Rezoning moratorium is non-starter

Marathon Oil moved out of the 77-acre site on Broadway between Dry Creek Road and Fremont Avenue in 2000, and the location has not seen much activity since then.
Marathon Oil moved out of the 77-acre site on Broadway between Dry Creek Road and Fremont Avenue in 2000, and the location has not seen much activity since then.
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Littleton City Council flatly rejected a moratorium on rezoning proposed by a citizens’ group on May 7.

Citizens for Rational Development is concerned about the sudden spate of growth in the city, particularly apartment complexes already approved or pending. All told, there are about 2,000 units in the works, more than 900 of them at the Marathon site on South Broadway.

CRD spokesman John Watson’s argument touched on everything from density to traffic to property values.

“But the citizens are here tonight because they’re concerned way beyond those issues,” he told council. “They’re concerned about their neighborhood issues.”

About 30 people spoke during the 3½-hour meeting, which also addressed council’s new economic plan. About twice as many were in favor of the moratorium as those against it.

South Metro Realtors Association and the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce heard about CRD’s plan just a few days before and quickly rallied members to champion a “Littleton is open for business” message.

“No one in their right mind would impose a moratorium on their business, and any government that does so, does so at their peril,” said John Brackney, chamber president.

“The last thing you want to do is put government inhibitors in the way of market progress,” agreed Kay Watson, SMDRA board member.

But CRD has had time to organize since last December, when they found out about a proposal for a 325-unit project planned for the old sheriff’s building at Littleton Boulevard and Bemis Street, and they’ve assembled a diverse group of community activists.

Paul Bingham, longtime council-watcher, has been with CRD from the beginning and urged council to consider the moratorium.

“It’s for a very narrow segment of the market,” he said. “It’s not a total building ban.”

Betty Harris, long active in local Democratic politics, said overbuilding of multifamily development is short-sighted.

“Once the infill is filled up with apartments, there’s no way to do a do-over,” she said. “We must implement impact fees rather than shafting the public once again.”

Impact fees are the only thing just about everyone in the room agreed on. City Manager Michael Penny explained that residential developers are currently only charged a fee for parks and open space. Staff is drafting an ordinance to change that, and Penny said only one project under consideration will go through prior to its presumed passage.

“We concur with all the comments here about development paying its own way,” he said.

In the end, council unanimously shot down the moratorium.

“We have spent the last two years trying to tell the public and potential developers that we’re open for business, that we’re no longer closed, that we don’t have a fence built around us that says ‘we don’t want you,’” said Councilor Jim Taylor.

Councilor Phil Cernanec said the city can put the right burden in the right place without a moratorium, and Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Stahlman and Mayor Debbie Brinkman agreed.

“Developers are going to come in and say what they want to do, and guess what? We get to say yes to it or we get to say no to it,” said Brinkman.

Councilors Bruce Beckman, Peggy Cole and Jerry Valdes noted that many of the speakers had valid points.

“Community values were expressed tonight that council needs to keep at the forefront of the discussion,” said Beckman.

Watson said the group is considering trying to petition the matter onto the November ballot, but will wait until council rules on the old sheriff’s building rezone.

“I feel that the citizens will continue to present these issues until they are resolved,” he said. “We all have the best interests of the city at heart, and we expect them to get resolved.”

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