Will the Real Urban Stewards Please Stand Up? Economic Development ‡ Urban Renewal

Guest Contributor Don Bruns

The legislative declaration in Title 31, Article 25, Part 1 declares that Colorado’s Urban Renewal law exists to prevent and eliminate slums and blight that are injurious to public health, safety, morals, and welfare of its residents.  That verbiage does not appear difficult to comprehend.  Colorado’s urban renewal legislation—despite all its faults—seems to be clearly focused on stewardship of the urban environment.

How then have so many, including apparently even some Council members, been deluded into thinking that economic development is akin to urban renewal?  To regard urban renewal as a primary tool for infusing dollars into our economy appears misguided on several fronts.

Continued advocacy of economic development as a surrogate for community stewardship—under the guise of urban renewal—is not only a false premise, it also presents a false hope to Littleton’s citizens.  There will be no end to the development if elected officials cannot focus on taking care of what we already have.  Indeed, community stewardship is more about caring for the value we already have and perhaps making it better, but not bigger.

Continued growth inevitably leads either to greater urban density or sprawl.  Yet Littleton has no room to sprawl without eating up the open space that sets it apart and is the reason why so many choose to live here.  And high-density development is already impacting the city’s objective small-town and open-space character that generates its subjective charm.

The now predominant kind of economic development advancing “mixed-use” with high density fails to reckon the negative effects of transformative urban growth.  People who value Littleton’s character and charm are increasingly unwilling to embrace the architecturally sterile “cracker-box” architecture sweeping down from Lo-Do, Denver’s urban perimeter, and now encroaching on Littleton.  Transit-oriented development advanced by some on Council, and the crime that goes with it, seems to have little to do with resolving Littleton’s growing traffic congestion or maintenance of our communities.

To call this “smart growth” is a deception.  Much of the growth being driven by economic development advocates not only ignores community stewardship but is not yet constrained by definitive guiding strategies.  For example, it is mysterious why Council has not yet emplaced strategies that not only slow or limit growth but especially ensure that all development fits the cityscapes into which it is being placed—including architecture; landscaping; and street, parking, and walkway hardscape design.

All of this suggests that continued insistence on keeping currently identified urban renewal areas and the LIFT board as a prerequisite to the achievement of economic goals appears to be something far different than the stewardship of Littleton’s community environment—if it is not actually inconsistent with the objective intent of the urban renewal legislation itself.

The city’s residents desperately need to have Council members who understand these issues stand up and face off the opposition along with Littleton’s citizens.  The people have already spoken clearly in many times and ways, including passage of ballot initiative 300.

Did You Know? 2 + 2 = 8 in Urban Renewal

Ensor2
Ensor Property

When does 2 + 2 = 8? When the majority of City Council says it does–and the courts have no right to say otherwise. That is the position the city’s lawyers took in closing arguments of the city’s lawsuit against Arapahoe County.

The state legislature has made numerous changes to urban renewal law over the years.  These have been to prevent abuses of the law by cities in Colorado. In 2010 the legislature decided to address the abuse of cities declaring vacant agricultural land as slum and blight by putting conditions on when agricultural land can be included in an urban renewal area. Those conditions include the requirement that agricultural land cannot make up more than 50% of the urban renewal area, and two-thirds of the border around the agricultural land must be adjacent to urban level development.

The problem for Littleton is that it wants to include vacant agricultural property in its urban renewal area so that it could give money to developers, developers such as Endeavor Real Estate Group who develops properties into Walmart. (Contrary to claims by the city on Rumor Guard that the city has not received any plans and has had no contact with a developer, or WalMart or Sam s Club, the city received, and approved, a rezoning application from Endeavor for the Ensor property last year. The city withdrew its administrative approval of the Ensor rezoning early this year after WalMart became a contentious issue – again.)

The Arapahoe County assessor determined that the agricultural land in the Santa Fe Urban Renewal Plan, which consists mostly of the Ensor property, does not meet the requirements of state law. Littleton sued the Arapahoe County assessor in order to overturn his ruling.

The City Council argued, through its lawyers, that the inclusion of agricultural land is a “legislative determination,” and that the court should “presume” the requirements called out in law have been met because the Council said so. The lawyers made this argument even though they admitted in court that the information presented to Council in order to make its “legislative determination” showed that the agricultural land did not meet the requirements. (Six months after filing suit against Arapahoe County, the Council changed the boundaries of the Santa Fe Urban Renewal Area in order to make the plan match its “legislative determination.”)

When does 2+2=8? In Littleton whenever the majority of Council decides it does.

Cool Gardening Ideas: Smart Start = Starting Small

By Betty Harris

When beginning something new one doesn’t need to make a gigantic project of it.  Most people who grow vegetables for the first time try growing tomatoes in a pot.  That’s a great starting place and you can find all kinds of info online about how to do it.  A Master Gardener friend insists that standard potting soil lacks a vital ingredient for growing tomatoes. She says you need to add calcium to any soil mix you buy to grow tomatoes in pots.  She says that there is often an issue with blossom end rot (the bottom of the tomato has a flat black area that ruins the fruit for eating) when tomatoes need calcium.

If you are planning to move this year from that potted tomato on the patio then this is not the year to murder your lawn and grow all vegetables and fruits everywhere.  This could be the year you start removing sod and planting perennial flowers instead and sneak in a tomato plant or two in the flower bed.  You could also put in some gorgeous rainbow colored stemmed Swiss Chard for texture and color as well as food for the table.  Chard tends to grow very well from seeds planted directly in the flower bed and you can squeeze in a few plants in groups or scattered about.  If your brain doesn’t do well with designs like mine doesn’t then just try something and watch what happens and each year you learn more and get an image in your mind of what you want to grow at various locations.

When we moved from our condo in Englewood to this property in Littleton I had not gardened for some years and it was pent up inside.  The first year was so exhausting-not because of the work HAVING to be done but because I was trying to do too much too soon. But I did have a little success and a great time at it. My friends would come by to visit and say, “You don’t have one of these.” and leave me with a perennial that I’d never grown before.  We were so busy with renovating the house that I didn’t improve the soil or anything. I just cut a hole in the barrier cloth under that ugly bark mulch and dug a small hole and put the plant in and said, “You go, girl”.  The first year they sorta survived like they were sleepy.  The next year they crept along a bit and the third year they took a giant leap. So when I talk about perennials I quote Eric Toensmeier who said, “first they sleep, then they creep and then they leap.”  Well, they certainly did so the third year and I have giving them away each year since.

So an easy solution to your garden plans is to start with a few vegetables in a flower bed mixed with perennials that will take over in a few years while you start building some raised garden beds and feed the worms in your soil.   And NO, you do not have to touch the worms… you simply have to feed them.  Worms are your best friends in the garden and tremendous workers as they transform organic matter into soil.  Colorado is not known for its great soil but rather for its clay and dirt.  Dirt is chemistry, Soil is biology.  You don’t need a science degree to build soil. You only need dirt, organic matter, worms and time.

With Earth Day coming up why not plant a tree? Plant a fruit tree with an eye to locating it where it will not shade areas you may want to plant a garden later. I suggest on the north side of your property.  Add some currant bushes south of the tree and in a few years you’ll be able to make some great currant jelly. But in addition to the pleasure of its company you will reap greater rewards as these woody plants help to cool your spot while sucking CO2 from the atmosphere.

What About the Green Party?

Sedinam Kinamo Christin Moyowaifza Curry of Colorado is a  presidential candidate for the Green Party – My objective in joining the Green party was and is about building a permanent third political party in the United States of America that is neither funded nor controlled by corporations and corporate interests. This has been my work over the past fourteen years (since 2002) with the Green Party of the United States (local, sate, national and international). I see the way forward must be for “us Greens” to emphasize a direct action strategy and tactical plan with the current traditional electoral political system that is geared toward women, people of color, immigrants, independents and progressives in a clear and measurable manner.

Did You Know? Why is the City of Littleton changing all the street signs?

St sign 1

By now you must have noticed new street signs in downtown Littleton and on the west side of Prince south of Ridge Road.  You are probably wondering why it is out with the old and in with the new. We wondered too so we inquired.

This new effort in Littleton is called Littleton Wayfinding and will be phased in over the next three years.  Phase 1 is to be completed by late spring of 2016 and Phase II before the end of 2016.  The cost of this new signage is estimated to be over $1.2 million with $500,000 approved in 2015, $465,000 approved in 2016 and another $235,000 projected for the 2017 budget.  (Phase III has not been bid yet so those costs could vary.)

Littleton resident, Paul Bingham, did ask the Public Works Director, Mark Relph, about the new signs and was told that the replacement of street signs is an unfunded mandate by the Federal government.  So we looked into the unfunded mandate and this is what we found.

Yes, new standards were adopted on January 22, 2008 that created new standards for the retroreflectivity of signs.  In this instance retroreflectivity refers to the amount of light that is reflected back when the car headlights shine on the sign in the dark.

When the regulations were changed there was a broad outcry from municipalities across the US complaining about the expense of this mandate.  Their complaints were heard and the feds extended the compliance dates.  The 2012 date was extended to 2014, the 2015 date only includes regulatory and warning signs must be assessed by the deadline; street signs have to be assessed but no compliance deadline established.  The 2018 deadline no longer exists.  And remember, this is only for the retroflectivity requirement.  The following table shows what was first approved and the changes made after the public outcry.

Table 1. Changes to the Retroreflectivity Maintenance Rule

Original Requirements                                                 Changes

Agencies must implement a sign retroreflectivity assessment or management method by January 22, 2012 Deadline extended to two years after effective date of revised Final Rule [May 2014]

 

Retroreflectivity assessment or management method must be implemented for all traffic signs

 

Only regulatory and warning signs (e.g., stop signs) must be assessed/managed by the new deadline; other signs must also be assessed, but no deadline.

 

Noncompliant regulatory, warning, and post-mounted guide signs must be replaced by January 22, 2015

 

No deadline, though noncompliant signs must be replaced

 

Noncompliant street name signs and overhead guide signs must be replaced by January 22, 2018

 

No deadline, though noncompliant signs must be replaced

Source: Federal Highway Administration, “National Standards for Traffic Control Devices; MUTCD; Revision,” 77 Federal Register 28460, May 14, 2012.

But the retroreflectivity standards said nothing about the new lettering requirement, which led us to learn of a second and separate regulation adopted in 2009 that changed the lettering from ALL CAPS to Initial Caps.  This regulation does not have a compliance date and only applies to signs that name streets, places and highways.  In other words, the Initial Cap signs can be mounted when the current signs need replacing – perhaps because they do not meet the retroreflectivity standard.  There’s no reason for a wholesale changing of all street signs in the city of Littleton over the next three years!

Someone somewhere determined older people (i.e. baby boomers) could decipher street signs better that were written in Initial Caps than they could signs written in ALL CAPS.

Next question.  Did we have to change the colors of our street signs? The answer is No – we did not.  In fact, replacing the signs and using the same green and white colors would make the change from ALL CAPS to Initial Caps less noticeable.  But changing colors (I guess we need to use the same colors that are in the new city logo because the new logo doesn’t go with the old green and white signs) created more difficulties.  No longer can a single sign be replaced due to the end of its life cycle because the new signs are black and white and would be inconsistent with all the other signs in the area.  But the old signs were/are Initial Caps so we were already in compliance.

Who and why?  Good questions and the answer is typical of one that you would expect from Washington.  Why – baby boomers are getting old and we are not able to see the current signs well enough.  Who – would it surprise you to learn that 3M, one of the few companies that manufactures the materials for the new signs, funded a key study used by the American Traffic Safety Services Association to lobby for the new standards?  Just imagine what that would do to 3M’s bottom line if every street sign in America had to be replaced.  Maybe time to buy some 3M stock!

The Grove Legal Battle Continues On

 

Grove 4By Leah Burkett

The legal battle to stop the Grove project in Downtown Littleton is slowly but surely moving forward.  After surviving Zocalo’s attempt to have our attorney removed from the case, in early March the same judge denied both the City of Littleton and Zocalo’s efforts to have the case dismissed.  In mid-March, both defendants were finally required to answer the original legal complaint from October 2015.  Not surprisingly, both defendants denied all zoning violations and any wrong-doing.

The legal case is now slated to go to trial, although a decision will likely be made sooner if a motion for summary judgment is granted.   Although there are numerous (and obviously important) zoning violations cited in the case, the overarching issue in this challenge is whether or not the neighbors should have been entitled to the appeal hearing that they sought from the City’s Board of Adjustment.  This one decision, which boils down to an interpretation of City code, is not exactly appropriate for a trial.  A motion for summary judgment fast forwards the case and asks for a quicker decision in our favor.

To say the least, by falsely declaring the Grove a ‘use by right’ project and claiming it meets existing zoning provisions, the City of Littleton made it a very hard case to fight.  According to the attorneys at Foster Graham, the only sure-fire way to stop a ‘use by right’ project is to seek an injunction.  Unfortunately, injunctions aren’t exactly attainable for your average Joe Citizen: to obtain one requires a bond deposit which can easily amount to multi-millions of dollars.  Do any of you readers have a millionaire friend that would be willing to do this for us?  We didn’t think so!

Plan B was to challenge the case internally within the City of Littleton, through the Board of Adjustment (BoA).  If the neighborhoods’ appeal application would have been accepted, a hearing would either have killed the Grove plan all together or made it a much simpler legal challenge.   However, since the City interpreted that the BoA hearing was not allowed, Plan B became to challenge the City’s BoA interpretation.  The defendant’s motions to disqualify and dismiss the case were unexpected hurdles in the legal challenge, but now that those hurdles have been cleared, we march forward with our heads held high.

Whether we win the case or not, there are some troubling questions that neither the City Council nor Staff have yet been willing to discuss: When it comes to land-use, where are the checks and balances to staff decisions when the Council and Boards are cut out of the process? (There are none).  Who investigates complaints of abuse of power? (Nobody – except perhaps the abusers of power themselves).  What is to stop the Staff from abusing the ‘use-by-right’ approach again? (Who knows?!)

 The case will likely drag on for at least a few more months before we have a final decision.  For now, the site remains quietly fenced off; apparently abandoned while we await a decision. Stay tuned!

 The legal challenge against the Grove is being financed by Colorado non-profit Advocates for Littleton.  Contributions to this important litigation are gratefully accepted at:

 www.gofundme.com/fightthegrove

Note that Advocates for Littleton is a registered Colorado Charity, but is not an IRS 501c3, as such contributions are not tax deductible.

 For more information and to stay tuned, visit Advocates for Littleton’s website:

 https://sites.google.com/site/advocates4littleton/

Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

By Bill McGee

Are you living your life?

I know, sounds like a dumb question. But, think about it. What is most important to you in experiencing the quality of life you desire?

We often feel overwhelmed by the demands of our environment and forget about what’s most important to us. It’s easy to go from day to day obeying the dictates of society or habits that don’t serve us well.

The way to change that—and have a more rewarding life—is to become clear on your most important values.

I have done this powerful exercise and discovered that my Number One value is Personal Peace. For somebody else, it may be Adventure. Or Wealth. Or Career Success.

Knowing your most important values does not preclude having other desirable things. It means choosing your top priorities in experiencing life.

Look for my upcoming free seminar: Knowing Your Top Values, Living Your Life.