Thornton City Council voted unanimously to move forward with acquiring the Thornton Shopping Center through eminent domain on Dec. 14.
Eminent domain would give the property to the government with compensation.
The property has two major problems. First is the contamination of the soil and groundwater with perchloroethylene (PERC), a dry-cleaning chemical, of which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment enforces the remediation. The second set of issues is structural and aesthetic ones with buildings, parking lots and sidewalks, which the city enforces through issuing municipal code violations.
Jay Brown, the current owner, purchased the property without knowledge of the environmental problems and he claims to lack the funds needed to clean up the mess. Even with a court order directing Brown and his company to clean up the site, a stalemate remained.
“This ordinance authorizes the Thornton Development Authority to exercise its power of eminent domain to acquire all or a portion of the Thornton Shopping Center property using a phased eminent domain approach,” said Tami Yellico, Thornton’s City Attorney.
Council voted for the site to be acquired through phases. The first phase would be the parcel of land that is not contaminated and the second phase would be the contaminated portion.
“Staff has been working closely with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to address liability issues associated with this property,” said Yellico. “This would authorize the Thornton Development Authority to proceed with eminent domain on the (non-contaminated parcel) while conducting additional due diligence efforts related to the contaminated portion of this parcel.”
Yellico said the advantage of proceeding with eminent domain is to speed up the process of developing the area. Drawbacks include waiting to see whether the current owner will clean up the property as ordered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“It will be a lot longer if we don’t begin the process now,” Yellico said.
If the court grants the property to the city, the city can begin any work on the property within 90-120 days, Yellico said.
Phillips asked what would happen to the property in terms of development.
“The intent initially is to own the (non-contaminated parcel) and prep it for development, but what that development is going to be is T-B-D,” City Manager Kevin Woods said. “The idea is to own everything so the council can be direct in exactly what they want and not want.”
Ward one Councilors Henson and Phillips both argued for acquiring the entire property through this ordinance because that is what their constituents wanted, they said.
“Ward one clearly wants all of Thornton Shopping Center, which is in our ward, to be eminent domained, however that motion failed,” Phillips said. “Supporting this motion is the next available thing to us knowing we cant’ get what we want.”
“We all know this is a blight on our city and we need to fix it and we need to be looking at every avenue and tool we have to accomplish that,” Councilor Marvin said.