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.

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.

A “Train Wreck” in Southwest Littleton…Coming Soon?

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By Don Bruns

Many have long puzzled over how things became so disjointed in the world of planning, especially for land use, management and master plans. A main reason why is that the real world is not at all so disjointed. Biologists have a handy metaphor for walled-off compartmentalization of the real world, the “territorial imperative.” In human society, it’s commonly called “turf.” People like to stake out territory, protect and defend it.

Pros and Cons of Walled-Off Turf
Among many reasons for territorialism, not all are bad. No one can be equally knowledgeable about all subjects across the board. So administrators commonly create departments to help staffs address various bite-sized components of the real world that lies beyond their office walls.

Yet real world complexity and interconnectedness is seldom reflected in the ways that inter- and intra-office planning and staffing is structured and functionally integrated. While it’s much easier for a single entity to plan independent from outside influencers and affecting providers, consideration of their actions through collaborative engagement is critically important to ensure success. Especially if success is measured in terms of maintaining desirable conditions and delivering satisfying end-results to those being served.

Other “turf” results from each organizational unit’s sense of mission, including its administratively conveyed sense of empowerment. Among local governments in particular, this is where planning particularly gets messy. When special interests walk on stage from outside organizations bringing funding with them to achieve their own ends. Another, less conspicuous but even more troubling, is when special interests find their way to sit at the table by masquerading as public officials.

Among Littleton’s city departments are separate organizational units for Community Development, Economic Development, Public Works, Human Resources, and Communications among others. Conspicuous by their absence are any units responsible for Community Stewardship and Natural Resource Management. The short answer seems to have been that South Suburban Parks and Recreation (SSPR) does that natural resource piece. For all the good SSPR does, its scope of influence is nonetheless limited. There appears to be no department or departments charged with responsibility for maintenance of neighborhood community character and the stewardship of natural/open space resources. This however is critical for balancing the well-orchestrated efforts of community and economic development departments. This deficiency is particularly problematic in the world of planning—in all of its phases: comprehensive, land use and master plans.

Needed: More Broadly Focused Plans & Key Affecting Provider Engagement
Several of these problems are manifested in the city’s current approach to plans underway for both South Platte Park (SPP) and the Mineral Light Rail Station. In the case of SPP, significant offsite challenges have surfaced in the park’s management plan update process that lie well beyond the scope of SPP managers, its planning process, and the purview of SSPR as well. This leaves SPP managers caught between the proverbial “rock and hard spot.”

In the case of the Mineral Station plan, the city is in control of what that effort does to SPP. However this plan’s scope of work was evidently not designed to ensure that whatever happens at that site—including new trails being considered as “low hanging fruit” to SPP across the RTD site and its environs (although favored by many)—would not introduce further crowding on Park trails, reduce visitor safety and adversely impact park experiences and resources.

Until and unless the city engages other significant affecting providers and influencers within both planning efforts, it is extremely unlikely that either plan will optimize benefits and avoid adverse impacts generated off-site. And these could well be substantial and irretrievable.

Mineral Station Plan Threatens to Adversely Impact South Platte Park
More specifically, the Mineral Light Rail Station planning effort appears to have been structured without regard to the pressing need to address its sizeable adverse impacts. It is now clear that these include direct impacts from the kinds of commercial and retail development favored by the city, RTD and DRCOG to SPP environs, to its visitors and to affected neighborhoods in particular. Transit Oriented Development (TOD)—this planning effort’s focus—and any new two and three-story structures would further obstruct highly valued views to this unique floodplain park. Looking at things from the inside out, park aesthetics and experiences would be compromised from the urbanization’s impact on natural countryside. Value-wise, planned developments risk exchanging public resource integrity for privately owned visual park access from the new developments.

Inadequate Planning Frameworks and Approaches
For the Mineral Light Rail Station planning effort, it is evident that development interests funded by RTD and DRCOG helped set the stage. Initially billed as a master plan, its scope falls far short of what is required for such plans. The planning contract focuses narrowly on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and limits the areal scope to one-quarter mile of the RTD site. That pre-decisional determination, made even before any planning was done and any public input was sought, is unwise. Primary issues facing this effort—confirmed by public feedback and Planning Commission dialogue—are the enormous threat that urbanization of this site holds for SPP and affected neighborhoods. Also is a failure to address what publics have identified as even greater challenges: inadequate on-site parking and yet unresolved Mineral-Santa Fe traffic congestion.

Most significant challenges to South Platte Park’s public service delivery system and its stewardship appear to originate off-site. Besides planned urbanization of Mineral Station, there is the challenge of how to manage public use originating beyond the City of Littleton. Of course these challenges lie beyond the purview of SPP and SSP&R, but not that of Littleton’s City Council and its Planning Commission. It is therefore unthinkable that the critical need for an expanded planning framework that collaboratively engages other municipalities to address their effects on the Park and its users could have been overlooked. Even greater geographic and socio-political on- and off-site challenges face the Mineral Station planning effort, especially traffic and parking.

Because both plans are being done by Littleton, independent the involvement of other affecting providers, it does not seem unreasonable to conclude that they are insufficiently comprehensive for adequately addressing all critically important key influencers and their effects.

Community Engaged but the Window for Corrective Action is Closing
It is heartening to have seen several citizens bring key issues before the City, but definitive action is urgently needed to avoid that proverbial “train wreck.” Citizens appreciate that the Acting City Manager in particular and some staff as well have begun to wrestle with this situation. But City Council itself must not remain disengaged.

Absent significant changes to both planning efforts, adverse, irreversible and irretrievable impacts to South Platte Park and those it serves seem certain. Yet none of them are being adequately addressed. Neither are adverse impacts to Santa Fe-Mineral traffic, affected neighborhood character, and even Aspen Grove. The most imminent threat is the out-of-character development being envisioned for Mineral Station. Out of character with the Park and affected communities and out of touch with supply-demand realities of light rail commuter travel. Even area retail business enterprise and values held dear by Littleton’s citizens are sure to be adversely impacted unless the conceptual framework for this plan is significantly altered.

There is far too much at risk to imagine that current plans and conceptual planning frameworks will somehow avoid these impacts. Citizens can only hope that City Council will act expeditiously.

Did You Know: Historic Preservation Board Says No to Littleton Mixed Use

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Littleton has a long history as an agricultural community but did you know we once were the home of Centennial Racetrack? Just north of Bowles on the west side of the river Centennial Racetrack attracted audiences for 33 years before closing in 1983. Little remains from the horse racing days in Littleton and the demolition of the Valley Feed and Supply at the end of Main Street marks another rite of passage from those days.

Paul Sutton opened his Valley Feed and Supply in 1936 and provided the farmers in the area feed for their livestock and when the racetrack opened it was only natural that his business would serve the racetrack. Today the racetrack is long gone and Valley Feed is no longer. Paul’s son, Gary, retired recently and sold the prime piece of real estate in downtown Littleton and everyone has waited to learn how it would be redeveloped.

The wait was over in December when plans were presented to the Planning Commission for a very attractive but very big (four stories high) project named Littleton Mixed Use. Although staff recommended a denial the Planning Commission approved a conditional rezoning of the property. The condition imposed required the applicant to get a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) from the Historic Preservation Board, (HPB) which had many scratching their heads – how could a new building be historic? But we have seen dirt designated historic in downtown Littleton so…………..

On December 19, 2016 HPB found that “revisions to the proposed design are necessary to bring the application into compliance with the criteria for a COA.” (Staff Report to HPB dated 1/18/2017) On January 19th HPB once again held a public hearing on the project that had been slightly redesigned in an attempt to garner favor for approval. The meeting attracted several citizens from several different areas of the city to testify why the project did not warrant the COA. The applicant, the owner and the owner’s partner in LaVaca testified in favor of the project.

Even though the staff recommended approval after hours of testimony and deliberation the HPB voted to deny the COA based on the following criteria not being met:
1. Parking lots shall be located at the rear of the building and side parking lots shall be avoided along Main Street. (this designed had a side parking lot)
2. Buildings shall be designed to provide human scale, interest and variety while maintaining an overall sense of relationship with adjoining or nearby buildings. (the four stories was not in relationship with the adjoining buildings)
3. Proposed buildings on Main Street higher than two stories shall step back the upper story so only 25% or less of the upper floors is visible to the pedestrian from the center sidewalk directly across the street. (HPB did not believe this standard was met)
4. It is not visibly compatible with the development on adjacent properties. (The mass, size, scale and height were issues)

But the story has not concluded. The applicant has options. They can, according to the city:

1. Appeal to the city council to over-rule the HPB
2. Submit a revised plan to HPB again for review/approval
3. Ask the Planning Commission to remove the PDO (Planned Development Overlay) and build under the B2 zoning code which would require the parking and open space regulations of B2 zoning to be met.

Even though the story is not over, we commend the HPB for a thorough review of the criteria as it pertained to the project and having the resolve to vote their own conscience rather than follow the staff recommendation.

Community Upset with Valley Feed Store Redevelopment

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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.