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.

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.

Did You Know: More High Density Development for Downtown Littleton

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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!

Did You Know? Retail Sales Taxes are on the Rise for Urban Renewal Areas

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The Urban Renewal (UR) law provides an opportunity, by state statute, to rid the community of slum and blight that retards the sound economic growth of an area.  When the UR Plan provides for the use of any increase in sales tax to be used to help defray the cost of an urban renewal project, a sales tax “base” for the area has to be determined.  The law stipulates that there is a “look back” period of the previous 12 months  – whatever was collected in that time period becomes the base for all future year collections, and in our plans that is for 25 years.  Any increase in sales tax will be compared to the base and anything above the base will be diverted to LIFT, our UR Authority.

Typically, municipalities do not include sales tax increment to fund Urban Renewal projects for a couple of reasons.  First, it diverts needed sales tax revenue out of the General Fund to the UR authority.  Secondly, it is a difficult calculation to make.  (Imagine you have sales tax on your Comcast bill, other telephone providers, sales tax on a car that you buy but purchased elsewhere…..  You can see that it is a tricky thing to establish.)

Because Urban Renewal is used to rid a community of slum and blight there is generally a dip in sales and property taxes for the first few years while redevelopment is occurring.  And slum and blighted areas, by statute, constitutes an economic liability to the community so it makes sense that new tax dollars would not be present for a few years.  But, as someone from the Institute of Justice told us as they were driven around Littleton to see our slum and blight, Littleton has the best looking slum and blight they had ever seen!

There’s nothing like numbers to prove a point so here you go.

  • Columbine Square UR Plan Area – Sales tax collection was up $19,500 for 2015.  That represents an additional $650,000 in retails sales and a 7% increase over the look-back period.
  • Littleton Blvd UR Plan Area – Sales tax collection was up $71,581 for 2015.  That represents an additional $2,386,033 in retail sales and a 13.6% increase over the look-back period.
  • North Broadway UR Plan Area – Sales tax collection was up $22,959 for 2015.  That represents an additional $765,300 in retail sales and a 2.5% increase over the look-back period.  But this calculation is being challenged.  The city did not follow the law that states anything collected over the base is increment and is to be deposited into the special fund of the UR authority.  The city decided they could use the increment to pay King Soopers their tax share-back amount that was negotiated in a separate agreement.  Acting city attorney will be issuing a second opinion and we expect to see this number increase.

As you can see, Littleton is thriving, even in our “slum and blighted” areas.  With the increases that we are seeing in the Urban Renewal areas, perhaps we should leave well enough alone!  We don’t need to fix what is not broken.

No Room for Citizen Input–A Tale of Two Authorities

 

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There’s been a lot of discussion about the Urban Renewal Authority, aka LIFT, in Littleton over the past few years. But there is another Authority in Littleton that has pretty much stayed under the radar until now.

South Metro Housing Options (SMHO), formerly known as the Littleton Housing Authority, was created in 1970. Not knowing that much about SMHO other than that they provide and help with low income housing (LIH) in Littleton, we decided to refer to the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) to see what the housing authority is all about.

It didn’t take very long to realize that some of the language in the C.R.S. for urban renewal is similar to the language in the housing authority statutes. For instance:

• They are both a body corporate and politic granted public powers in the C.R.S..

• They both can be created with a petition, filed by twenty-five residents of the city, requesting the city council to approve the formation of the authority. Council can deny the petition.

• A resolution approved by council establishes each authority.

• The mayor appoints the members. In other words, they are unelected.

There is one difference between the Authorities that is worth noting. SMHO does not need to have their “plans” approved by the council. They make their decisions and in spite of the good that they do for citizens that need the help, their decisions can impact the quality of life for residents already in the community. LIFT has to have their “plans” approved by the council. This allows for public hearings throughout the process. And, because of Initiative 300, citizens get to ratify any urban renewal plans that come about after the passage of 300. (300 does not have any impact on the current urban renewal plans – it was passed after they were approved.)

What put SMHO on our radar screen after all these years? It is that Summit Development is taking steps to build a 63-unit low income housing apartment building on the west side of Nevada St just north of Main Street. This building could be 100% occupied by Section 8 low income residents. And, because the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority has awarded the builders an annual $1,240,000 tax credit for 10 years, the building will be required to be used for low income housing for 40 years. But wait, there was another agreement between the parties. Summit Development has guaranteed that the property will remain low income housing for 55 years.

The point is that the housing authority is acting autonomously from the city council–as they are allowed to do. Decisions they make, as an unelected body, can have a real impact on the quality of life for those who are current residents of the city. Residents are helpless – they have no voice in the matter. All of this can and was decided without any council input or approval.

Our elected representatives have no power over the authority they created!