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Tensions persist between residents, urban renewal agency

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Official calls group’s open-records requests ‘harassment’

By Ramsey Scott

Tensions between a citizens group seeking more transparent government and Littleton officials surfaced at a recent meeting of the city’s urban renewal authority.

At the June 16 meeting of Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, that friction was visible when Littleton resident Carol Brzeczek asked LIFT board president Jim Taylor to release information on possible boundary changes the board received during the meeting.

Taylor said he wouldn’t release the information until the board had a chance to review it. 

Brzeczek asked if she would need to file another Colorado Open Records Act request; Taylor said yes and then referred to Brzeczek’s numerous CORA requests as “harassment.”

Taylor said he didn’t want to comment on his reaction to Brzeczek’s request but said the information wasn’t complete and the board needed a chance to review it before it was made public. 

“The commissioners ought to have time to see what’s in the notebooks first. … The information could change, and then it would be inaccurate,” Taylor said. “The group that’s protesting, for the most part, do not own property in survey areas. They’re just generally against most anything the city wants to do and what the urban renewal authority is trying to do.”

Taylor said the protesting residents use incomplete information to paint an inaccurate picture of LIFT’s work. 

Brzeczek said her CORA requests were filed to get more information about the finances and history of LIFT, including what happened in the 1980s when the Riverfront Authority started its work. 

“I was kind of aghast that somebody would be accusing me of harassment for exercising my right to access the public records,” Brzeczek said. “Why is Jim Taylor so annoyed by the exposure of the public record? Are there things that he would rather not be made known to the public?”

Urban renewal authorities are mechanisms for local governments to enter into public-private partnerships to help fund redevelopment of areas that are considered blighted. Money for the redevelopment is created through tax-increment financing, which rebates future property-tax revenue above a threshold determined before the project is constructed. The authority has the power to use eminent domain along with other tools to spur redevelopment.

The use of eminent domain and blighting properties has led a group of Littleton residents, including Brzeczek, to vocally oppose LIFT’s work. Several residents have spoken before the City Council, including former mayor Doug Clark, about their issues with LIFT and the failed redevelopment it helped direct in the 1980s when it was called the Riverfront Authority.

Clark’s and Brzeczek’s concerns stem from an urban renewal authority created by the city in 1980, then called the Littleton Riverfront Authority, that planned to redevelop a 25-acre parcel between the South Platte River and South Santa Fe Drive from Church Street to Crestline Avenue. About $8.6 million in bonds were issued by the authority to buy land and to relocate residents and several businesses to help create the Riverfront Festival Center, a $150 million project.

That project failed, and left investors and the city short millions of dollars. Littleton is still owed $12 million from the bonds that were issued for the previous incarnation of the authority, Clark said. 

LIFT and Littleton have said the bond debt was erased several years ago, and there is no outstanding debt owed to the city or other investors.

 

LIFT working on 

boundaries for plan

During its monthly board meeting June 16, LIFT’s board of directors was presented with parameters to help narrow the scope of a potential urban renewal plan for areas deemed to be blighted. 

Ricker/Cunningham, the consultant firm hired by LIFT, will narrow the proposed boundaries by removing property from the survey that meet certain criteria — single-family residential homes, parcels of land owned by the Littleton Housing Authority, churches and other religious buildings owned by religious groups, and areas designated as open space.

“(The consultants) are going to conform the survey-area boundaries, and that will be presented at the next meeting. It can still be refined by the commissioners on the authority. They can add and subtract from the plan,” said Taylor, a former City Council member. “They’re not firm boundaries; they’re still subject to additions and subtractions from those boundaries.”

Taylor said the board would most likely adopt the new boundaries, along with any changes from the board, during LIFT’s July meeting. Once the boundaries are in place, the consultant will start working on an urban renewal plan for the areas selected, Taylor said. 

The goal would be for the plan to be ready to present to the city within 60 to 90 days after LIFT adopts the boundaries, Taylor said.