valdes joined Mayor Bruce Beckman and councilmembers Doug Clark and Peggy Cole in voting to repeal the Littleton Boulevard, Santa Fe and North Broadway urban renewal plan areas, all on a 4-3 vote as well.
The surviving plan area, Columbine Square, was not up for a vote at the meeting, as an ordinance to repeal it did not pass the first reading in October. Valdes was the swing vote on that decision as well, saying at the time that Columbine Square — a vacant shopping center on Federal Boulevard, south of Belleview Avenue — more closely fit what he sees as the intended purpose of urban renewal, being smaller and more site-specific than the other three.
Deputy City Manager Mike Braaten told council before the vote that abolishing LIFT would also repeal the Columbine Square plan.
LIFT grew out of the Littleton Riverfront Authority, which was founded in 1980 to use tax increment financing — in which the additional property or sales tax money anticipated is used to fund a project — to develop an area along the South Platte River. Its signature project, the Riverfront Festival Center, opened in 1985 but was a financial failure and was vacant by 1989. In 2013, the LRA was reorganized as LIFT.
Critics of LIFT have charged that it has not had any projects. Recently, the property owner of Columbine Square, CMCB Enterprise Inc., has expressed interest in using urban renewal to develop a project at the site.
Opponents of LIFT say that developers should not receive tax increment money to bring projects to Littleton. However, supporters of LIFT say it is necessary to both incentivize desirable development projects and to give the city more influence over projects.
However, Clark, a member of Sunshine and a frequent critic of LIFT, said that is not the intended purpose of urban renewal.
“The purpose of urban renewal is to fix blight,” he said.
He referred to the North Broadway plan area as "the poster child for fake blight."
Defending urban renewal, Brinkman said that it is nothing more than a public-private partnership.
“Urban renewal gives us a choice and a voice,” she said.
Only one member of the LIFT board spoke at the meeting — Kyle Schlachter, who urged the council to "think big picture and think long-term."
Sunshine member Paul Bingham pointed out to the council that other board members were not in attendance.
"If I was on that board and I was interested in continuing, I think I'd be here," he said. "They don't care."
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