Hearing on dealership ends in uproar

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Applicant walks out before giving scheduled presentation on rezoning for auto dealership

By Vicky Gits

A Planning Commission hearing on the proposed rezoning near Chatfield Bluffs ended abruptly Oct. 24 after the applicants walked away at the last minute, leaving the audience and the panel of seven commissioners somewhat stunned and wondering how to proceed.

About 75 people had turned out to oppose a plan to put a car dealership on vacant property in the Jefferson Corporate Center off C-470 and Kipling Parkway.

About 15 people had signed up to speak but had to leave without giving testimony. When the time came for the developer to give his presentation, it turned out he had left but was open to rescheduling the meeting for another date, according to the developer’s attorney.

Alan Fishman, the property owner, had been expected to testify on behalf of the prospective occupants, owners of the Alpine Buick GMC dealership of Denver.

Real estate developer Fishman is seeking to rezone 11 acres of vacant land south of C-470 at Kipling Parkway to allow an auto dealership as part of an established 70-acre business park. The owners of Alpine Buick GMC, Mike Drawe and Ivette Dominguez Drawe, have said they are interested in moving their business and about 50 employees from Denver to Jefferson County. 

But the plan has generated opposition from neighboring homeowners, who argue the dealership would attract too much traffic and constitute an eyesore at the gateway to Deer Creek Canyon Open Space Park. 

Jeffco planning staff recommended the rezoning be denied on grounds it isn’t consistent with the comprehensive master plan, which calls for office and light-industrial uses, not including auto dealerships.

Maureen Laudermilk, who founded the opposition group ColoradoARD, or Colorado Alliance for Responsible Development, said the developers’ decision to leave the hearing after the public had shown up to testify would hurt their cause.

The Planning Commission members were clearly upset that the parties had pre-empted the proceedings by walking out.

“I feel there is a great perception of arrogance on the part of the applicant, and that’s not going to help their case,” said panel member David Warren.

“There was plenty of time for the case to be heard. I would just chuck the whole thing, and I would encourage the applicant to withdraw,” said Larry Anna, chair of the commission.

After a couple of lengthy preliminary cases, the hearing on the dealership plan was finally ready to begin about 8 p.m. in Hearing Room 1 at the Jefferson County Administration and Courts Facility. Outside a snowstorm was beginning to build as rain turned into snow.

As usual, the agenda was to hear from the Division of Planning and Zoning, then the applicant (Alan Fishman and representatives) and then the public would have time to speak.

But when the applicant’s lawyer Kim Martin came to the table, the proceedings fell apart. Martin said Fishman, the property owner, had left the building and given instructions to either obtain another date for the hearing or to withdraw the application.

“(To withdraw the application) is not the preference. The preference would be to come back at another time and work on the issues,” Martin said.

The Planning Commission members were offended that the applicant had walked away from the hearing, even given the late hour with a snowstorm brewing, because such hearings are virtually never canceled by the applicant on the spot with a room full of opposition.

“How do we know this won’t happen again?” said Tim Rogers, a member of the commission. “I don’t know that it is fair to put (the citizens) in a similar position (on another occasion).”

Someone suggested a motion to start taking testimony from the public and reschedule the rest of the public hearing for Nov. 28, which suited the attorney for the developer.

“The 28th is plenty of time to regroup and continue with the hearing. We have no intention (to back out again). With this particular application it relates to certain end users. They have certain timelines in connection with the rezoning and construction,” Martin said.

The motion to start the hearing and continue it after partial citizen testimony failed on a 5-2 vote.

“I would find it very odd not to have the applicant’s presentation,” said commission member Nancy Ferguson. “I sympathize with everybody who came, but I don’t feel there’s enough information out there without an applicant’s information.”

Member Richard Olson was in favor of going forward. “In five years I have been on the board, I have never had an applicant withdraw at the last minute. I say we should proceed with the case and complete it without continuing,” Olson said.

“The applicant would not support continuation, for the reason we are not able to respond to questions and have a normal conversation. Presenting one side without the ability to answer questions is too disjointed,” Martin said in objection to moving forward.

Warrensaid he objected to the idea of holding another hearing between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

“We are heading into the holiday season. We are asking them to come after Thanksgiving when they are probably going away. (The applicant) didn’t take into consideration (the citizens’) stress level but only dealt with their selfish approach.”

The vote in favor of calling a halt to the proceedings and having a later hearing prompted audience member Linda Auburn to loudly exclaim, “This is absurd. Nobody testify.”

After about 20 minutes of wrangling, Warren came up with the idea of postponing the hearing until Jan. 9, a solution that ultimately the commissioners reluctantly accepted.

They were advised that if they did not set a specific date the applicant would have to start the process over from the beginning.

Members of the audience apparently were angry that they had waited for two hours only to be stood up at the last minute.