Background for new readers: The Grove, a large, high density project approved for the old Sheriff’s site (across Ltn Blvd from the Courthouse) was approved without a public hearing. City staff, namely Jocelyn Mills, approved the project under the Subdivision Exemption that allowed it to be approved administratively and without public hearing. The Subdivision Exemption has requirements with the first being: A division of land must not exceed two (2) lots. Everyone familiar with the project knows that there was no subdivision but actually a combination of parcels (lots). We have been asking how a division of property could be interpreted to be a combination of property and that should bring you up to date enough to understand the next stage in the (lack of) discussion.
Citizens have been addressing city council on the use of the Subdivision Exemption (SE) for the approval of The Grove since last summer. To date there has not been much in the way of satisfaction with the response from the city staff and/or council. The question being asked is important because the use of the SE allowed the owner, Zocalo, to be granted a “use by right” to avoid a public hearing on the proposed project. A project very similar to the Broadstone project planned for the same property was turned down 6/1 by the city council prior to the submission of the plans for The Grove. It is highly likely The Grove would have been turned down if the decision wasn’t made administratively but through a zoning change, which is a very public process allowing citizens to chime in.
The SE is intended to “allow the owner or purchaser of land, or agent thereof, to divide such land into not more than two (2) parcels, which meet the requirements of the governing zone district classification, without requiring submission of a subdivision plat.” The Grove is clearly a project that combined parcels; there was not a subdivision of a parcel into “not more than two (2) parcels” as the code provides exemption from the public process. The question asked several times is how “divide” could be interpreted to mean “combine”?
The answer(s) about possible code violations on the approval of The Grove have yet to be offered however the city manager, Michael Penny, did provide a response. He wrote, “The Grove project was a combining of parcels and did not result in a division of land into more than two lots. ”
If you are like us, you have to ask why the SE was used to approve the plans for The Grove. The city manager has acknowledged that there was no division but a combination of parcels. Why hasn’t council asked the same question? Don’t you think we all deserve a comprehensive response to the many perceived code violations that involve the avoidance of a public process for The Grove? A public process that would, no doubt, involve a large number of citizens in opposition. Maybe that is why the SE was used as a reason to approve this project administratively? We will never know unless our council demands answers from the staff to the questions raised by the citizens.
Michael Penny also wrote that the “subdivision exemption code language (adopted in 1979) is not as clear as it could be. To this, staff will be proposing an ordinance with updates to the Subdivision Code (Title 11), including this section, before Planning Board and City Council in the coming weeks.” The suggested revisions will be presented to the Planning Board at their May 9th meeting. We have heard from a citizen that has tried to discuss the upcoming agenda item on the Subdivision Exemption with Planning Board members only to be told that the staff has advised them not to discuss the matter with the public because of the on-going litigation. However, the litigation has nothing to do with the Subdivision Exemption but is a matter of due process.
At the council meeting 4 May 2016 Carol Brzeczek raised the issue once again asking the council to please intervene to at least explain the interpretation of the SE used by staff to approve The Grove project. The earth movers were working and if the citizens prevail in the court and go on to win an appeal both Zocalo and the City could be in jeopardy.
At the end of the council meeting Bruce Beckman, mayor, made a statement that the Subdivision Exemption is problematic and there should be amendments brought forward as the current language is very difficult to read now. He suggested that it be rewritten and presented to the planning board (will happen May 9th). He expressed “great sympathy” for the people who have expressed concern over the use of the Subdivision Exemption to approve The Grove project.
You decide – is this really difficult to understand? The actual language in question reads:
“It is the purpose and intent of this chapter to allow the owner or purchaser of land, or agent thereof, to divide such land into not more than two (2) parcels, which meet the requirements of the governing zone district classification, without requiring submission of a subdivision plat.
A division of land must not exceed two (2) lots.”
Pray tell, what is so difficult to understand about the two sentences above? The code was written to provide an exception and not the rule as I have been told. (For instance, you live on a large parcel of land and want to scrap the house and subdivide into two lots. As long as you meet the requirements of the SE you can do so without a public process.) Why haven’t the citizens requesting an explanation been provided one if there is one?
FYI – Citizens have contributed funds to challenge the lack of due process in their ability to appeal the administrative decision to approve The Grove. (Jocelyn Mills, who approved The Grove, is the same staff person that denied the citizens the right to appeal her decision.) Citizens believe she should not be the person to determine whether or not her decision is appealed. If you would like to contribute to the fund, please contact Leah Burkett / Advocates for Littleton