Littleton City Council rejects proposed Broadstone apartments

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After nearly a year of wrangling among neighbors, city staff, the property owner and development team, Littleton City Council finally shot down the controversial Broadstone at Littleton Station apartment complex.

“The message that we must get out there is that the right project will be approved,” Councilor Jerry Valdes said before the 2 a.m. Sept. 4 vote. “But not all of them will be approved, and not all of them will be denied.”

The final vote, which was 6-1, was supposed to happen a month ago. But council sent the proposal back to the planning board, which had already unanimously recommended denial, after development company Alliance Residential made last-minute changes to scale down the size and density of the building. The company originally planned 325 units in six stories. After several revisions, it ended up with 225 in five.

It was a last-ditch effort to appease a large group of unhappy citizens, many of them neighbors of the site on the southeast corner of Littleton Boulevard and Bemis Street.

The plan did a little better on its second go-round with the board, garnering a yes vote from chair Randy Duzan.

On Sept. 4, Councilor Jim Taylor cast the only vote to spare Broadstone its ultimate demise. In his final term, Taylor represents the district that includes downtown. He felt the 225-unit, high-end apartment complex would create economic opportunity and jobs, noting currently empty Main Street storefronts.

“Having a younger generation move in will cause a buying spree,” he said.

The Historic Downtown Littleton Merchants agreed, submitting a letter in support of the project.

“The rezoning of this property from commercial to residential will promote the economic development and growth of downtown Littleton as pedestrian connectivity increases between the restaurants, retail merchants and the light-rail station,” they wrote.

Most of the six councilors who voted against the project said the concerns and the character of the residential neighborhood to the east and north of the project were paramount.

“When we begin to manage change in Littleton, we really have to put the neighborhoods first,” said Councilor Bruce Beckman.

About 65 people showed up to object to Broadstone. They voiced concerns about traffic, density, character, transience, safety and more. Don Bruns referenced the city’s new “Anything but Little” motto.

“Many of us did not choose Littleton because we hoped it would become big town,” he said.

About 15 represented the supportive camp.

“We’ve got a downtown. I’d like to see an uptown,” said Tom O’Brien.

Several councilors weren’t willing to cede any more commercial property. Councilor Phil Cernanec said the project could throw off the strived-for balance of uses downtown, and referenced the developer’s observation that under the current zoning, pretty much any commercial use is allowed without regard for height, setbacks or even public opinion.

“I’m not going to operate from a position of fear,” said Cernanec.

A striking feature of the meeting was the seemingly endless ways city documents can be applied to either side of a rezone. Supporters and opponents alike referenced the comprehensive plan, which was written 30 years ago. Other pertinent documents include the downtown design guidelines, the Littleton corridor study and the economic plan that council just adopted in May. Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Stahlman said they contain a variety of desirable options that don’t always agree with each other.

Fran Pierson agrees. He lives just east of the site in Littleton Station condos and originally felt Broadstone ran counter to the comprehensive plan. But after working extensively with the developer to scale the project back to be more in line with the neighborhood, he’s changed his mind.

“Broadstone is an opportunity to develop a critical transit-oriented development with intelligence and integrity,” said Pierson.

At the end of the 7½-hour meeting, even those who worked hardest against the project were surprised at the outcome.

“I was blown away,” wrote Paul Bingham in an email to Citizens for Rational Development. “I thought at best we’d get a 3-4 vote.”

Resident Nancy Barger said she hoped the evening would end a year of contention in the community.

“We all still have to get along,” she said. “You’ll all be here, we’ll all be here, but the developers won’t.”