Update on Columbine Square

 

Last we heard Carl Chang, a representative of CMCB Enterprises which owns Columbine Square shopping center, is still planning on bringing a project forward. Michael Penny, Littleton City Manager, has stated that they have been trying to discourage Mr. Chang from bringing the original high-density project forward telling him that the citizens of Littleton would reject it. They have been encouraging Mr. Chang to bring forward a mixed-use project – residential and commercial.
Jim Rees, Executive Director of LIFT (Littleton Invests for Tomorrow – Urban Renewal Board), reported to the LIFT board in December that he expects two projects to come forward in 2016 – this would be one of the two. Mr. Chang would have access to urban renewal tax increment financing – this would be a decision made by the LIFT board. In other words, Mr. Chang can ask LIFT to use public tax dollars to help finance his project.

The Grove Project: Zoning Laws no longer protect neighborhoods

Grove LU

By Leah Burkett

Imagine learning that your neighbor across the street has plans to redevelop his lot into a 5-story, 160 unit apartment building. The proposed new building will be 50 feet tall and will be built right up to the edge of the sidewalk with no landscaping buffer. The property isn’t zoned for high-density, so surely this neighbor’s plans are unrealistic, right? Wrong. This nightmare scenario is happening right now near downtown Littleton, but a community lawsuit could stop what will otherwise be a done deal.

The project, known as the Grove, is by Zocalo Community Development and is at the corner of Littleton Blvd and Bemis Street. The Grove is strikingly similar to the failed Broadstone proposal of 2013, which was voted down 6-1 by the City Council after over 7 hours of outcry at the public hearing. This time around, the project avoided controversy with a quiet approval from city staff, who declared that no zoning change was necessary. In September 2015, city staff approved what is essentially a new version of Broadstone, but this time without public scrutiny or a vote by City Council.

This shady approval was hotly contested by neighbors and citizens alike, but City Council refused to step in. With the City unwilling to negotiate, neighbors had little choice but to seek legal assistance. Attorney David Foster of law firm Foster, Graham, Milstein and Calisher (FGMC) took the case and confirmed our belief that the Grove is not zoning compliant. This illegal project should never have been given administrative approval.

FGMC advised neighbors to appeal the Grove decision to the City’s Board of Adjustment. This board exists to “hear and decide appeals where it is alleged that there is an error in any decision or determination made by the City in the administration of the zoning code.” As a board that is meant to provide checks and balances to city decisions, it would have been the ideal platform to appeal the Grove decision. Nevertheless, city staff denied the neighborhood’s appeal application, and did so unilaterally without any involvement from the board.

Enter the lawsuit. Attorneys at FGMC believe that Littleton’s denial of the neighborhood’s appeal application is a denial of due process. While there is only one plaintiff in the suit, it is very much a community lawsuit. Non-profit group Advocates for Littleton reports that more than 80 individual contributors have donated nearly $19k toward the legal battle. The controversy has received its fair share of media attention with articles published in the Colorado Independent, the Denver Post, the Littleton Independent, and even a TV interview by 7 News.

Zocalo’s first response to the suit was an attempt to strip the plaintiff of her excellent attorney by claiming a conflict of interest. Zocalo filed a motion to disqualify FGMC, resulting in a delayed decision on the case by at least 2 months. Judge Horton of the 18th district judicial court of Arapahoe County held an evidentiary hearing in January, but the matter remained unresolved because of Zocalo’s claims that the evidence of said conflict was confidential and could not be shared publicly in the courtroom. Judge Horton therefore allowed extra time for ‘sealed’ evidence to be shared and responded to between attorneys only. On February 17th, Zocalo’s motion to disqualify was denied. FGMC will remain the attorney on this case. This small victory will keep us going while we wait out the next steps in this lawsuit.

In addition to the failed motion to disqualify, both the developer and City of Littleton filed motions to dismiss the case. Now that the disqualification motion has been decided, the Court will begin to consider both of the motions to dismiss. There is no deadline for a ruling on this, but we hope to have an answer within 6 weeks or sooner.

Despite the unresolved legal proceedings, demolition of the historic buildings on the site has recently been completed. For now, the site remains quietly fenced off, and only time will whether or not Zocalo will press forward with their project in spite of the lawsuit. For more information and to stay tuned, visit Advocates for Littleton’s website: https://sites.google.com/site/advocates4littleton/

Did You Know: Tax Give-Away Robs School, Parks and Recreation

Cities often say, “New development is necessary because we need the tax revenue.” But what if development actually gives away tax money already committed to schools, parks, drainage, and running the city and county?–for 25 years.
This is happening in Littleton right now. City Council (Brinkman, Beckman, Cernanec, and former member Stein) voted to give funds intended for community services instead to urban renewal. This is called Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Littleton has been “TIFfed”–close to being “stiffed”–by our own city government.
Do we really have so much money that we can simply give it away?

Here’s a concrete (pun intended) example:

The thriving King Soopers store at Littleton Boulevard and S. Broadway showed its commitment to that location when it submitted its final remodeling plan to the city on August 7, 2013.

Six weeks later, on Sept 17, 2013, King Soopers received from the city a six-year $500,000 tax incentive agreement to incentivize what they were already planning to do.

King Soopers publicly announced that it would close that location for a year for remodeling, and did so in early January, 2014.

When the remodel was nearly complete, on Dec 2, 2014 City Council voted to “blight” this King Soopers property.

At the same time, City Council approved a tax increment financing scheme to divert all property and sales tax “increment” from the North Broadway urban renewal area, which includes King Soopers. The property taxes that this store generates will now be diverted to the urban renewal authority (LIFT) for the next 25 years according to the North Broadway UR Plan. The sales tax increment is also at risk – for 25 years.

UR Chart 1

This means that this year alone Littleton schools, parks, and recreation will lose $238,268 in property taxes. Littleton Public Schools’ share of that loss is $151,171. Multiply these numbers by 25 years. Then add a whole lot more since we expect that property values and subsequent property taxes will increase over the years. And add to that the amount of sales tax that will be generated and at risk of being used to support development.

The exact amount of the tax give-away is impossible to calculate. But we know that it will be an extremely large amount of money that we tax payers paid intending to support Littleton services, not urban renewal.

This move is called tax increment financing (TIF) because the amount of money diverted to urban renewal is the difference (increment) between the tax generated before urban renewal and after urban renewal.

Since the King Soopers was closed for remodeling when City Council “blighted” the property, the store was collecting no sales tax and the property was assessed at a lower value. Therefore, the property taxes in excess of the base for 25 years will be sent to the urban renewal authority. The sales tax collected from King Soopers could also end up in the special fund for urban renewal.

As things are now, the diverted tax money leaves a hole in our city’s budget—money that could have been spent on providing services to Littleton citizens. It can only be spent to pay debt incurred on an urban renewal project. To date the only debt the urban renewal authority owes is to the citizens of Littleton for a $200,000 line of credit for pursuit of a project. It is in the form of a loan which City Council approved. The first year of the tax increment (see above) will cover their debt to Littleton. But what will they spend the next 24 years of increment on with no projects identified?

Above we referred to the urban renewal authority as LIFT. This stands for “Littleton Invests for Tomorrow,” a name which is quite deceptive. So far all LIFT has done is to “lift” money from the schools, parks, city taxpayers, the county and urban drainage. In fact the law is very specific that the debt of the urban renewal authority has nothing to do with the city of Littleton.

Question: Where will the money for schools, parks, recreation, drainage and running city and county government come from when our taxes are given away?
Answer: Some members of City Council say that they plan to ask us voters for an additional $70 million in taxes for infrastructure. Those are Brinkman, Beckman, and Cernanec, the same members who voted to give our tax money to urban renewal.

Question: Why should our tax money go to urban renewal?
Answer: We cannot get an answer to that, and we certainly have asked.
Suggested action: Email or phone City Council members to say that giving away your tax money is a bad idea, especially if they plan to ask for more taxes to replace it. Their contact information is at littletongov.org. Hint—if they respond, they might tell you, “Trust us—you just don’t understand.”

Want to know more? Come to a Community Conversation on March 10, 2016 at 7pm.  It’s in the Connections Room at 6520 S Broadway–just a few doors south of the Solid Grounds coffee shop, and just south of Panama Drive. Mike Kerrigan and Curt Settles from the Department of Property Taxation will be there to discuss urban renewal and tax increment financing (TIF) in Littleton. They will be happy to respond to questions.

On the Lighter Side: Cool Gardening Ideas

By Betty Harris

Junk mail. Stop it if you can. But if you can’t then make it into garden soil by simply digging a hole in the garden or around the flower beds, especially where you plant annuals and bury it with your kitchen scraps. You can shred it if you have a shredder or bury it whole. As it decomposes it adds organic matter to your soil and your soil holds more moisture so you don’t have to water so much.

Is this the year your are going to build those raised beds and grow some food? Look in your file drawers where you’ve got 30 yrs of tax returns and the backup documents. Release that space for something else. Keep tax return documents for 3 yrs, 3 months and 3 days past the filing due date. Release the older ones to the garden.

Dig down about 12-18 inches inside the newly made raised box and put about 4 inches of tax returns unshredded on the bottom. Add some brewer’s mash from the local micro brewery (we’ve got lots of them in town) and soil and leaves (you really should not throw those leaves into the landfill in plastic bags) and mix with the soil that you put back in. Add some soil supplement such as BOSS that you can get at O’Tooles and mix all together. Grow something.

Take one of my Cool Gardening classes this year to learn more. To be put on the invitation list to take this free class email me at betty@bettyaharris.com.