Littleton takes scalpel to its urban face-LIFT
But the City Council stops short of abolishing the administrative authority.
In a marathon meeting that stretched into the early hours Wednesday, Littleton City Council eviscerated its urban renewal program but stopped short of abolishing the authority that administers it.
The council voted 4-3 to keep alive its authority — Littleton Invests for Tomorrow — and, with it, the Columbine Square shopping center as an urban redevelopment district. But the council by the same margin dismantled its three other redevelopment districts — North Broadway, Littleton Boulevard and Santa Fe.
Councilman Jerry Valdes was the difference on the ultimate question of whether to preserve the authority itself, voting to abolish the three districts but flipping the majority when it came to deciding on the future of LIFT. At a meeting two months ago, Valdes had advocated for retaining Columbine Square, a mostly shuttered strip mall at East Belleview Avenue and South Federal Boulevard, as a renewal district. But in order for that to happen, the authority overseeing urban renewal in Littleton would have to remain intact.
The final vote came at the end of a 6 K-hour meeting in which proponents and opponents of Littleton’s urban renewal program repeatedly took to the lectern to urge the council to save or scrap the authority.
Urban renewal is a state-sanctioned economic development tool that enables cities and towns to use powerful stimulus strategies, such as tax-increment financing, to resuscitate less-thanvibrant parts of town. It has been widely used in Colorado, including to spur projects such as Denver Pavilions, on the 16th Street Mall, and Lakewood’s Belmar.
But urban renewal has caused consternation in Littleton, where critics have said it threatens to divert tax revenues from schools and recreation districts to help developers build projects. Last year, opponents led a successful election campaign to greatly curtail the city’s ability to use the tool, requiring most major urban renewal decisions to first get approval of the electorate before they can be implemented.
Critics particularly object to the blight designation that is often placed on a retail area to qualify it for urban renewal dollars.
Councilman Doug Clark on Tuesday night said the North Broadway district, which features a new King Soopers grocery store, was the “poster child for fake blight.” He said Littleton has fared well attracting business to town without having to resort to urban renewal tactics.
But Councilwoman Debbie Brinkman said urban renewal is vital for cities that want more control over the type and quality of development that occurs, describing the tool as a public/private partnership.
“Developers will always build to the market, and right now the market is apartments,” she said. “So if you want something else, then you need to get involved in the process. That’s what urban renewal does.”
Had Littleton voted to abolish LIFT, it would have been one of only a handful of Colorado communities that have gone that route, including Windsor, Estes Park and Castle Pines. Littleton first started considering doing away with LIFT more than half a year ago. No projects had actually taken root in any of the four renewal districts to date.
Dozens of residents addressed the council Tuesday night and early Wednesday on the topic. John Watson said urban renewal is a “tool we cannot afford.”
“Sometimes tools are just too expensive,” he said. “And it’s been too expensive for Littleton.”
But Carolyn Bradish, a real estate agent, said urban renewal is a tool “we cannot afford not to have.”
“The future of our city lies in economic development that is well planned,” she said. “Quality development doesn’t just happen.”