City, county at odds over farmland in urban renewal plan

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By Ramsey Scott

Arapahoe County notified Littleton last week that it is formally objecting to the inclusion of agricultural lands in the city’s urban renewal plan for the South Santa Fe corridor.

The parcels, referred to as the Ensor properties, are at the southwest corner of West Mineral Avenue and South Santa Fe Drive. While the land was zoned by the city in the early 1980s for planned development, it still is classified by the Arapahoe County assessor as dry farmland.

The properties have been on the city’s radar for a long time as a potential site for development. Yet various issues with the land have prevented development.

Arapahoe Assessor Corbin Sakdol said he submitted the letter of objection last week to meet a 30-day window for filing it. Sakdol said he’d been waiting for the city to submit the plan to the county but hadn’t received it.

Littleton’s City Council approved the urban renewal plan back in November, but the city didn’t submit the plan to the county until Dec. 5. Littleton spokeswoman Kelli Narde said the delay was due to miscommunication within the city.

The inclusion of agricultural lands in an urban renewal plan was addressed in 2010 by the legislature, which passed a law specifying how and when farmland can be made available for urban renewal. Yet whether the Ensor properties meet those criteria depends on which lawyer you ask — and will be a question most likely answered in the courts.

The criteria in the statute include stipulations that the land must be next to an existing urban renewal area prior to 2010, be owned by the same landowner since 2010, and then used for creating primary manufacturing jobs. 

Arapahoe County maintains that all the criteria listed in the state statute must be met, while the city and LIFT contend that as long as certain criteria are met, property can be included. 

Sakdol said the county will fight the inclusion of the land. Yet lawyers for the city’s urban renewal board, Littleton Invests For Tomorrow, and the city’s own attorneys have said the parcels meet the criteria, said LIFT executive director Jim Rees.

“The city continues to maintain the agricultural land designation was done appropriately in accordance to state statute, and the state statutes are very clear,” Rees said. “We’ll have to decide it in court.”

If the city persists, then the dispute would go directly to district court, and the city would be required to foot the legal bills.

Urban renewal authorities are mechanisms for local governments to enter public-private partnerships to fund redevelopment of areas considered blighted. Money for the redevelopment is raised through tax-increment financing, which rebates future property-tax revenue above a threshold determined before the project is built.

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1035, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine. Check www.columbinecourier.com for updates.