Centennial rezones land once eyed for car lot

Spot was focus of 2018 fight over allowing new Arapahoe Road dealerships

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Cementing even further the likelihood that a controversial piece of vacant land won't become another Arapahoe Road car dealership, the Centennial City Council approved a request to rezone a spot east of Potomac Street, changing what's allowed to be built there.

“We received a little bit of feedback saying, 'Well, are you doing this so you can just put a car dealership in there?'” said Andy Peters, representing Team Rahal of Centennial Inc. at the Aug. 2 city council meeting.

“And I will say, on the record, for all of you, unequivocally, no,” Peters said. “It is not possible to do that because of the spacing requirements.”

The area that city council voted to rezone includes land where the Pennsylvania-based Bobby Rahal Automotive Group was looking to open a Mercedes-Benz dealer in recent years on property the group bought at 13831 E. Arapahoe Place.

A 5-4 city council decision in 2018 to allow new car dealerships on the Central Arapahoe Road Corridor — roughly between Interstate 25 and Parker Road — prompted a citizen petition to halt the change, garnering roughly 4,700 valid signatures.

Following that petition, city council repealed its decision, allowing the city to avoid a special election where voters would have approved or voted down the allowance for new dealerships. The Rahal group was never able to build the dealership.

The rift saw some councilmembers at the time voicing complaints about where the funding for the 2018 petition effort may have come from, while other councilmembers at the time spoke in support of the petition effort, and some Centennial residents cited the difficulty of opposing the Rahal group without help.

The Rahal group had claimed that most of the people collecting signatures for another petition in 2016 regarding Arapahoe Road development were paid for, essentially, by Mercedes-Benz of Littleton. Mercedes-Benz of Littleton had filed a lawsuit in late 2016 over the potential Centennial dealership, alleging it would bring unfair competition.

The Rahal group also claimed the Littleton dealership was behind a mailer in 2018 that opposed Centennial's then-current green-lighting of dealerships, too.

Mercedes-Benz of Littleton in 2018 did not respond for comment about the accusations or whether it made any payments toward petition costs.

One of last remaining vacant spots

Some residents in recent years have expressed the desire for different kinds of development — theaters, restaurants or other shopping, for example — in the nearly built-out stretch of the city on Arapahoe Road, where car dealerships are the defining feature of the thoroughfare for several blocks.

Allowing for new dealerships on Arapahoe Road effectively would have concerned only one potential dealer: the formerly planned Mercedes-Benz outlet. That's because the spot near Potomac Street is the only viable candidate given the availability of vacant land and the zoning in the area, according to city staff in 2018.

The property in question is one of the last remaining “greenfield” parcels — pieces of land that have not been built on before — on Arapahoe Road, Peters said at the meeting in August this year.

City council at the Aug. 2 meeting voted to rezone property located south of Arapahoe Road, west of Blackhawk Street and north of Briarwood Avenue.

Car dealers not allowed

Centennial residents including former Mayor Cathy Noon provided comments in a virtual meeting held earlier this year, raising the issue of whether the proposed zoning would allow vehicle sales or vehicle rental businesses.

But newly established vehicle sales and vehicle rental uses would not be allowed under the proposed, now approved, zoning, according to city staff.

“Due to the spacing standard, which is 1,500 feet from Arapahoe Road, they would not be permitted on these parcels, as the parcel from north to south is less than 1,000 feet,” Brad McKinniss, a city planner for Centennial, said during the meeting.

The city also has a “buffer” that outlines certain uses that are not allowed within 300 feet of a residential area, Peters said.

There was some talk during the meeting about a moratorium on certain kinds of development, but it was later clarified that the city does not have a moratorium in place for vehicle sales or rentals. Rather, Centennial has a spacing requirement, barring certain development within a distance of Arapahoe Road, city staff said. Newly established vehicle sales and rental businesses must be at least 1,500 feet — roughly the length of four football fields — from Arapahoe Road.

There was once a moratorium in place, and then the city council adopted a modification to its land development code, according to the discussion. The code is the document that lays out zoning and sets design standards for new construction.

The city council's newly approved change for the land in question shifted it from General Commercial zoning to a type of Business Park zoning. Under the new category, building an assisted living facility is one of the options now available.

The property has been on and off the market for nearly 20 years, according to Peters.

Rolen Ferris, of the Rahal group, told the city council that because of “what's happening next door” with Centennial Hospital, a real estate representative spoke of “20 or 30 assisted living places that would be very interested” in locating on the property.

A specific proposal for what will ultimately develop on the land wasn't proposed at the time of the rezoning decision.

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