City Council Study Session – 12 January 2016

Littleton City Council Study Session            Citizen Minutes         12 January 2016

Submitted by Carol Brzeczek

The last item on the agenda is the most interesting – an update on the Ensor property that is located at Mineral and Santa Fe. The land has been included in the Santa Fe Urban Renewal Plan and Endeavor has a contract with the Ensors. They are waiting the outcome of the dispute of the lawsuit the city filed against the county’s exclusion of the agricultural land in the urban renewal plan. The outcome will determine whether or not Endeavor will have an opportunity to use tax increment financing for the next 25 years. Not a small chunk of change and tax dollars that would have gone to the General Fund.

SCFD Funding –

Jena Dickey asked the council’s support on legislation that would change the level of funding the recipients of the SCFD tax receive. There are three tiers of funding with the top tier receiving the most funding and the bottom tier the least. The top tier consists of the big five – Zoo, DCPA, Art Museum, Botanic Gardens and the Museum of Nature/Science. The middle tier consists of 28 organizations – examples are; Art Students League, Butterfly Pavilion, Central City Opera, and the Children’s Museum. The bottom tier totals 242 organizations with 31 applications pending.     Dickey asked for letters to be written to legislators asking them to dedicate 20% of the SCFD tax to the small organizations.

North Littleton Promise – a presentation by Maureen Shannon on the work the group does in providing services to the immigrant community in NE Littleton.

Housing in Littleton

Bruce Beckman said it was the intent of this discussion to talk about housing 20 years out – what can city council influence. He was not looking to solve problems but to raise concerns.

Andy Hancock, Chair of the Littleton Housing Authority, and Jo Hamit, Director of the South Metro Housing Options (SMHO) said they were excited to help facilitate the discussion. Are there things we need to guide or cover in the housing review? This was a meeting to get on the same page.

Michael Penny said they were going to spend $50,000 on a community wide needs assessment. What should be included in the scope and what additional information does the council need?

Debbie Brinkman said the challenge now is that the current housing stock does not meet the needs of the population. We need to know what it looks like and what we can do about it – what’s in our control that would not leave our city in the same pickle we are in now. Our culture is more diverse and people look at housing different. What are the trends? Single story bungalows are not what people look for now.

Hamit said they would be coming back several times during the study to talk about it. There’s not a lot of vacant land but a good study will give council options.

Brinkman said she wanted them to look beyond what they usually look at.

Peggy Cole said she was confused about what is within their control and the problem. Right now homes are sold before they ever make it to market. Littleton is land locked and people love what we have here. Are we trying to create a problem?

Hancock said it was helpful to know where you are – we are not saying you have a problem. Where are you in comparison to other markets? This is an opportunity to get as much information as possible – can we make Littleton better?

Hamit said the study would include a consultant that would meet with focus groups. Maybe you don’t have a problem. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Cole said to get something else you would have to change what is already here.

Bill Hopping said they needed to look at this from a high level – where do we want to go long term; how to plan for the future. Is it a change in zoning? We have shopping centers that are at the end of their life span – they could be a prime location for future housing that would include rentals and a new kind of housing so Littleton stays viable. We need people to live here and to work here – not come to work here. We need to look at long term trends – do we have the right mix here. We are reactive to development and we need to be proactive. The Grove could have been a better process if we had a proactive plan. We need citizens, staff and city council involved to create the vision so people coming here will know what to expect.

Hancock said Boulder was unique like us. At some point they decided to stay unique. People want to preserve the Littleton character. We need the community conversation to be prepared for the future. (Boulder did make a decision to protect their community years ago. They bought up land that surrounds the city creating an open space that prevents encroachment and sprawl. They also set building height limits and took other steps to protect their community.)

Phil Cernanec said we have to look where we have been that got us here. Families with 2 children are trying to move here and want less maintenance – how do we deal with this and be intentional in our framework?   One thing that comes up for the 2040 plan is the walkability and mobility. The housing stock we have is built for automobiles. We don’t want to be an island. He wants the dialog. There are differing values between ownership and rentals. Planning Board has looked at accessible dwelling units – how do they fit in our housing mix? (ADUs are small homes built behind the main house with the idea that the older parents would downsize in the ADU and the young families would occupy the main house.) Right now having two unrelated families living in a single home violates our ordinances.

Realtor, Kay Watson, was asked to address the subject. Her first comment was that there were only 25 properties available for sale in Littleton. She supported the study and the need for a plan. We have shopping centers that have seen their better days and they could be redeveloped to fill a need. She thought the public policy and zoning codes need changing. Do we allow a studio to be built; we don’t allow that. (I think she was referring to the ADUs). We need more rentals for young families and immigrants – it is often their first step to ownership.

Beckman said one of the council’s goals is to create a better situation for people to stay in their homes and mobility is a huge piece and Littleton is way ahead with the Shopping Cart and Omni Bus. What do we need next?

Watson said walkability is huge – need a post office and a Starbucks in the housing mix. She said we have not done much with Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and that light rail is an incredible asset. (TOD generally means high density within walking distance of light rail. Just look at the light rail line as you travel north on Santa Fe. All the boxy apartment buildings along they way represent TOD.) Watson said young people don’t want to use their cars – that’s why people migrate to Highlands Ranch.

Jerry Valdes said he sees lots of new developments in Parker, Denver and Aurora and they are not walkable and not close to light rail. What attracts families to those areas?

Watson said it was the new home. There are a lot of airport workers that live in the Aurora area.

Hancock said light rail creates pockets of population.

Valdes asked Hancock and Hamit what their plans were for housing. What kinds of work places are attracting individuals and what type of growth is happening outside of Littleton so we can understand why people are locating there.

Doug Clark asked what problem they are trying to solve. If there are only 25 properties on the market what is the problem?

Watson asked where will the new people go?

Clark said the real question is increasing density. If we have $50,000 to pay someone to find problems – we have urban renewal finding Housing Authority properties to be slum and blight, real estate retains its value – if we pick something that is a problem then go with it but what are you going to tell the consultant?

Watson said we don’t have a plan for the future. If a developer comes along to redevelop a shopping center the citizens get all up in arms. There’s not a problem but we need a plan for what we want the city to look like in 20 years.

Clark said that was the planning board’s function. Watson has attended SMART Growth conferences and it is what every other community is doing. (I recently read Eben Fodor’s book Better Not Bigger and he wrote that people using the SMART Growth model end up in the same place as DUMB Growth only they get there faster.)

Hopping said Watson was right – we have two options. We either plan or happenstance dictates.

Brinkman said trends are for a more walkable community. We constantly hear about traffic and how it impacts the quality of life so we need to add the element of transportation to the study. We need to include the employment/retail component – business base the decision on where they locate on housing and transportation.

Cole said she was confused. It seems that we are revisiting things that we have already received guidance on from the Planning Board and we haven’t followed up. She asked for more discussion.

Hopping suggested they inventory the old studies knowing that a lot had changed. Brinkman said the only study that is of value is the housing inventory. Trends are changing so fast – who would have thought that people would prefer renting over ownership.

Ensor Property

Michael Penny provided an update on the Ensor property. There are 122 acres located south of Mineral and west of Santa Fe. Several types of permitted uses have been zoned for the property, which goes back to the mid 80s when the city annexed the property into Littleton. The zoning was approved as part of an agreement with the Ensor family’s gifting of land to put Mineral through. (Up until that time the only way to get across the river was at Bowles and Santa Fe.) There was a conceptual drawing – could have been a shopping mecca or another DTC concept that was well intentioned at the time.   Four or five developers have come in to talk about the property. We have been told that the Ensors do not want to go through a rezoning process and they are asking $25,000,000 for the property. It will take $17,000,000 to $20,000,000 in infrastructure improvements to develop the land. The land is under contract right now. (The Exec Director of the Urban Renewal Authority has said that Endeavor, in Dallas, is waiting for the outcome of the dispute between the City and the County on the inclusion of this land in the Santa Fe Urban Renewal plan. If the City prevails then urban renewal dollars would be available to develop the property through tax increment financing. If the County prevails Endeavor could develop the land as it is zoned but they would not have access to any tax increment financing. Endeavor builds WalMarts and Sam’s Club – even build a double decker in Dallas – one on level one and the other on level two.)

Penny said LIFT, our urban renewal authority, has zero control over the land use. LIFT is a financing mechanism.

He addressed the IGAs LIFT has with LPS and South Sub regarding TIF. They are negotiating with the County. (You can read more about this elsewhere on the Blog – I have provided the County’s response to the City’s offer.) When the council approved the urban renewal plans they approved the use of sales tax increment. But the council will hold those funds in a special account and until there is an intergovernmental agreement with LIFT the money cannot be used by LIFT without the council approval. You appointed the LIFT board – they want the community to be vibrant. They are not at an arm’s length from this council – well legally they are. LIFT is really us!   The question is what do we want to see there – the old plan is not what we want. We have an opportunity to use the TIF positively – let’s do a public/private partnership and engage to work with them and use future taxes to help to get what the community desires.

Cernanec confirmed that the funds could only be used for public improvements. (this is a common refrain but the definition of public improvements is about as broad as you can imagine.)

Brinkman said if this property had been developed in the 80s it would be in need of redevelopment today. This will be the capstone project for Littleton. (Penny made the same statement to me last April.)   She said the development of the land is financially challenging and it scares developers. If we end up using urban renewal and TIF financing we don’t have to approve development as a use by right. It is too important for the community and we need to support smart development. Incentives are a valuable tool and to use TIF to improve this property should not be viable. She asked staff to bring a resolution forward that would take all the public money off the table for a use by right. That would tell a developer we want a voice in this development – a public process. This doesn’t take away any property rights. Some people want it to remain open space. This property should be part of Littleton’s brand. The current zoning does not represent our brand.

Clark said if they were serious they would just drop the lawsuit with the county. He told them that the council has no legal say in how TIF is used. The council passed a plan that says LIFT can use the sales tax increment. The city can do a sales tax incentive without LIFT but LIFT is a separate entity and has complete control – they are not legally bound to listen to council.

Brinkman said the solution is not about urban renewal. It is about removing public money to assist in the development of the property. She was not opposed to the property’s inclusion in the UR plan. If a developer comes along and wants to take a chance to rezone then using pubic tax dollars to develop the project was viable to her.

Clark said it is not a council decision. City has already passed the plan.   Penny said that LIFT would not be allowed to use the sales tax money without an IGA with the City and council would have to approve the spending of the sales tax increment. He said the council would hold the funds and council would determine when to transfer the increment to LIFT. He said he already had an opinion from the attorney that this was allowed. Clark wanted to see the opinion. (I have included the opinion in a separate post if you are interested in reading.)

Hopping thought Brinkman’s suggestion gives the council leverage to get the development we want.

Cole said if it provided leverage she was supportive.

Valdes asked for more information from the attorney first. He did not see any rush.

Penny said the sooner they take action the sooner the message will get to the property owner.

A majority (by consensus) was supportive of the resolution coming back on Tuesday.


One Response

  1. I find this so totally confusing…I know that it is a true record of what happened but I still can’t figure out from this anything definite….. it feels like so much conflicting conversations…sort of ‘look over there”, no, “look over there!!!” Can some kind of summary of this state the main points? 1. that the city council wants to redevelop the Ensor property and the company with the contract develops Walmart and Sam’s clubs (only?) I need to do a cartoon but this time we need to have it published.

    On Sat, Jan 16, 2016 at 4:48 PM, Citizens View of Littleton Colorado wrote:

    > Carol B posted: “Littleton City Council Study Session Citizen > Minutes 12 January 2016 Submitted by Carol Brzeczek The last item > on the agenda is the most interesting – an update on the Ensor property > that is located at Mineral and Santa ” >

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