Littleton City Council Citizen Minutes – April 16, 2013

Littleton City Council Meeting

April 16, 2013

Reports –

Michael Penny responded to issues brought forward to the Council in the recent past and said that a consultant has been engaged and they are working as quickly as possible on Impact fees.  Currently there are commercial impact fees but not on mixed use or residential use.

Penny thought Pam Chadbourne’s request for a market study on the housing trends has value and that staff will take a look and bring it to council during a study session.

Penny commented on the requested moratorium saying it would have no impact since all parcels of land are currently under discussion.

Bruce  Beckman read from his prepared remarks.  He has shared them with me and are presented here in full.

I want to take my time this evening to discuss the railroad depression and the heavy rail transportation corridor through the city.  Several times in recent council sessions comments and issues discussed the light rail, the depression and the rail road tracks.  And talk of what the boundaries of a Transit Oriented Development would be, and what a transit oriented development includes. Clearly the railroad depression seems to be on our collective community radar screen for the first time in years.

Now is the time to ask some questions that I hope result in staff discussion and study and perhaps a council study session to talk about the challenges of our unique railway system in Littleton.

The fact is that the rail corridor is and always has been a heavy rail corridor.  Only in the last 13 years has the light rail system been part of the rail system.  Only since the 1980s have the railroad tracks been depressed below Main, Alamo and Prince Street and elevated at Belleview.

Since the 1800s the railroad in Littleton consisted of at grade crossings and slow moving heavy rail traffic.  With the creation of the depression in the 1980s and the changes in the corridor that occurred because of the RTD building the light rail system, everything has changed.

For over a hundred years heavy rail traffic travelled north and south on two heavy  rail tracks at speeds of 15 to 20 mph, one northbound and one southbound.  The community was established over those same years and with a few exceptions the housing and business buildings that exist today were built around that reality.

This all changed in 1999.  That was when RTD paid for changes in the heavy rail track corridor to facilitate the heavy rail movement to meet Burlington Northern needs while allowing for the introduction of light rail into the corridor. We are talking about 35 to 45 million dollars of a 177 million dollar project.

That was when things changed as far as heavy rail traffic and its movement though the city.  RTD paid for and the Burlington Northern changed the heavy rail corridor as follows;

  • The tracks were re-bedded and concrete ties were installed.
  • The southbound track was relocated one hundred fee to the east.
  • A third track was installed
  • Something called the Littleton interlock was created in which the two tracks were expanded to three tracks with the ability to route trains in either direction on any of the three tracks using the 7 switches that were installed.
  • The height of the southbound tracks was changed.
  • The tracks were straightened, and the various berms that had provided barriers around them were removed.
  • Speeds increased from the 15 to 20 miles an hour to 45 miles an hour in Littleton, while still slowing down to the customary 15 or 20 miles an hour and slower in Denver.
  • The County line crossing was improved from being at grade, allowing the increased speed of trains picking up speed in Englewood, rather than at the County Line crossing, and slowing down if northbound at the Denver line rather than for the county line crossing.
  • Noise and vibration issues arose from the changes in the corridor

So Burlington Northern got what it wanted and the light rail came to Littleton.  And we are now working to figure out exactly what a transit oriented development is for Littleton. There is no doubt that the availability of Light rail makes living in Littleton a good deal.  BUT, here is the but,

All of these changes should concern us because they were done after the Environmental Impact Statement was completed and after the Record of Decision was filed in 1996. These were approved by RTD and the FTA and only discussed moving the southbound track the 100 feet to make a space for light rail.  The Record of decision had said that there will be no switching tracks installed in the corridor.  It did not contemplate a third track.  In fact it was specific, “there shall be no”…”special track work in the corridor”.  No supplemental EIS was ever done that took into account the changes and additions to what was initially proposed and presented to the public.

This means that most of those changes that were installed, that I just mentioned, were never discussed in the plan presented in the EIS, and were not evaluated in the public discussions and outside evaluations that are part of the EIS process.  For example, the light rail system was built without such basic safety warning devices needed in a shared corridor such as Intrusion Detection systems to give warning of derailments and without an effective means of communication between light rail engineers and heavy rail engineers.  Certainly these and other safety items might have been part of the original design, but were not.

What we know is that increasing the speed of 120 cars fully loaded with coal, or 80 cars of hazardous or noxious chemicals, through up to 7 switches on three different tracks is now what occurs daily within our heavy rail corridor.

And how is it working for us? There have been two major derailments, in 2007 and 2009 in the railroad depression.

The first one involved a loaded coal train which spilled coal all over the tracks, including in the path of an oncoming light rail train, that only because of the alertness of the operator, was able to stop before running into the piles of coal.  It was December, it was snowing and the light rail and heavy rail tracks are less than 16 feet apart.  And remember, no means of communication and no intrusion detection devices.

The other in 2009 involved liquid sulphur cars, spilling and leaking as they crashed in accordion fashion in the depression.  Although dramatic and smelly, fortunately none of the really hazardous materials that travel in the corridor were involved.

In both cases the only available land to the side of the tracks, outside the depression, to assemble the recovery equipment and place the junk being removed from the tracks was on the grounds of the Littleton Cemetery, south of the depression near where Ridge road ends at the tracks. I have heard some discussion that the use was an issue since the cemetery is private property. The only entry location to the site on the north was across from the Alexan Apartments.  Fortunately there no injuries requiring the mass casualty response into the depression.

Why was there one derailment? Why were there two derailments?  What has been learned and what has been changed in the corridor to prevent a third derailment?

As we begin to look at the future of Littleton, and as we talk about Transit Oriented Development, and other neighborhood plans, it is time to take a look at the elephant in the room, the heavy rail corridor that is just a few hundred yards to our east and integrated into our transportation system.  How do we deal with the reality of heavy rail traffic and switching tracks combined with heavy rail at high speeds? It is about public safety and diligence by the city.

I would like to see the City Manager bring together the people who have the facts and the information about our heavy rail corridor and to present this information to Council.  I would like to know why we had two derailments in our railroad depression and what lessons have been learned.  I would like to know if we can influence the heavy rail traffic in our corridor in such a way as to make it safer.  Can we slow them down?  And I would like to move ahead with this so that this the proper consideration is given to what it means to have a heavy rail corridor traveling through the heart of our downtown area each day at high speeds and carrying hazardous materials.

The basic mission of all government is to provide as much as possible for the safety and security of its residents.  There is no other public or private entity that is as concerned about the safety of Littleton residents as are those of us representing them here on Council and the staff of the City.

This is what we do and what no one else can do.  I am anxious to discuss this and to hear more at a study session.

Jerry Valdes asked for a revenue and accident report on the intersections that have the red light technology.

Bruce Stahlman suggested staff to look into some issues with the grade at the Walgreen’s at Ltn Blvd and Broadway.  There are issues that need to be resolved in order to get the space leased and he thought the staff might be helpful.

Jim Taylor said he had been approached by someone in Arapahoe County about the condition of Platte Canyon Rd.  The road is in 4 different jurisdictions and hopefully all four can agree and submit a letter to the Colorado Department of Transporation about some much needed improvements.

He added an item to the agenda under General Business – a letter of support for Debbie Brinkman’s appointment to the Executive Board of the Colorado Municipal League.

DRCOG has delayed the Urban Growth Boundary until the Metro Vision 2040 plan is complete.

Peggy Cole asked to see the final version of the Policy Statement that staff will use as guidance when lobbying our legislature.

Unscheduled Citizen Appearances

Norm Brown thanked Wendy Heffner for the notification of last week’s cancellation due to the weather.  Her efforts to contact the usual council attendees is appreciated.

Kim Glidden, owner of The Pottery Studio on South Curtice in downtown Littleton, submitted a letter.  She has provided me a copy.

Dear Council Members:

My business, The Pottery Studio Gallery, has been located in downtown Littleton on Curtice Street between Main Street and Alamo Avenue for eight years, and I have the following questions:

  1. Now that the City’s Downtown Neighborhood Plan identifies Curtice Street as the only north/south “major pedestrian route,” what will it take to have a traffic light and pedestrian crosswalk signal installed at the intersection of Alamo Avenue and Curtice Street.
  2. What design has the City’s Fine Arts Committee selected for bike racks in downtown, where will they be located, and when will they be installed?
  3. Is the City considering a comprehensive “Wayfinding Plan” for downtown Littleton?
  4. At what cost will the City make available for purchase sets of the street pole banners displayed on Main Street to downtown businesses located on Alamo Avenue and Sycamore, Prince, Nevada, Curtice and Rapp Streets?
  5. Will the City be collaborating with downtown businesses in fudning applications to Colorado9 Creative industries?

City Council’s assistance with answers to these questions is appreciated.

Respectfully yours,

Kim Glidden

Carol Brzeczek – Two weeks ago I was here to tell you what I observed on January 29th.  When I come before you it is not without thought and time spent in double checking the facts and content of what I have go say.  On April 2, after I sat down Debbie responded to my comments in a way that made me go back and take another look at my statements.  As a result I decided that I had not done all that I could have done in my research of the chain of events.

Therefore, I requested, under the Colorado Open Records Act, a copy of the Request for the Paid Leave of Absence that our former city attorney was referenced to have submitted.

Here is the response I received.  The document does not exist – the request was made orally.   I was also told that if the document existed I may not be able to have the document.

The Colorado Open Records Act defines what is confidential and what is not confidential under the label of personnel files.  The portion of a personnel file that deals with the personal information (address, financial information and other info maintained because of the employer/employee relationship) are protected.  However, personnel files that are exempt from the protection of the Open Records Act include employment agreements.  The request for a temporary paid leave of absence would be an employment agreement and thus not protected.

Back to the request  –  It is almost impossible for me to believe that an attorney would make a verbal request regarding their employment rather than submit some sort of legalese document requesting a paid leave of absence.  But I have been told that a written request was not made.  So, knowing that the request was made “orally”, I have to ask who on council had the face to face with the former employee.  Peggy did you – and Peggy replied no.  Jim Taylor?  He said he would not answer the question.  Bruce Stahlman?  He stammered until Brinkman broke in to tell me it was a personnel matter and they could not talk about it in public but she would provide me a written response.

I said that it was hard to understand why the question could not be answered – it was a public document and there was nothing confidential about an answer to the question.

Additionally, in reading the terms of the city attorney’s resignation and severance agreement there is no mention of a paid leave of absence – just a resignation.  A resignation agreement that became effective February 1, four days before receiving the resignation from the employee.

An agreement that was intended to be confidential and kept from the public does not make this council open and transparent which is what the citizens expect from their elected representatives.

Pam Chadbourne reminisced about the old library memorial rooms: when I was a kid, Mrs. Brown was the children’s librarian at the Littleton Public Library, when it was in the basement of what is now The Melting Pot. Mrs. Brown was old when I was little; she must have been born in the 1800s. Mrs. Brown had no teeth; she must have had a hard life. So I just wanted to remember Mrs. Brown.

She thanked City Manager Michael Penny for responding to my questions from the last council meeting.  In particular, thanks for making a public response, because the comments and concerns many of us speakers have been expressing, are on the public’s behalf, about the city’s future.

She was glad that there will be a study of the Denver housing market and impact fees will be studied.

She addressed her concern about the Comprehensive Plan. Along the lines of council member Beckman’s comments about heavy rail, the Comprehensive Plan should include an Emergency Response Plan.  It makes no sense to do that in the neighborhood plans, an Emergency response has to be done at the city level.

Chadbourne would still like to hear from the Council members on a hold, a moratorium, on high-density residential rezoning requests. She understood that the applications in process aren’t subject to the moratorium. There are still concerns that we need to address.

Consent Agenda

a)  Approval of Second Amendment to Agreement for Professional Services with Judge Kriss

b)  Request for approval to cancel the June 19th regular City Council meeting due to CML

c)  Request for approval to schedule a Special City Council meeting on April 30, 2013

All three passed 7/0.

General Business – Taylor moved to ask staff to prepare a letter endorsing Brinkman to the Executive Board of the Colorado Municipal League.  Phil Cernanec seconded and motion passed 7/0.

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