By Robin Swartzbacker
So why are people so upset? Because at the west end of Historic Downtown Littleton’s Main Street, a massive four-story 41,691 sq. ft. lot filling building is proposed to replace the already demolished Valley Feed Store.
To understand why this building is completely wrong for the location, let’s first take a look at the circumstances surrounding it.
On August 22 the project went before the Planning Board (PB – now the Planning Commission), applying for a Planned Development Overlay (PDO), city code 10-9, which would allow for changes to its B-2 zoning requirements. The city planning staff recommended disapproval to the PB. On a 4-3 split PB okayed the PDO, and required the building to join the Main Street Historic District.
The PDO allows for an almost 50% reduction of code required parking spaces. The Historic District allows for this reduction as an enticement to join it. Considering the lack of parking in downtown Littleton, this incentive should be reconsidered.
So strangely, after a potentially historic building was demolished, on December 19, 2016, the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) heard the application for a Certificate of Historic Appropriateness (COA), city code 4-6-14, to allow a brand new building into the Main Street Historic District, city code 4-6-5, as a non-contributing building. In a nutshell, this means it has no historic significance, but must meet the Littleton Downtown Design Standards and Guidelines. The proposed structure would be shoe-horned in between two single story buildings: Bradford Auto Body and Genuine African Braiding and Boutique, which is next to the truly historic Carnegie Library.
According to the HPB chair, in her seven year tenure on the board, she has never before seen such a large turnout of citizens against a project. In fact, she had the board take a recess so they could read the dissenting emails included in their packet of information for the meeting.
While Littleton’s planner adequately espoused on how the Littleton Downtown Standards and Guidelines were met (city staff analysis starts on pg 6), paradoxically they left out where the redevelopment did not meet the requirements.
From Littleton Downtown Design Standards and Guidelines, Subarea 5 – Main Street, here are a few excerpts of note:
5.1.1 Existing character – Main Street is the location of the Main Street Historic District. It has a simple but powerful urban design form: a straight street lined by one to two story commercial store front buildings framing a view to the west of the old Carnegie library… with the mountains beyond and a view to the east of the old landmarked Arapahoe County Courthouse… The Main Street Historic District draws its integrity from these important design elements.
5.1.2 Desired character Other gateway elements… may be appropriate, but must not spoil the views of the Courthouse, the mountains, and the Carnegie Library.
5.2.1 Urban Design Obj 4 To coordinate the forms and orientation of buildings to frame views of the old Carnegie library and the mountains beyond…
Unfortunately, this building would not only spoil the view of the mountains and the Carnegie Library, but it also does not frame them – The Melting Pot (old Carnegie Library) is dwarfed and in fact seems to disappear into the horizon, completely negating the entire objective of Main Street’s desired character.
Another potential issue would be 5.2.2 Pedestrian and vehicular access; Obj 2 To minimize conflicts between automobiles, trucks and pedestrians.
At this location, right where Main Street curves toward Santa Fe, exiting traffic would create conflicts between vehicles jockeying to be in the correct lane with little road left to do so. Plus, as there will be much traffic entering and exiting, it could easily cause conflicts between pedestrians and cars. Main Street is highly used by pedestrians.
Finally, under Architecture 5.3.1 Building scale, form, massing and character;
- Obj 3 To maintain the existing scale of predominantly 1 to 2 story building frontages found along Main Street
- Obj 7 To moderate scale changes between adjacent buildings
- Obj 8 To maintain the architectural dominance of the two landmarks at either end of the street (the old Carnegie Library and the old Arapahoe County Courthouse)
As this new four story building would be next to a single story structure to the east (Bradford Auto Body) and is very close to the Old Carnegie Library, its scale and mass would not meet these objectives – it simply towers over its neighbor to the right and left, and dwarfs the old Carnegie Library, the present day Melting Pot.
Unfortunately, from just these few examples it would seem that major objectives of the Littleton Downtown Design Standards and Guidelines simply cannot be met with the present design. The HPB agreed and while not outright denying the COA, asked for a continuance. Their comments (HPB resolution 02-2016 to approve a COA for a new development at 2679 W Main Street, listen to Public Comments and Board Discussion or read Righting Wrong Done to HPB… ) surrounding the continuance made it clear the building has too many stories, is too massive and does not fit Main Street character under its present configuration.
According to Community Development the next HPB meeting on the Littleton Mixed Use building will be scheduled for January 18th.