You may have noticed that Littleton has hired a company, PUMA to do a study on our Mineral and Littleton Downtown Light Rail Stations. This is the outcome of an Intergovernmental Agreement between Littleton and the Regional Transit District (RTD). The purpose is to create a Station Area Master Plan (STAMP). A noble idea, why not create a development plan vision around the light rail stations that residents like and benefits the city? So far there have been several community meetings, open houses and on-line surveys. PUMA has been in conversation with Littleton’s Planning Board and a group of stakeholders.
What could go wrong seeing as a wide group of residents and stakeholder organizations have been involved in providing input for the Mineral Light Rail Station? Well, everything essentially. It all starts with reading the actual contract. That is where you learn that citizen input doesn’t really matter and that the development plan was preordained.
Let’s go to the contract so I can explain what I mean. You can find the contract here (2014 0410 Littleton – RTD IGA – STAMP – Mineral and Littleton Downtown). While it is 175 pages, the first 35 pages covers what we need.
Ready? Here we go! We will start at the beginning:
The context for this Agreement is established in the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) FY14-15 Station Area/Urban Center Studies Eligibility & Evaluation Criteria, attached hereto as Exhibit C, and the RTD TOD Policy dated September 21, 2010, attached hereto as Exhibit D.
This Plan needs to be practical, feasible, and satisfy the following key objectives:
- Providing planning guidance that enables and encourages transit-supportive development.
- Complies with and addresses all of the relevant points articulated within the criteria described by the DRCOG Station Area/Urban Center Studies Eligibility Criteria and the RTD TOD Policy.
Generally, the Parties wish to promote regional sustainability by contributing to transit oriented development sites that collectively will reduce regional per capita vehicle miles traveled, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and water consumption. (p. 5, my emphasis)
Right away we learn that this contact is about making both Mineral and Littleton Downtown Light Rail Stations into transit oriented developments (TOD). This is what I meant by a preordained outcome.
Next we learn what RTD and DRCOG expect from Littleton:
Plan Recommendations. The Parties acknowledge this Agreement is for the development of the Plans only. The Parties commit that they will make reasonable efforts to secure approvals from their respective governing bodies to implement needed infrastructure improvements within their capital improvements program; adopt appropriate zoning code, master plan and other regulatory changes; and incorporate Plan recommendations into local ordinances, regulations or requirements governing development of the Plan areas. Nothing herein commits either governing body to grant such approvals, and nothing herein commits either Party to fund any improvements identified in the Plans or any other adopted plans. (p. 9, my emphasis)
Not only does RTD and DRCOG want Littleton to rewrite our zoning code and master plan, but to also fund the needed infrastructure. Interesting, as we are a city already struggling to maintain our own roads.
You may be asking yourself – what exactly is transit oriented development (TOD)?
While TOD can have many physical forms, it generally includes the following design principles:
- More compact and dense development within a 5- to 10-minute walk around transit facilities compared to existing development patterns in the same area;
- A mix of uses—either horizontal or vertical—usually including residential, retail, and office employment;
- High-quality, pedestrian-oriented urban design and streetscapes. (p. 23, my emphasis)
Translation – high density development. If you have seen the plans that PUMA presented at the last community meeting, you will realize that is exactly what they offered. Having been to many of the meetings, that is not what the residents were suggesting. In fact at that meeting, except for a small minority, the people there were quite upset at what they were seeing.
That’s the general gist of the contract, except for one more piece, parking. Most people believe that with this development there will be more parking, after all it is a parking lot for transit riders. But that is not true either. At the last open house I specifically asked how much more parking would be provided and it was admitted that there was no guarantee there would be any additional parking.
When you read the contract that admission isn’t surprising either:
Goal 3: RTD supports multimodal access to the transit system by all users.
Strategies to achieve this goal include:
- Supporting a hierarchy of access to rapid transit which considers the following modes in order of priority: pedestrians, bus riders, bicyclists, vehicles (short-term parking), and vehicles (long-term parking) (p. 26, my emphasis)
Here we learn that the very last priority of RTD is parking. No wonder there is no commitment to increasing parking in a lot that cannot support the present demand as it is.
In conclusion, the process seems quite nefarious because the residents are lolled into believing their comments mattered and that the end results with incorporate them. So the area plan can be touted as “what the citizens want.” This is very disingenuous because we were never informed that only transit oriented development (TOD) would be considered. The entire process seems to be a farce because as the contract shows, transit oriented developed is the solitary acceptable outcome and parking is not a priority.