Lit­tle­ton takes scalpel to its ur­ban face-LIFT

But the City Coun­cil stops short of abol­ish­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive au­thor­ity.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John Aguilar John Aguilar: 303-954-1695, jaguilar@den­ver­post.com or @abu­vthe­fold

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.”

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