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Littleton council approves two controversial urban renewal plans

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By Ramsey Scott

The Littleton City Council approved two contentious urban renewal plans Nov. 4 despite objections from residents and a representative of Arapahoe County.

The Columbine Square plan was ratified on a 4-3 vote, with council members Peggy Cole, Jerry Valdes and Bruce Beckman voting against. All three questioned whether the area needs urban renewal to spur development.

“I don’t support using urban renewal in that area,” Beckman said. “Were I given the choice of where to do this and we had a discussion, I’d have to say the value of urban renewal isn’t really needed in this one location.”

Valdes criticized the long tenure of members of the urban renewal board, dating to the failed Littleton Riverfront Authority. That was the former name of the authority, now called Littleton Invests For Tomorrow.

“We have at least four members appointed in the ‘80s, and they were involved in the Riverfront project that failed. And I can’t get over that right now. We still have board members on the same essential board that ended up not paying back Littleton $12 million,” Valdes said at the Nov. 4 meeting. “I can’t get over that, and now we are relying on this same board.”

The council also approved the urban renewal plan for the Santa Fe District on a 5-2 vote, with Cole and Valdes opposed. Beckman said he viewed the South Santa Fe corridor as needing a financing mechanism like urban renewal for development.

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.

The council did vote to remove two pieces of property, the McDonald’s on Santa Fe and the Evergreen Motel, after requests by the property owners to be excluded. Council members Debbie Brinkman and Randy Stein voted against removing the property.

A representative from Arapahoe County voiced concerns from that county’s Board of Commissioners about several items in both urban renewal plans, including the inclusion of agricultural land and a lack of specificity on the impacts of tax-increment financing on the county. The city’s and LIFT’s attorneys both disagreed with the county’s interpretation of urban renewal statutes.

Mike Kerrigan, property tax specialist with Colorado’s Division of Property Taxation, said Arapahoe had 30 days to object to the agricultural lands being included. If the county did file an objection, the ball would go back into Littleton’s court and the city would have 30 days to file a response, sending the issue into state district court.

“This agricultural inclusion is in reality a new requirement. It was enacted by the legislature in 2010. And it was enacted to prevent the abuse of the inclusion of agricultural land in an urban renewal plan, by calling it blighted, developing it and having all of that new value go to the tax increment,” Kerrigan said. “The application of this new statutory provision hasn’t been challenged or tested since it was first put in legislation. I’ve been with the division since 2010 and what’s going on in Littleton is my first experience with the provisions in this portion of the statute being implemented and challenged.”