Littleton's Aspen Grove set for sweeping overhaul

4-3 council vote hinged on concerns over commercial use, affordable housing

Littleton City Council set the stage for a major overhaul of the 20-year-old Aspen Grove shopping center following a narrow vote on Nov. 9. Councilmembers approved a request from the mall's owner, the Gerrity Group, to rezone the south Littleton site for mixed-use development that will see new residential units, taller buildings and revamped public spaces over the next several years.
The vote was 4-3, with Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin and councilmembers Carol Fey and Pam Grove voting against the request.
The decision caps months of deliberation between councilmembers as Gerrity worked with city staff to build its case for the shopping center's dramatic makeover which it said was needed in order to save the area from declining sales tax revenue. But as Gerrity's plans came into focus it collided with public concern, with dozens of Littleton residents speaking out against the rezoning during a public meeting on Oct. 5. 
Worries over increased traffic, building heights and environmental impacts were voiced by a chorus of residents that ultimately resonated with councilmembers as they weighed their vote. 
“This is the toughest decision that I've had to make since being on council the last four years,” said Patrick Driscoll, councilmember for Littleton's District 1, shortly before voting to approve the mall's rezoning. 
Gerrity and city staff worked to ease community concern over the mall's revamp. 
Regarding traffic, staff said the new mixed-use development being proposed would prevent traffic from swelling since residents who live in the area could walk to retailers and restaurants instead of driving. Gerrity has assured city staff and council that its new building heights, with a proposed maximum of 85 feet, will not obstruct any views of the Rocky Mountains. And with plans to redevelop some areas to act as green plazas, Gerrity is confident that the mall will offer its visitors and residents enough outdoor room to offset any increased foot traffic for neighboring open spaces, such as South Platte Park. 
But sticking points remained on the amount of commercial space the mall would support, as well as a perceived lack of commitment for affordable housing. 
Melin, one of three no votes, shared unease over the amount of commercial space Gerrity plans to cut down on in order to make room for housing. Currently, the mall has 268,000 square feet available for commercial use of which Gerrity estimates that only about 140,000 is being permanently used. The company has proposed a minimum of 125,000 square feet for commercial, though Gerrity hopes the commercial space used will far exceed that following redevelopment.
But Melin said that minimum number was too low and threatened to not generate enough sales tax revenue that serves as a major lifeline for the city. If residential begins to outnumber commercial, Melin said, it could be disastrous for Littleton's fiscal health. 
“Residential gets us nothing in terms of financial sustainability for our community,” he said. 
Still, Melin said he supported some residential space, but that there had to be a baseline number of low-cost units. Gerrity has proposed 2,000 residential units as part of its mixed-use development plans. 
During the meeting, Melin asked if Gerrity intended to deliver on affordable housing after it called for market-rate units in an earlier draft of its plans. 
“I'm very affected by the people that stand by that lectern and say 'look, I need guarantees on affordable housing,'” Melin said. “With 2,000 units, there needs to be a guaranteed amount of affordable housing.”'
But real estate consultant Jessica Alizadeh, who represented Gerrity during the meeting, said that language should have been removed from the draft as Gerrity could not make any promises on housing so early into the rezoning stage.
“Can we commit to that today, we can't, because the goal is retail,” she said. 
The comment, Melin said, left him with little confidence that Gerrity would push for enough affordable housing in the area. 
For councilmembers who supported Gerrity's proposal, they said it was necessary to prevent more financial loss for the shopping center. 
“We can keep Aspen Grove as it is, or, the danger is, we can have an empty, hulking shell to deal with someday,” said Mark Rudnicki, councilmember at-large. 
Kelly Milliman, councilmember for Littleton's District 4, said the redevelopment could bring new opportunities for much needed housing for the city as well as diversify businesses with the possible additions of more restaurants and even a hotel. 
“Change is hard, but sometimes change is good,” she said.


Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.