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?
Recurring conversations among City Council members about private property owner rights—and by extension, those of realtors and developers—to maximize profits have become increasingly alarming.
The subject recently came up when Council discussed the question of building heights downtown. That conversation concerned citizen desires to maintain downtown’s historic small-town character. Councilmember Doug Clark suggested that heights could be limited to maintain that character. But Councilmember Bill Hopping claimed that restricting building height would limit what he called the developers’ right to build a four-story hotel. He added that a limit would require the city to reimburse the developer for lost revenue–because it would be a “taking.” The city attorney has already told the council that restricting the height would not be a taking of personal property rights.
It is alarming that Council believes that maximization of developers’ profits overrides the will of the citizens of Littleton and the community itself.
We ask, Why does as Council as a whole remain silent? Why does it allow itself to be represented by a few Councilmembers who are greater advocates for private developer interests that they are for the the citizens that they were elected to represent?
It is difficult to escape the impression that the silence of the rest of Council indicates an unwillingness to address this crucially important matter.
Unless this situation is rectified, citizens can expect further urbanization of our—still yet, at least in some parts—small-town suburban community character to continue, unabated.