Littleton's planning commission, in a 7-0 vote July 25, approved the creation of 481 housing units at the Aspen Grove shopping center in southwest Littleton.
The proposal is far slimmer than the originally envisioned maximum of 2,000 units — plans which, while initially approved by city council last year, were forced to a city-wide vote after residents petitioned to hold a referendum on the project.
The question is slated for Littleton voters' ballots Nov. 8.
The 33-acre site could still support nearly 2,000 housing units in total under the city's new Unified Land Use Code, or ULUC, according to Littleton's Deputy Director for Community Development Mike Sutherland.
So far, the mall's owners — Gerrity Group — are “not showing plans for any additional development” and any future housing proposals would need to be voted on by the planning commission, Sutherland said.
Gerrity, in an Aug. 2 statement, said the plans would see "multifamily apartments above ground-level retail stores and restaurants, structured and on-street parking, common open space, private streets and bicycle amenities."
The housing units are set to be built on the south end of the mall near the Mineral Avenue light rail station with a maximum height of 80 feet — about seven stories or less.
“We are going to rejuvenate Aspen Grove and return it to being a vibrant, first-class community retail center like it was when it was built 20 years ago,” Gerrity President Kevin Gerrity said.
Gerrity's more sweeping proposal of 2,000 units above commercial space became embattled after it was unveiled in 2021. Though city residents and some of Aspen Grove's commercial tenants spoke in favor of the redevelopment during an October council meeting last year, a mobilized group of residents has pushed to obstruct the plans.
The "Say No to Aspen Grove" petition delivered more than 4,200 signatures to city staff in early January, with the city clerk's office validating more than 3,700 — enough needed to force city council to either ax the plan or send it to a city-wide vote.
While that vote is still set for November, the newer, smaller plans were able to move forward since the original redevelopment was approved with a rezoning from council under the city's old land use guidelines.
Since then council approved the ULUC, essentially allowing Gerrity a second chance to apply for a project under new zoning rules the ULUC unlocked. Under the new code, projects do not need to win the approval of city council and can move forward with a simple majority vote from the city's planning commission.
Residents opposed to higher-density housing who've said they're against the Aspen Grove redevelopment have remained steadfast in their opposition to the ULUC.
“The ULUC doesn’t support diverse housing," Littleton resident Pam Chadbourne said during an Aug. 2 city council meeting.
Chadbourne said none of the plans approved so far under the ULUC include below-market-rate housing, though city council is considering passing an ordinance to incentivize or mandate affordable housing in new developments.
Lynn Christensen said the homes proposed at Aspen Grove "could adversely affect" nearby homeowners and has raised concerns that denser development could increase traffic, hamper environmental sustainability and block mountain views.
Housing advocates have pushed back on those claims and have said the project would have little effect on traffic — as it would encourage more walkability — and said studies show denser developments conserve energy compared to single-family homes.
Several Littleton residents, during the Aug. 2 meeting, spoke in favor of the plans and the trend toward more housing in the city.
“As a community member and a primary care health provider here, it makes me sad when I hear community members, families, patients that I’ve known for years having to move away related to being unable to afford housing in Littleton," Lexi Barre said.
Barre called Aspen Grove "a great example of the ULUC in practice” and said it will support more housing diversity.
Julia Montano said the city's old land use code, passed in 1976, was “not inclusive or written to support diversity in our city" due to its focus on single-family homes, a staple of suburbia that has come under fire for creating inequitable and unaffordable living environments.
Katie McReynolds said she is "enthusiastic” about the prospect of an affordable housing ordinance, adding that she is supportive of the city's direction when it comes to housing and growth.
“I’m really excited to see how Littleton will incorporate affordable housing while also supporting new development especially near to public transit, it just makes sense for our community and I thank you," she said.
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