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.

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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?

FTR: LIFT Resignations

At the 10 January 2017 council study session, Bruce Beckman announced that there had been three resignations from the LIFT board and a fourth member that was not seeking another term.  Since that meeting another resignation has been delivered making five vacancies.  At present, the LIFT board has no executive director, no projects, one urban renewal area and two out of seven members.  What happens next?  We are not sure.

The law states: 31-25-104(2)(c) Vacancies other than by reason of expiration of terms shall be filled by the mayor for the unexpired term… The mayor shall file with the clerk a certificate of the appointment or reappointment of any commissioner, and such certificate shall be conclusive evidence of the due and proper appointment of such commissioner.

What we do know is that there will not be another LIFT meeting until there are enough members for a quorum!

For the Record: Urbanization of Littleton’s Suburbs Outruns Citizen Support

By Don Bruns
Across much of Littleton there is growing concern about adverse effects of urbanized development.  Much of that new development appears wildly out of character from its surroundings, bio-physically as well as socio-culturally.  In other words, it includes intrusive architectural designs, disproportionate structural scales, and undesirable changes to the human environment.  Impacts show up as disappearing green space, loss of neighborhood community character, growing crime, and mounting costs of associated infrastructure maintenance and community services.Although results are readily observable, entities responsible for development approvals exhibit an alarming disregard for the primary reasons why so many Littleton residents choose to live here—young and old alike.  Unlike those driving the urbanization “growth machine,” a great many citizens still like the Littleton that brought them here.  Their concern about the erosion of Littleton’s defining character is therefore understandable.

Real-world evidence suggests that much of Littleton’s development activity is geared primarily towards bringing higher residential density.  The pro-growth passion seems to be driven by non-residents and locals mostly interested in immediate cash flow to stay out of the “red.”  This shows up in several ways.  One is the sizable grants and contributions flowing from the U.S. Treasury and pro-growth associations that make it possible.  Both the real estate and construction industry have become skilled at partnering with regional funding conduits.  DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments), RTD (Regional Transportation District) and CML (Colorado Municipal League) are also effective partner advocates for the growth and development industry.

Something yet more disconcerting may lie at the root of the transformative urbanization movement.  Some representatives of powerful pro-growth organizations seem to have assumed public decision-making positions as elected officials and as members of various local boards and commissions.  But how could anyone know that?  Simply by watching how people act and vote, not by what they say.  Seldom, in such capacity, do those committed to the development industry exhibit as much enthusiasm for maintaining community character and mitigating adverse impacts to citizens’ quality of life as they do for advancing urbanization and the development industry.

The current passion for urbanization of Littleton’s defining suburban character has far outrun available evidence for doing it.  That drive instead appears too often to be only a surrogate for promoting local economic stability.  Affected citizens therefore need to become more adept at recognizing what is actually going on.

Before it is too late, many more citizens need to become involved in holding municipal representatives and officials accountable for responding to their interests, rather than those of the development industry.  But only if the people want to keep what they most value about Littleton—the character of its neighborhoods, its parks and open space resources, its downtown historic district, the character of its varied communities, and their residents’ quality of life.

How to get involved?  See dates and times for Littleton’s regularly scheduled meetings, study sessions and agendas for each at http://www.littletongov.org/connect-with-us/city-leadership/meeting-videos-documents.  The city’s website states: “The public is invited to attend all regular meetings and study sessions of the Littleton City Council or any city board, authority, commission, or public program.  Individuals can speak before each regular meeting in council chambers at 2255 W. Berry Avenue for three minutes each, and comments may be sent to members of each body.  See http://www.littletongov.org/connect-with-us/city-leadership/city-council-members for City Council and http://www.littletongov.org/connect-with-us/city-leadership/authorities-boards-commissions/planning-board for Planning Commission members. Learn more at http://www.littletongov.org. Citizens can make a difference—you really can!

For the Record – Puma Park’s Lonely Bench

lonely-park-bench

There’s a brand new lonely park bench in Puma Park, the green space behind Powell Middle School.
Its predecessor was a well-used bench, nestled under shade trees, and tucked safely away from the busy sidewalk.  It was often occupied by people reading books, sitting with a dogs, or “just resting.”
A few months ago, South Suburban replaced the good bench with one that no one uses.  The new one is fully exposed to the often-too-bright, often-too-hot sun.  It’s up against the sidewalk, so anyone sitting there is vulnerable to whooshing bikes and lunging dogs.  It’s a nice bench, in a location not good for sitting.
When we asked South Suburban why, they said that it was too hard to mow around the other bench, and that if we don’t like this one we can sit on a different bench.
There are no other benches in this park.

For the Record – Waters & Co. Selected to Recruit New City Manager and City Attorney

A representative from Waters & Co. met with city council to discuss and establish a timeline for the recruitment process for the city manager.  Interviews with each council member had taken place and the interviews with the department heads would be completed the following day.  For the interviews a profile of the perfect candidate would be created.  Although it was obvious that the council was not “homogenous” there were recurring themes coming out of the interview process.  They are:
  •    Highly experienced
  •    Willing to stay for an extended time
  •    Manages openly and transparent with citizens, staff and council
  •    Ability to manage a full service city at a high level
  •    Able to develop codes, Charter, and ability to apply law as it pertains to our  situation
  •    Experience with urban renewal
  •    Open to innovative ways to maintain infrastructure
Council will be provided with a list of candidates by December 15th with interviews beginning early in January.  Waters & Co. will be running a similar process for the city attorney search “right behind” the city manager search.

For the Record–Urban Renewal Took $159,000 from Littleton Schools

A question still before City Council is whether or not to abolish urban renewal. Councilmember Doug Clark has been strong in his support of abolishment. He continues to raise concerns about the poorly written urban renewal plans. At the study session on August 23, 2016, he mentioned the “lie” that was disseminated in the city of Littleton about tax increment financing (TIF).

Going all the way back to the Urban Renewal vs Urban Legend meeting that city council sponsored at ACC on October 28, 2014, he read from the brochure:
Creating a TIF does not reduce property tax revenues available to schools, parks or county services.  TIF projects receive only taxes derived from future development that would not have occurred without creation of the TIF.”

This statement means that TIF would only be collected if and when a project happened in an urban renewal plan area.  To date, there are no projects in any of the four plan areas yet TIF is being collected.  In 2015 The TIF collected was just over $250,000!  So what happened?

The law was implemented as intended. How could council say that there would not be any taxes diverted from the schools, parks, and county? The answer is simple – they did not understand the way TIF works.

The bottom line is that of the approximately $250,000 taken, over $159,000 belonged to the school district. But it was instead given to urban renewal even though there are no urban renewal projects.  Unless city council repeals urban renewal, this giving money intended for schools to urban renewal will continue until the year 2039!  And again, urban renewal has no projects to spend the money on.  When and if a valid urban renewal project comes along, City Council can bring it back.

Take a moment and send emails to city council members to abolish urban renewal so that money stops being taken from Littleton Schools.