Zoning Issues Continue

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By Deanna Cook

The 170 tenant-capacity, low-income housing development called Littleton Crossing will be built at 5591 South Nevada Street on the old St. Mary’s Church and school site.  After citizens were persistent in their request for council to intervene, the subject was finally on their agenda.  However, upon the advice of counsel and under threat of possible litigation from the developer, council’s discussion was very limited.  But now it is abundantly clear that the previous council rezoned this parcel of land in violation of the city’s zoning code as it did not meet the minimum lot size for rezoning.  (Councilmembers Brinkman, Cernanec, Stahlman and Stein supported the rezone and Councilmembers Beckman, Cole and Valdes did not.  Clark was not on council at the time.)  Now staff is negotiating construction design changes, attempting to mitigate the zoning violations inherent from the original wrongful rezoning.  Surprisingly, the City advised concerned citizens last week that Littleton, not the Montana developer, will be paying for those changes.

Get to Know Littleton’s Employees: Aaron Heumann – Transportation Engineering Manager

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Name: Aaron Heumann

How long have you worked for Littleton: I started working for the city at the end of 2016, so I have been working in Public Works for 15 months now. However, I had been interested in working for the city ever since Craig Faessler, the previous City Traffic Engineer, resigned from the position in 2008. I had inquired as to when the city would hire a new traffic engineer for eight years until Mark Relph was hired on as the new Public Works Director and determined the need to once again fill the position.

Job Responsibilities: As the city’s Transportation Engineering Manager, my responsibilities extend between Public Works and Community Development. On the Public Works side, I am responsible for the operation of the 60 existing traffic signals in the city, along with the pedestrian signals, emergency signals and school zone flashers. I am also charged with determining the appropriate location for any new traffic control devices. I direct our traffic crew on the configuration and maintenance of pavement markings utilized on the city roadways and the type and location of regulatory signs installed to direct motorists and pedestrians. Then there are special projects and studies that arise, such as evaluating and improving key corridors in the city, developing and revising signal timing coordination, studying locations for pedestrian safety, conducting vehicular speed studies, studying parking conditions, and addressing a variety of council and resident concerns regarding anything from transportation operations and accommodations to neighborhood traffic calming needs to school safety concerns. I also am responsible for data collection in the form of traffic volumes, speed data, and accident data, and evaluating the information for historical changes and identifying locations of concern. There is also regular collaboration among all of the engineers who work in Public Works with regard to ongoing roadway and utility construction projects, and coordination with adjacent municipalities and regional agencies. I attend regular meetings with the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), CDOT and Arapahoe County, as well as working with our neighboring cities and counties on specific projects and teaming opportunities, such as the Platte Canyon Road Task Force.

For Community Development, I am responsible for reviewing any development projects for potential impacts to traffic operations on adjacent roadways, the location and allowance of access driveways, the internal project circulation and parking configuration, as well as assuring the City Code and federal regulations, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, are adhered to appropriately. I also assist with providing any planning for the future of the city, whether that may be through updates to the city Comprehensive Plan or Transportation Plan, or participating in master planning studies, such as those currently under way for our two light rail station areas, or review and improvements to our standards and codes by which we abide. I also work with other agencies on planning for the region, such as the Arapahoe County Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Planning currently ongoing.

What is your favorite part of the job: In many ways I am a typical engineer in that I like to solve problems. I take a lot of pride in the city in which I live, am raising my family, and work, so I find the most joy in resolving issues in the city and improving the safety and operations for everyone, no matter how big or small.

Hobbies: I try to stay busy outside of work. I have been a board member for South Metro Housing Options for more than 11 years, I am currently the president of my neighborhood HOA and have been for the past three years, I am a past president for my local professional society section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and a co-chair for the upcoming Western District of ITE conference that will be held in Keystone in the summer of 2018. My wife and I have two boys we adopted from Guatemala, so we attend a weekend summer camp for adoptive families of Latin American countries, where I have volunteered as the soccer coach for the past several years. Having coached soccer for many years, I have resolved myself to being the team manager for my oldest son’s competitive soccer team as part of the Littleton Soccer Club. In fact I just returned from an out-of-state tournament with the team where I chaperoned the 16 players in Dallas, TX. Finally, I enjoy exercising, so in addition to currently training to run my fourth marathon next month, I also take Krav Maga (Israeli self defense) fitness classes two or three times a week, and go on long road bike rides when I have a chance on nice weather weekends.

Personal Statement: Life has thrown me some curves over the years, but I believe in trying to stay as positive as possible and focusing on the long vision and not worrying about the little things. This past year has been an especially challenging roller coaster ride. On the one hand I started my dream job of working as the traffic engineer in the city I love and chose to live and raise my kids. Unfortunately, on the other hand I had to witness the rapid deterioration and eventual succumbing of my hero and inspiration when my father passed away to a combination of illnesses, including a rare cancer and Alzheimer. As a retired professor in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois, my dad taught me how to integrate engineering and planning, the importance of being involved in your children’s lives and an active participant in your community, and to treat everyone with compassion.

For the Record: Impact Fees Revisited

By John Watson

Citizen impetus caused the City of Littleton to enact impact fees. Impact fees are enacted to compensate the municipality for the loss of income from the creation of residential property zoning and construction which do not adequately compensate the city for services required, e.g.  Police, fire, museum, library, transportation and facilities.  The impact fees went into effect in 2015 for construction permits which were requested after the ordinance went into effect.  The state law requires that the impact fees be segregated funds and be used for the improvements identified, e.g. police, fire, museum, library, transportation and facilities.  At the request of citizens I have revisited the effect and practice of the impact fees on the City of Littleton.

Under the new administration at the City of Littleton (Manager Mark Relph) the staff was very courteous and accommodating as if they wished to help with this project. Quite unlike the pulling teeth experience with the prior management (Michael Penny).  The building department collects that impact fee when the permit is obtained. The Building Department furnished me with an impressive list of 55 pages of projects which paid impact fees since 2015. Due to the volume of information I will limit my discussion to the effect of impact fees in 2016. During that period the impact fees collected were $3,335,728. Impressive. The fees expended were less than half of that amount. The spent impact fees went principally for the Trailmark Fire Station. That is a tortured rationale for the use of impact fees for the affected areas since it does not appear that any of the impact fees were collected from Trailmark but most were spent there.  Another principal expense was a street in Littleton Village but that development is paying impact fees and that is understandable.

That information comes principally from the City Finance office. They pleasantly produced very transparent and detailed accounting records of the impact fees collected and expended. The information is available from the city website under the finance section as well. Impressive. The funds are segregated. They are properly collected by the Building Department at the time of issuance of the permit.  There is nearly $2,000,000 in funds collected from 2016 for expenses for the impacted areas.

The impact fees will always pale in comparison to the income from retail sales taxes but have been significant during this building boom experienced by Littleton since 2015 and will compensate the citizens for the expenses of the high density apartments permitted by the city. The performance by the new city management and staff is vastly improved. Impressive.

Did You Know: Council Rethinks Stance on Written Minutes

After abandoning written minutes in 2014, city council voted to return to a written format at their February 21, 2017 meeting. The exact words of the motion:

For the purposes of the charter, this code, or state law, the term minutes shall mean action minutes of the meeting of city council or any of its authorities, boards, or commissions. Action minutes shall mean motions, the vote of any motion, and the name of any citizen speaking under public comment and/or public hearings and their stance.

The video recordings of meetings shall be kept in perpetuity.

To refresh your memory, council voted 4/3 (Beckman, Cole and Valdes dissented) on Mar 18, 2014 to define minutes as a video tape recording, and since that time written minutes, as they existed in the past, were not provided. But council has rethought its position, mostly because Councilman Doug Clark, who was not on the council when the definition of minutes was changed the first time, continues to vote no on the approval of the minutes which is a certification of the video recording of the meeting. He pointed out that the written Journal provided was never reviewed or approved by council and contained errors. He stood fast that council should be accountable for reading and approving the written record of their meeting. We are grateful to Mr. Clark for his steadfastness and we applaud the action of all councilmembers to provide action minutes in a written format.

City of Littleton Board of Appeals Chair Speaks Out

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I am Dave Mitchell and I come before you [Littleton City Council, watch video] as the Chair of the Building Board of Appeals and things have gone astray. There has not been an appeal of a staff decision for years…..years.

This board is an extension of city council and quasi-judicial and yet I have been told that we could not meet without staff present – told by the staff. Staff is in control of this facility and the city attorney so it’s difficult to have a meeting without their cooperation or without their permission???? Here is the current process/status: a contractor or home owner pulls a permit, does some work, and calls for an inspection. If the inspector says no, the permit holder asks for a review and has a discussion with the inspector and the inspectors’ supervisor (city staff) and they say no.

Please look at the photocopy provided. The holder wants to appeal and goes to the city website and what do they see – a way to contact the very staff that has already turned them down. They see an appeals board but good luck contacting any of them.

We have heard of the tail wagging the dog but how about the hairs wagging the tail that’s wagging the dog. By the way, this has gotten to where it is under the previous management and I doubt that the current management would approve.

The contact information for the board should appear first and clearly say that the permit holder has a right to appeal and then the staff information, if at all.

Historic Preservation Board Approves Littleton Mixed Use

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By Michael Price
At its February monthly meeting, the City of Littleton Historical Preservation Board (HPB) approved an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) for a new building to be constructed at 2679 West Main Street, site of the former Valley Feed Store.

The Littleton Planning Commission required the application for this COA during its August, 2016 meeting, where it approved the Planned Development Overlay by a 4-3 vote, with the provision that the property be included in the Main Street Historic District, which encompasses most of the buildings along Main Street from Bega Park to the Melting Pot Restaurant.

The owner and applicant are Jon Benallo and a company called 2679 West Main Street Partners LLC. Architect Josh Rowland of LAI Design Group of Englewood, CO presented the COA application to the Board.

The Planning Commission approved a four story brick and siding mixed use building, which would front on Main Street, contain 41,691 square feet, and have main floor retail and banking operations, second and third floor offices and five penthouse apartments on the fourth floor. The building measured 61 feet at its highest point, 98 feet along the Main Street frontage, and 173 feet deep along its north-south line. The property is zoned B-2. Most of downtown Littleton is zoned Central Area (CA), with different height limitations and other standards than B-2.
The HPB approves COAs utilizing standards and guidelines approved and published by the City and must carefully consider whether or not the Guidelines are being followed to grant a COA to allow remodeling or new construction to occur.

The property owner added it to the Main Street Historic District on December 9, 2016. On December 19, 2016, the application, presented to the HPB, revealed that several variations from the B-2 zoning requirements were recommended by the Community Development staff and approved by the Planning Commission in August, 2016. These included a 50 per cent reduction in the required number of parking spaces, a reduction in the size of each parking space, a reduction to the open space requirement, a reduction in the unobstructed open space along Main Street, a deviation in the third and fourth floor setbacks, as well as a deviation in the parking lot location.

During the December hearing, the HPB heard from Community Development staff, the applicant’s architect, and members of the public, most of whom spoke against the proposed COA approval. The HPB decided to continue the hearing until January when the applicant would resubmit the COA to more closely conform to the standards that the HPB would consider.

On January 18, 2017, the HPB heard the amended COA application. Fifteen citizens testified at the public hearing, 80% opposed. The HPB reviewed four main standards and 53 additional standards of the Littleton Downtown Design Guidelines, finding several areas where the building did not conform. These included a curb cut along Main Street, a side parking lot, a lack of overall relationship with adjacent buildings, the high visibility of the third and fourth floors from a point across the street, that the mass of the building, would dwarf all other buildings along Main Street and did not comply with the City’s Comp plan for downtown. Members of the HPB viewed this building as creating a new skyline for downtown, detracting from the Arapahoe County Courthouse and the Old Mill on Rapp Street as the tallest buildings in the downtown area, as well as minimizing the Carnegie Library (which houses the Melting Pot Restaurant), the western iconic building in downtown.

The HPB voted unanimously to deny the COA application.

On February 22, 2017, the applicant, through Community Development staff and its architect, resubmitted the COA application, with a major change to the proposed project. The revised application called for the removal of the fourth floor apartments, resulting in a three story building which at its highest point would be 44 feet. The applicant added an additional retail bay to the Main Street frontage, resulting in a building length along Main Street of 118 feet. The public hearing involved four citizens, all of whom requested that the HPB deny the revised application, citing a lack of consistency with the Downtown Guidelines, and that the building character and mass still did not fit with the buildings currently along Main Street.

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The HPB again carefully considered each of the four main standards, and reviewed again compliance with the 53 additional standards. A motion to approve the COA passed with a 4-3 vote.

The project now moves to a staff level Site Development Plan (SDP), where the Community Development staff ensures that lighting, landscape and paving standards are followed along the lines of Planning Commission approval. A separate COA will be done at the staff level for building signage.