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Urban renewal plans leave county cranky

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Arapahoe bemoans lack of specifics in Littleton's blueprints

By Ramsey Scott

The Arapahoe County commissioners have serious concerns about Littleton’s proposed urban renewal plans for Columbine Square and South Santa Fe Drive.

The commissioners sent two letters to Littleton on Oct. 28 stating their objections to several items in each plan, including a lack of specificity on the impacts the plans would have on county finances. The commissioners also took exception to the inclusion of an agricultural property in the Santa Fe plan, which they said violates urban-renewal statutes.

The two urban renewal plans were created and approved by Littleton’s urban renewal authority, Littleton Invests for Tomorrow. The city’s Planning Board approved the South Santa Fe plan on a 5-1 vote and the Columbine Square plan on a 4-2 vote in September, and both are scheduled to go before the City Council for a vote on Nov. 4.

 

What will it cost Arapahoe County?

In both letters to Littleton, the Arapahoe commissioners pointed out that the two plans didn’t include a cost estimate to the county in providing additional services and infrastructure to areas developed through tax-increment financing, and said the plans lacked details about areas determined by LIFT to be blight.

“We need the details of the plan and the cost to the county. In these reports, it had been very limited,” said Arapahoe County Assessor Corbin Sakdol.

Sakdol cited concerns that using tax-increment financing would leave the county facing additional costs without getting additional revenue. The county estimated that it lost $1.5 million in revenue from eight projects currently using tax-increment financing, whichrebates future property-tax revenue above a threshold determined before a project is built..

“The county is not receiving that additional revenue, but we’re providing services. So the county is concerned with more and more TIF projects because of the additional work without the additional revenue,” Sakdol said. “This is a statewide issue, not just an Arapahoe issue.”

Both letters requested that the period for the tax-increment financing be made much shorter than the 25 years allowed by state statute.

LIFT executive director Jim Rees said the plans lack specifics on the impacts to affected taxing entities because there are no development plans in place for which to estimate costs.

“There’s no doubt at this point there’s no good specifics there. They’re asking for specific development scenarios, and we don’t have that yet. It’s the chicken and the egg. You won’t have development plans until urban renewal is in place and a TIF is in place to help the developments,” Rees said. “The city and LIFT are very willing to work with the county to identify the impacts the county sees when and if we have a real development plan. That’s the only fair way to deal with that.

“If there’s an impact to the county's revenue, let’s talk and find a way to address those.” 

The Littleton City Council passed a resolution earlier this year stating it would “include all impacted taxing entities in the financial discussions for any development project, which may utilize tax-increment financing through the city's urban renewal authority, to ensure that no urban renewal project moves forward without the full support and approval of all impacted taxing entities.”

Littleton spokeswoman Kelli Narde pledged that the city would continue to work with other governments.

“We appreciate hearing back from the county. We hope to continue to work with them to come to an agreement like the agreement we have with Littleton Public Schools, South Suburban Parks and Recreation, and Urban Drainage,” Narde said.

All three entities have expressed support for the urban renewal plans.

  

Where is the blight?

Sakdol said Arapahoe County also wants more specifics about blight identified in the Columbine Square area, because the county’s Facilities and Fleet Management office is located there. The letter to Littleton also was skeptical of the need for tax-increment financing in the area that includes O’Toole’s Garden Center, which is expanding.

“I think all taxing entities believe — not just Arapahoe County but South Suburban or fire districts or library districts — we do need to be informed about the condition if there is blight,”  Sakdol said. “What is that blight? As partners in the city, we all need to be well informed.”

The urban renewal plans both cite the presence of the 11 state-defined conditions for blight, but don’t cite the specific locations of it, Sakdol said.

Rees said it’s not the county’s job to identify blighted areas.

“That’s not the county's responsibility. They’re overstepping its authority with that. LIFT’s job is to point out where blight is,” Rees said.

 

Agricultural land and urban renewal

Another major point of contention with the South Santa Fe plan was the inclusion of agricultural lands in two of the three study areas.

State statute allows agricultural land to be included in an urban renewal area only if the land is next to an urban renewal area approved prior to June 1, 2010; the land is owned by the same person prior to the creation of an urban renewal zone before June 1, 2010; and the land would be used for the creation of primary jobs.

The county’s opinion is that all three of these criteria need to be met before agricultural lands can be included, Sakdol said.

Rees said LIFT’s and the city’s attorneys have read the statute to mean just one of the three conditions must be met before agricultural lands can be included.

 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine. Check www.columbinecourier.com for upda