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.




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.