When Divide Means to Combine! Only in Littleton

If you have been keeping up with the issues surrounding the approval for The Grove then you want to read this.  We have been told, along with the Planning Board and the City Council, that The Grove was approved as a “use by right.”  In other words, no zoning changed was required for the project to go forward and thus no public process was required.  We were told that the applicant met all the requirements of the Subdivision Exemption (Chapter 9 of the Zoning Code).  The Subdivision Exemption has also been challenged – was it appropriately applied in this instance?  You decide.

11-9-1:  Purpose of the Subdivision Exemption Chapter states – “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 a subdivision plat.  The most obvious question to ask is what large parcel was subdivided in The Grove project?  The question has been asked a number of times without any satisfactory answer – until now.

The question was finally posed to Michael Penny, our city manager.  Here’s his response.

The Grove project was a combining of parcels and did not result in a division of land into more than two lots.  Any project that requires a plat for the “re-assemblage of parcels” (see Definition of Plat in 11-1-6) would be subject to this process. 

Only recently did the council update the Subdivision Exemption Code to include the combining of parcels……………that was long after the code was violated to approve the Grove for the Subdivision Exemption.

 

 

 

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City Council Study Session 8 August 2017 – Town Hall, Incentives and Sandwich Boards

City Council Study Session                  8 August 2017                      Citizen Minutes

Telephone Town Hall

Kelli Narde, Director of Communications, informed the council that the telephone town hall has been scheduled for September 20, 2017. It will be held at the Falls Event Center. There will be people in the audience and people watching and able to participate by phone. Mark Relph, city manager, will screen the calls. Kelli said it is exciting and terrifying at the same time. It will come with a cost of about $10,000.

Sewer Utility Status and Financial Plan Update

A report was provided to council about the future financial needs of the sewer treatment plant. There will not be a rate increase next year and future increases are projected to be under 2% per year through 2022. We are only using 50% of our capacity.   There is a cash balance of $25,000,000.

Economic Incentives

Denise Stephens, Economic Development Director, asked the council if the city should adopt an Economic Incentive Policy. Bill Hopping suggested that we use incentives to steer a developer from the “highest and best use” of the property and suggested that we not use them as standards but as a cultural impact. Phil Cernanec said a cultural change is more difficult and not economically sustainable. Everyone wants open space and parks but we can’t do that. The evaluation needs a good understanding of economic impacts. The character of the neighborhoods is important but how do we deal with revitalization? Housing should be considered and we do not currently have a housing plan.

Doug Clark recognized that if we are going to give away tax dollars we should have a policy but he did not see why they were discussing incentives.   Stephens said Littleton is a place of interest and right now they have not had to use incentives but if things change and we are in a redevelopment cycle we may have reason to use incentives.

Clark said we have had an economic policy in Littleton for 40 years that did not use incentives. (Clark is referring to Economic Gardening that went by the way side shortly after Michael Penny was hired. It is a much lauded approach to economic vitality that originated in Littleton but Chris Gibbons (the man behind the Economic Gardening plan) is no longer with the city.)   King Soopers and Breckenridge Brewery did not get their incentives until after they had their projects approved.

Stephens said it would be better to have a plan with stringent requirements than not to have a policy in place.

Hopping said that a city that can chose the type of development they want and can mildly incentivize the development making the city better.   Stephens said they would not advertise the fact that the city offers incentives but if it happens and we are asked we have a response.

Randy Young, acting city manager, asked the council if there was consensus to do incentives as there was no reason to go on with the discussion. Peggy Cole said someone can come and request an incentive but that doesn’t mean they will get it. Littleton is desirable! Bruce Beckman asked if the council was in favor of going forward. Appeared that Clark was the only one that had a strong objection to using the taxpayer’s money to incentivize development so the conversation continued.

Jerry Valdes asked if it was possible to have a policy then not use it? Steve Kemp, city attorney, said yes.   Beckman said it was a professional approach to development to have a policy in place but he can see reasons not to do it but if a developer does ask we have an answer. Kemp said if the council codifies the policy council will make the final decision.

Debbie Brinkman, who was in favor of incentives, said we could set the bar high. It was time for Littleton to grow up and participate – it is just part of the new world. We need a fair way to evaluate requests.

 Portable Signs for Zero Lot Merchants

This is a fancy way to introduce the subject of the downtown merchants being allowed to use sandwich boards in front of their shops to advertise their business. Randy Young asked if there was interest in this subject.   Phil Cernanec said there was supposed to be a study on the impact of sales done by the merchants and he did not see the report. Hopping said it was a hot issue for the merchants – they can’t put a number on sales that don’t happen. But some of the merchants play with it and when they put out their notices they see a significant difference. The displays bring customers into their shops.

Stephens said they tried to eliminate clutter when the sidewalk signs were outlawed. However, merchants feel that the signs are critical to being noticed. Staff was suggesting that the merchants in a zero lot line situation display their outdoor signs with certain restrictions.

Done by permit

The sidewalk is still ADA compliant

The city can set the style and restrict the placement of the signs.

And merchants have liability coverage

Brinkman said she was deathly sick of this issue – it never stops. She did not think the sandwich board signs add to the safety and mobility of downtown. She said the merchants are important to the economy and the vitality of downtown and she wants to support them and would like them to understand that they are not putting the signs on their property but on the city’s property. She thinks the signs add to the conflict and chaos of downtown for the aging community, those in wheelchairs, young families with kids that wander and don’t look where they are going, strollers, dogs, and bikes. She wanted to restrict them to doing something that is safe – we are responsible for the safety. She did not want to regulate the style of the signs but the number of signs and the size. We don’t need bunches of signs. We need to tell them where they can be and they can only be out during the operating hours of the stores. The core issue is safety.

Cernanec agreed with Brinkman. He thought one sign per building should be the limit. He also wants it to be self-policing by the merchants association.

Valdes said he hasn’t seen people tripping and we have always had older people in the community. The merchants needed this in 2015 and they need it now. Let’s get out of the way.

Kemp said he had heard enough to come up with something more simplified. He would address the ADA issue, the liability concern, content can’t be regulated but we can regulate the size and staff can come up with a simplified permitting process.

Cole wanted the signs to be removed on festival days.

Budget meetings will be Sept. 11, 12, and 13.

 

 

City Council Study Session – 25 July 2017 – Dispatch Mediaiton

City Council Study Session.       25 July 2017.     Citizen Minutes

1.  Ordinance review of minor clarifications to Title 11, Subdivision Code, Chapter 9, Administrative Plat and Replat.  In May 2017 council approved changes to the subdivision exemption code (This change was triggered by The Grove approval – this was one of the codes that was violated when it was administratively approved.  The exemption required property to be divided not combined but it was used to combine parcels in the case of The Grove.)  When council approved the changes in May a citizen pointed out language that was not clearly written and would be subject to a different interpretation than intended.  This change will clarify the confusing language.  The word “less” will be changed to “more.”  A second clarification will be included in the Ordinance – a clarification to what is meant by adequate water and sewer facilities.  A Will Serve letter will fulfill the requirement. Continue reading

Letter to Council from Fire Union Saying They “Will Not Sit Back and Watch”

10 July 2017

Council members,

To those of you voting yes in favor of merging our dispatch with SMFR,
thank you!!

To those of you voting no, we are more than disappointed in your decision. Continue reading

Dispatch Letter to Council Expressing Their Response to the Council Majority’s Vote to Keep Dispatch Services In Littleton

Dispatch – Letter Response to City July 11 2017_signed

 

City Council Study Session 11 July 2017

Littleton City Council Study Session              11 July 2017        Citizen Minutes

There were two items on the study session agenda – Broadband Roadmap and Council Priorities.

Littleton’s Municipal Broadband Roadmap Continue reading

City Council Regular Meeting 27 June, 2017 – Fire Dispatch Decision Made

City Council Regular Meeting                   June 27, 2017                    Citizen Minutes

Public Comment

Pam Chadbourne said she did not like the lighting in downtown and asked the council to write to Xcel asking for warmer lights and to put a skirt on the lamp so there is not so much light pollution. She cautioned the council to do something about the loss of affordable housing through the gentrification process. Littleton is losing affordable housing and council needs to act now. She also asked for the Development Activity List on the city’s web site to be archived rather than disappear.

Consent Agenda

16-2017         Resolution to adopt the South Platte Park Management Plan

17-2017         Resolution adopting the first amendment to the South Platte Park Agreement

17-192           Motion to approve the Minutes of the May 2, 2017 meeting

All three were passed 7/0.

First Reading

16-2017         Ordinance on first reading to approve the Southbridge Planned Development , Fourth Amendment of Area K, to add assisted living, nursing home, memory care, and associated accessory uses to a portion of Area K of the Southbridge Planned Development Care Number APD16-0003

Now in plain English – the subject site is 1501 W. Mineral (Windermere and Mineral area). The applicant is requesting to add assisted living, nursing home, memory care, and associated accessory to the current list of uses. They are also requesting a division of a portion of the property into two commercial lots. The second reading will be July 18th. Debbie Brinkman moved to approve and Phil Cernanec seconded. Motion passed 7/0.

17-2017         Ordinance on first reading for an addendum to Wastewater Connector’s Agreement Addendum and Sewer Service Agreement Addendum with Ken Caryl Ranch Waste and Sanitation. Cernanec moved and Bill Hopping seconded. Motion passed 7/0.

18-2017         Ordinance on first reading to amend Ordinance No. 21 – 2016 known as the Annual Appropriation Bill for the fiscal year 1/1/2017-12/31/2017. This was discussed at the previous study session. The General Fund would be increased by $346,200 for the following:

$134,200       Attorney

$ 49,000         Additional help with roof inspections

$75,000          Contract engineering to help with the considerable influx of new development

$28,000          Consultant to assist with a succession plan for public works and community development

$60,000          Organizational development

Doug Clark moved and Cernanec seconded. Motion passed 7/0.

Ordinances on Second Reading

14-2017         Approval of an intergovernmental agreement to contract emergency dispatch services with Metcom through South Metro Fire Rescue. (This has been an on-going discussion for the last 9 or 10 months and is finally in front of council for a decision.)

Chief Armstrong told the council that the decision to contract our dispatch services through South Metro was independent of unification of our fire department with South Metro. He reviewed the reasons for making the move –

  • We would maintain local control
  • Our liability would decrease
  • A regional approach to dispatch
  • Sets performance standard and the required reporting
  • Current Littleton dispatch employees would be protected
  • Reduction in staff time with fewer employees
  • Would allow for the expansion of the police dispatchers

It was also noted that Cunningham Fire would be ending their contract for dispatch with Littleton effective January 1, 2018 further reducing the revenue the fire department would bring in by $334,000.

Bill Hopping asked about the part-time dispatchers and the impact of the move on them. Armstrong said that only full time employees were protected in the move to South Metro.

There was some discussion on bringing up the pay of Littleton dispatchers to a competitive range with other dispatchers. Julie from Human Resources said it would create a problem to bring up the pay of one classification of employees and not the others. Mark Relph, city manager, agreed that it would be a challenge to increase pay for one group and not the rest.  Armstrong said he would not say that that we were underpaying our dispatchers – we pay a fair wage.

Jerry Valdes asked if it made sense to go to West Metro and Armstrong said he would not make that recommendation because they use a different CAD system.

Public Hearing

Carol Brzeczek thought the move was premature and read from the recommendations made by the consultant hired by the fire department and the city to advise them in the discussion of unification. Recommendation #4 stated,

“Any meaningful decision regarding the Littleton Fire Department, such as equipment purchases, internal organization, employment, promotions, etc., be postponed until this matter is fully resolved. This specifically includes the transfer of Littleton Fire Department fire communications and dispatching.”

The consultant had been hired with high praise from both the fire chief and council liaison to the fire partners, Debbie Brinkman, and to ignore their advice did not seem like the right thing to do.

Brzeczek was also concerned about the lawsuit Chief Baker (South Metro) had filed against the urban renewal authority of Parker for the loss in revenue through tax increment financing. And although the agreement was going to hold costs for 4.5 years, if Baker was not successful in the legal matter the loss of an estimated $16,000,000 over the next 20 years would have to be made up by the patrons which included the citizens of Littleton.

Mark Lampert, President of the Cunningham Fire District, thanked dispatch for their hard work. But, Cunningham needed to move on and would be going with South Metro as of January 1, 2018. He said Littleton has struggled to provide the number of dispatchers needed and Cunningham’s rates had increased in order to add dispatchers but they have not been provided. Dispatchers are over worked and under paid and they (Cunningham) deserved better.

Valerie Park, a Littleton dispatcher since 1990, told council she took pride in the department and enjoyed her work. She said they shared a CAD system with South Metro, West Metro and several Jeffco groups. She did not know if council knew that there had been a hiring freeze since January. At this point Doug Clark asked her to repeat her statement, which she did. She then said that the benefits moving from Littleton to South Metro were not equal with Littleton’s at 27.65% and South Metro’s at 24%.

Pam Chadbourne said she too wondered what would happen to our rates if the UR matter was resolved in favor of the urban renewal authority…….our rates would go up. She pointed out that if we have our own department we could see the costs but when we combine with a region there are lots of things that play into decisions that we can’t see and the larger the area the more unknowns there are that impact decisions. She did not like that Littleton was not paying a competitive rate and we should be able to compete. She thought there was more to this picture and we needed to see what the whole unification agreement would be – there’s a lot we still don’t know.

(The information revealed by Ms. Park has deep implications. The Chief asked for more budget to hire more dispatchers for the 2017 budget cycle. He was granted the additional budget but he put a hiring freeze in place in January of 2017. Then to make a financial comparison of how much money would be saved if we unify with South Metro his graphs used the budgeted amount and not the actual amount spent by fire. The budget was driven up by the need for more dispatchers, they weren’t hired but the higher budget total for fire was used as a comparison to demonstrate the cost savings if we merge with South Metro.   And, we learn that Cunningham terminates their relationship with Littleton because their rates were increased in order to hire more dispatchers……..more dispatchers that were never hired because of a hiring freeze.)

Brinkman moved to contract out our dispatch services to South Metro and Bill Hopping seconded.

Clark referred to the communication from the consultant that suggested this decision be postponed. If we peel off dispatch we remove our flexibility when evaluating other options. It is appropriate to set this decision aside until we know what we are doing – we have a lot of alternatives. It is disturbing to find out that we have a hiring freeze – we approved more positions and then go on a hiring freeze. We are told we need to move dispatch because we have a staffing problem and we aren’t even trying to hire dispatchers to solve the staffing problem.

Jerry Valdes asked Julie, from HR, if we were on a hiring freeze. Julie said we were and when Valdes asked her why she said because she was instructed so by the fire department. Valdes asked if they do out-going interviews and why were dispatchers leaving. Julie said some don’t make it through their probationary period, can’t pass the training or various other reasons. Vales said he was bothered that he has asked what the industry turn over rate is for dispatchers and no one has provided an answer. Julie said she did not know. Valdes then asked what it would take to make Littleton fire top notch. Chief said he did not want to agree with the underlying premise that they weren’t top notch but said the facility needs improvement. Training may lack and a sizable investment would be required in the center but with the proper funding and support we could be there.

Brinkman said the industry turn over rate was 19%. (Littleton’s is 14% – below the national industry standard.)

Valdes to Armstrong – who instructed HR to freeze hiring? Armstrong said they were exploring the opportunity to go to South Metro and they would only take full time employees so they postponed hiring so they would not have to let people go.

Bruce Beckman said there had been a lot of work done in HR and by the attorney on the contract and there were issues of inequity. Julie said there were three employees not vested so they were going to amend their 401A plans to vest them before they left. They had also made arrangements to have their insurance smoothly transitioned without interruption.

Clark read from page 6 of a document from May 16 that stated the inability to fully staff was the primary reason to look for a log-term solution. This discussion started last August. We approved a budget for additional staffing and a hiring freeze was initiated in January. We have successfully run dispatch out of Littleton with 150,000 more population than now – we know how to do it. The primary reason to do this is because we can’t hire dispatchers and we are not even trying. We need to postpone and if there is a concern about the extra 105 days this may take he suggested the fire department fix their problem.

Hopping was worried about a couple of things – he did not like hearing about the hiring freeze at the council meeting. Cunningham leaving did not change the coverage so he saw that as a moot point. He acknowledged that the consultant advised them not to make this decision now but was not pleased that they did not say why.

Relph there are differences in how to approach the issue. Our impression was we could over come the technical issues and it was just a broad, general recommendation to preserve options. Relph’s focus was on safety – we do not have provisions for rest periods and South Metro has extensive training with 4 to 6 dispatchers on at one time. As we move to more and more density our fire needs will increase. This is a big picture kind of move. What is best for the safety of our citizens.

Brinkman said when they started this it was a safety issue and it is a challenge to get ahead of that problem. She thought it was a smart decision and the right move.

Valdes said there are pieces without answers and he could support if he had other options to consider – there has to be other options.

Beckman said he was very uncomfortable. He was never aware that council put any limits on the public safety in their budget sessions. We have fulfilled public safety requirements. Where was the discussion of these issues? There could have been incremental change over the past 4 years. There is no reason not to have the facility we need with the quality of people we have. One issue has always been to keep dispatch. If we need a new fire dispatch center we could have one in six months – we just need the drive to do it.

Now we have Cunningham out and there are issues with our fire partners. He wanted to put Littleton first – we have done this for 40years – with warning we could solve the problem but we didn’t have the chance. Are we intentionally trying to force the decision and there is only one option? He was not comfortable with how this came about. He felt like he was being pushed into something.

Peggy Cole asked if we farm this out why not farm out police and public works – we are a community. It doesn’t seem like the right way to deal with this issue.

Motion failed 3/4 with Brinkman, Hopping and Cernanec voting yes and Clark, Cole, Beckman and Valdes voting no.

Added agenda item

Cernanec asked the council to support the mayor signing a letterpenned by the area agencies on aging to the Governor requesting more funding for Senior Services. The letter was sent to council at 5:30 pm on Monday night and expected to be returned signed by Wednesday.

Clark said their time frame was impossible. He had not even seen the letter until that evening and he had not read it and was not inclined to support something he had not read. He encouraged Cernanec to return at another time after he had time to read and research so he could make an informed decision.

Valdes said the state wastes a lot of money and it may be a wonderful cause but he had seen the state buy new furniture to replace furniture that was absolutely fine but because it was budgeted they bought new furniture. They can’t monitor themselves and citizens have to say no – they have to get their spending under control. He would not support the signing of the letter.

Brinkman thought it was probably an oversight that their budget had not been increased since 2015 but the fastest growing population is over 60.

Motion failed 3/4 with Cole, Clark, Beckman and Valdes voting no.

Reports

Beckman thought council should have a discussion on compensation philosophy. Relph said he had impression about it as well but they need to get a Director of HR hired first and he was not in a position to comment before the budget meetings. They are in the 4th year of a 5 year plan and it is an expensive proposition and the impact is deep……financially and in moral.