6.14.2016 Council Study Session on Urban Renewal with LIFT and Planning Board

Study Session on Urban Renewal      14 June 2016         Joint meeting with LIFT and Planning Board

Citizen Minutes

Bruce Beckman opened the meeting by stating that they would not be able to modify any urban renewal plans – they can keep them as they are or not. Any modification would require voter ratification.

Debbie Brinkman asked Corey Hoffman (LIFT and City attorney on urban renewal matters) to address the IGA with South Suburban and Urban Drainage. Hoffman told council they could abolish the urban renewal authority if their debt is taken care of. They can also repeal different plans – area by area, not as a whole.   LIFT’s job is to implement the plan of the city council. Hoffman believes that three of the plans have TIF clocks started but he claims the Santa Fe Area TIF clock has not started. However, the county thinks differently. In the absence of urban renewal plans Hoffman advises not to have an urban renewal authority. Or there’s an additional option – the council could serve as the authority. The urban renewal law allows council to abolish the urban renewal authority. The authority is given six months to get their financial matters in order. The only way the council can serve as the urban renewal authority is by a vote of the people – the authority is not transferable.

Doug Clark clarified that the county is collecting and depositing increment into LIFT’s account as required by the UR law. Brinkman asked where the increment would go if they pulled the Santa Fe Plan. Hoffman said LIFT’s debt has to be taken care of and if increment remains it would be returned to the taxing entities. Peggy asked if the debt had to be taken care of first and Hoffman said yes.

Beckman mentioned at a previous meeting increment came up – where is it, how much and what does it look like in generalities. He asked about the impact of a dormant urban renewal authority in place so if a developer comes forward with a plan the structure is in place. It would send a message. Hoffman said it would be unusual as the authority’s role is to implement a plan. Littleton Riverfront UR Authority remained in business long after the increment clock had stopped. The Riverfront Festival Center (the failed project) was and is still active. For those that do not know the Riverfront Festival Center is now property of Echo Star and is located at Santa Fe and Bowles – north and south of Bowles on the west side of Santa Fe. That property is actually part of two different urban renewal plan areas, which presents another problem.

Mark Rudnicki, planning board, asked how much LIFT owed the city. Justin Hay, chair of LIFT, said they owed the city $150,000. Rudnicki asked if the city would be liable for LIFT’s debts if they could not pay them. That will not be a problem – LIFT is set to collect thousands of dollars in increment from the county for 2015 and 2016. The sales tax increment the city owes LIFT has yet to be calculated but that will amount to thousands as well.

Lynn Krueger, planning board, asked if the boundaries for the plans would remain if there were no plans. Beckman asked if a plan area could be dormant. Hoffman told them that the TIF clock has started except for Santa Fe. The County would not agree with Mr. Hoffman. The County is collecting the Santa Fe TIF from the school district, the park district, urban drainage, the County and the City and diverting that money to LIFT. The County is diverting increment for the entire Santa Fe Plan Area – the recent ruling did not change what the County is collecting since they were not collecting TIF on the disputed ag land.

Clark said there are other problems:

The outstanding Riverfront Plan that was never completed

An area that was excluded created a modification that needed voter ratification.

Hoffman agreed. Clark continued.

The legal description is not correct

Brinkman asked about the fact that Riverfront was in two different plans – asking Hoffman if there was a legal effect at all. Hoffman said it was not an impediment; nothing in the statute prevents property from being in two different plan areas.

Beckman asked about the risks and rewards of each plan. Michael Penny said to take away the politics of TIF and how urban renewal will partner with developers there are two main areas of benefit for Littleton…..Ensor and the Dish Network property. It would be expensive to relocate the call center and there are substantial infrastructure costs associated with Ensor. They would need to bond 5 to 10 million dollars. The Santa Fe corridor has its challenges.  Penny thought Columbine Square would only need 100’s of thousands of our tax dollars – not millions.   The Littleton Blvd area and the North Broadway area would be smaller scale projects. A new investment firm just bought the old Safeway store on So. Broadway and they are interested in public improvements – not big dollars. There are those types of examples up and down Littleton Blvd and So Broadway.

Bill Hopping asked if they could put LIFT on hold. There’s been a lot spent for consulting so LIFT could conduct their own meetings. We need to stop the bleeding financially and use increment to pay debt back. What are our options? He did not feel smart enough to make a decision that would impact future councils.

Hoffman said he did not know. LIFT is currently not incurring costs but there’s debt. There’s opportunity along Littleton Blvd and Broadway – LIFT board could be there to react. Can’t stop the TIF clock.

Peggy Cole made the point that the increment is going to LIFT. If the increment wasn’t going to LIFT the city would have their portion of the increment that could be spent on the infrastructure needed in the plan areas.

David Bolt said the benefit of TIF is to get projects going to drive increment to get something else going. The UR law states that TIF is used to pay debt created by the project not to get other projects going.

Hay said he was glad they were having this conversation. He thought dormancy with TIF sends a message – dormancy is another hit to our community. Dormancy is not positive.

Brinkman said 300 did not eliminate urban renewal and the people clearly understood they were not voting to remove urban renewal as a tool. Conditions were added – an opportunity for the community to work together. We’ve talked about TIF money – we can do some of our own capital improvements regardless if there’s a project. Yes, there was never any intention of eliminating UR by the sponsors of 300 of which I am. However, voters are still stunned to learn that the council rushed through plans in order to beat the voters at the ballot box. Which rings a bell – at the same meeting but later council voted to put a moratorium on the B-2 zoning and one reason provided was so developers would not rush through inadequate plans just to get in before the vote of council to approve the moratorium. Council knows how to play that game from both sides!

Hoffman said that would be an undertaking and an activity which means it is a project.

Clark asked Brinkman to give an example of what she meant. Brinkman suggested a bridge on Broadway connecting the trails. Clark said that was outside the UR plan area. Hoffman said she would have to show that not to do it would be spreading slum and blight and you would have to make some connection to the urban renewal area to do a project outside the area.

Clark said we have so many problems starting with Resolution 88 – the council said they would not approve an urban renewal project without the full support and approval of all the taxing entities and they never rec’d that from all of them. The legal description excludes the streets and rights of way – you would have to make a case to spend TIF outside the UR area. The letters of consent calls for revenue sharing and we get contradicting opinions and advice. Jim Rees, executive director of LIFT, said plans expire after 25 years and Mr. Hoffman said they live forever. Hoffman is right – they live until they are repealed by the URA. Rather than massage the plans – it is an insult to the voters. We blighted everything including Housing Authority properties. We need to go back to the beginning. Identify what we want to do, create a plan. Reform LIFT. We have four plans with one disabled because legal descriptions don’t match. We don’t even know what property is in and what property is out.

Jerry Valdes said he had been an opponent of urban renewal all along. He asked if there were any plans they were OK with. He thought part of Columbine Square might be OK but not all. There are issues with the Santa Fe plan and maybe they would want to work on the Littleton Blvd and No. Broadway plans.

Beckman said if we find something we value we have to modify them – can we do that?

Hoffman said if they kept the plans in place in their entirety it would not trigger 300 and an election for approval. Justin Hay asked what constitutes an adjustment?   Hoffman thought a minor technical error correction would not qualify as a modification. He suggested that they would have to look at each area separately.

Hay said they could highlight property within the plan areas and analyze with a plan to move forward.

 

Cole said using TIF to plant flowers does not fit within the Gap financing – which she thought was how it should work to help property owners with a project that they could not afford otherwise.

Hoffman said it was just a different authorized use. There are different ways to remediate blight and public improvements. Landscaping a place makes it better. Fact is there is very little that increment can’t be spent on – the law does not provide any limits. So increment can be spent on landscaping, computers, park benches, fire suppression systems for a mom and pop restaurant, a patio for their restaurant too, and the list goes on and on.

Beckman said he was not comfortable with keeping any of the areas – he was not comfortable with taking any more of the taxpayer’s money.

Brinkman said she wanted to talk about small parcels in the Littleton Blvd area. She thought it was difficult to understand the difference between a project and a plan and that Hoffman had done an incredible job guiding the council. She was not interested in keeping the Santa Fe plan but was interested in the Ltn Blvd plan and the North Broadway plan. She said there were a couple of businesses interested in talking to the city about keeping the LIFT board engaged. Hard to believe that Brinkman thinks Hoffman has done an incredible job of leading council.   They approved four plans in violation of their own Resolution 88. They approved plans that the legal description isn’t accurate according to council’s own admission when they tried to “clarify” the plan. All of this being the same information that was presented to council by citizens but citizens were ignored. They lost a law-suit to the county costing taxpayers of the city and the county thousands of dollars. Hoffman is in disagreement with the County on the TIF for the Santa Fe Area……my bet is on the County’s interpretation and not Hoffman’s. He defines a project as a plan and a plan as a project – both are undertakings and activities…..clear as mud. And all of this is costing the taxpayer’s of Littleton thousands of dollars.

Hopping said it was a policy decision. What can UR do in Littleton long term – it is a way to leverage community goals. It can stimulate development along the corridor. We can get concessions out of developers. It can stimulate senior housing. UR has the ability to stimulate the kind of development we want. Use UR to attract the right kind of developers. He thought it was a high hurdle to get UR back because of 300.  In other words, it will be difficult to get the voters approval to provide developers with tax payer’s money. Probably a true statement!

Cole said Riverfront UR plan was not completed. The city has other ways to stimulate development. We don’t need this.

Beckman asked if there was a way to use the work that has been done. Hoffman said the plans are all public records. David Bolt, planning board, said that blight is an unfortunate word. The properties are not blighted in the traditional sense of the word. Blight is defined by the UR law and the blight designation has to rise to the level of spreading crime and disease. UR is used to remediate that crime and disease and stop the spread of more crime and disease. Now where is that present in Littleton?

Rudnicki said the planning board has been looking at this for 2 years. The city stepped in something and now they want to know how to clean up their shoes. He mentioned LIFT and Ricker/Cunningham – arrogance unequaled. They used the word tool and LIFT is using a sledgehammer. He liked the idea of choosing one project but there is no project. A lot of money has been spent and there’s no project! Littleton is thriving – the market is working. Puma’s vision is breath taking. He is tempted to get rid of UR and clean his shoes.

Krueger said Littleton has moved from a small town to a city and they have to be careful about what is done with our city. UR does pay off if it is done appropriately to begin with.

Hay said he was not part of LIFT when Ricker was working for LIFT. He was strongly open to pull the Santa Fe plan and LIFT needed to do some work filtering down on a case-by-case basis. He just hoped that some semblance of UR would be left in place.

R.C. Myles, planning board, asked if there were any projects being considered.

 

Hay said there are not any interested parties. Myles thought things were poorly explained. He thought the incentive agreement with King Soopers that had nothing to do with UR provided the community with an exceptional retail center. He thought LIFT should be able to have a shot a one UR project.

Bolt suggested that LIFT pick one project and do it quickly.

Beckman asked if LIFT had improved itself. Hay said the last 8 months have been difficult as a board but they are very motivated and ready to move forward with their goals. They have taken some cost saving measures – city staff has been helping them with their expenses. In the last 8 months the majority of their meetings have been cancelled and when they have met they are not well attended and there’s really nothing new to discuss or report. Information provided by their executive director has been wrong and even though one member knew something was not correct with the budget projections no one in the room knew what the error was. That led to their budget being grossly overstated and had to be amended soon after. They have not met since the judge determined in favor of the County on the ag land suit.

Beckman said they would have a second reading on the motion at a later meeting.

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