Zoning Issues Continue

littleton-crossing-2

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.

Advertisements

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.

Historic Preservation Board Approves Littleton Mixed Use

lmu2

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.

lmu

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.

 

FTR: Why is There Zoning Anyway?

 

By Carol Fey
One purpose of zoning is to give current and prospective property owners assurance of what the property near theirs can be used for.  If you buy a house, you want to know that a junk yard or a 12-story apartment building isn’t going to be built next to your house.

Yet in Littleton, we treat zoning as if it’s an obstacle to a developer’s supposed right to do whatever he wants.  Some members of city council claim again and again, “The developer has the right to develop his property!  He has the right to make money!”

But does that developer, who knows full well the zoning of a property when he buys it, have the right to build something very different from what zoning allows?   Or to go before the Planning Commission and claim that his sidewalk-to-sidewalk development will have no negative impact?

How did we get to the place where the supposed rights of a developer to do whatever he wants is more important than the rights of citizen property owners to expect city government to enforce city code, to protect citizens’ property values and lifestyle?

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

lmu

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

lmu

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.

Did You Know: More High Density Development for Downtown Littleton

littleton-crossing-2

littleton-crossing-3

By Scott Keyser

Development and land use changes without citizen input is happening yet again now that the land use has changed for the proposed Littleton Crossing Development at 5591 S Nevada, a block north of Main Street.

Despite community and downtown business objection, in 2013 zoning for the lot at 5591 S Nevada was approved for high density luxury condominiums.  In 2016, with no public hearing, the proposed development was changed to low income housing for 55 years by the Colorado Housing Finance Authority (CHFA).  The Littleton Crossing Development is being developed by out of state developer, Summit Housing Group

The zoning allows the development of 63 units (85 bedrooms) on a lot smaller than the size of one block and is unlike all other zoning in District One (Downtown Littleton). One of the main objections is related to parking, which is already a challenge for residents and visitors to the local businesses. The city has suggested that restricting visitor parking would be a potential solution should there be further parking issues from the new, high density development. Business owners and visitors are already vocal about parking issues in downtown Littleton, and the new development could certainly lead to more congestion.

The residents of downtown Littleton created a petition in July of 2016 to oppose the CHFA approval for low income housing. The petition was signed by local residents in district one as well as many business owners. There are already four low income housing developments within 3 blocks of the proposed development as well as many more within walking distance of downtown Littleton, and many in the community would rather see a “market rate” development as downtown Littleton continues to prosper.

The CHFA approval is being scrutinized by Littleton city council after learning the community objection was omitted from the review process. Instead, the CHFA approval was based on support from developers and an individual associated with RTD. It has also been realized the development will give priority to Section 8 applicants despite originally promoting the development as a place for teachers, police workers and firefighters, who will not qualify for the low income units. Furthermore, the CHFA approval was based on the low income housing development to stay for the next 55 years.

Littleton City Council is holding a special ‘Study Session’ on January 24 during which it will interview CHFA and learn more about its process related to this project.  After the study session City Council will decide whether to give further direction to the City concerning approval of the project. People are encouraged to voice their opinion to city council and the city manager as they continue to scrutinize the CHFA approval. You can find contact information for city council members and the acting city manager at http://littletongov.org/connect-with-us/city-leadership/city-council-members and http://www.littletongov.org/city-services/city-departments/city-manager.

Thanks for helping!