Here's what's on your Littleton ballot this November

Aspen Grove referendum, lodging tax, charter change and downtown authority

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Ballot questions for voters in the City of Littleton are now official after city council voted unanimously Aug. 16 to send several issues to voters following a marathon night of public hearings, setting the stage for the Nov. 8 election.

Two of the questions — one regarding whether Littleton should institute a lodging tax to pay for arts, culture and tourism programs and the other asking whether to change the city's charter to give staff more leeway for purchasing supplies — will be on all voters' ballots. 

Others, asking for the creation of a Downtown Development Authority and approving its funding sources, will only apply to residents, property owners, and business owners and lessees within a defined boundary of Littleton's downtown area.

Also on voters' ballots will be a referendum question on city council's decision to green-light nearly 2,000 housing units at the Aspen Grove shopping center in southwest Littleton. 

That question had already been slated for the Nov. 8 ballot after thousands of residents earlier this year succeeded in a petition to hold the referendum.

Here's what to know about each ballot question.

Lodging tax

The lodging tax would be set at 5% and apply to anyone staying in one of the city's five hotels and two motels as well as short-term rentals, such as Airbnb rentals. 

City staff estimate the funds could raise $1 million annually and would be funneled into the city's arts, culture and tourism programs. 

Specifically,  money would go toward upkeep of what staff have called "the big four" cultural centers — the Littleton Museum, Bemis Library, the Town Hall Arts Center and the Hudson Gardens & Event Center — grants for Littleton-based arts and culture groups and funding for city marketing campaigns. 

This election will mark the second time the city has asked residents for a lodging tax. The first was in 2013 when voters rejected a 3% tax by a near 2-to-1 margin.

City staff have found greater appeal for the tax this time around, with a recent independent survey of more than 300 registered voters showing 64% supported a lodging tax.

During the Aug. 16 public hearing, a group of city residents — some of whom are directly involved in arts organizations — spoke in favor of a lodging tax, calling it economically stimulating and important for curating the city’s identity.

“When arts and culture are part of the core fabric of a community, it helps cities to attract tourists, diverse talent, it brings about innovation and it does grow the economy," said Denise Weed, who added that she has a son beginning fifth grade and a daughter beginning second. "I really want them to grow up in a community that values and supports the arts."

J.D. McCrumb, vice president of the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center, said the additional money would mean "amazing things" for organizations such as the Littleton Symphony Orchestra.

"With a little bit of a boost, I think the ceilings would be blown off of their performance venue," he said.

Resident Pam Chadbourne said she supported the tax, but wants to see some of its funds earmarked for historic preservation. Council and city staff signaled that could be a possibility given that the language presents some flexibility for what constitutes as a cultural amenity.

Charter amendment 

Voters will be asked to amend the city's charter by moving a provision that dictates procurement — how and what the city can buy for capital projects — to the city code.

Littleton's procurement rules are restrictive and mandate the city must accept the lowest bid price, without regard for quality, when purchasing supplies, equipment and other assets for needed city improvements.

The policy has not been changed since 1959 and the city is only one of four in Colorado to have such a policy, according to staff.

By moving this policy to the city code, council can amend it to allow for greater bidding and purchasing power to ensure higher quality supplies. 

In the same independent study of 300 voters, 59% said they would either support amending the charter or allowing the city to accept higher bids while keeping the provision in the code.

Aspen Grove

Perhaps the most contentious question for voters will be on whether to support plans approved by city council last year to redevelop Aspen Grove. 

The 33-acre mall was slated for a major overhaul last year, with the area's owner — Gerrity Group — calling for up to 2,000 new homes with a maximum height of 85 feet. City council approved a rezoning of the mall in a 4-3 vote in November 2021 to allow for residential use. 

Those plans were scuttled, however, after a group of residents opposed to the project filed a petition in January to force city council to either revoke the rezoning or punt it to a citywide vote. 

Though residents will now have the opportunity to directly weigh in on the project, the vote is somewhat of a moot point as slimmer plans for the mall are now moving forward under Littleton's new land use code, the ULUC. 

The city's planning commission unanimously voted July 25 to allow for nearly 500 homes at the shopping center, far from the originally envisioned 2,000 that spurred frustration from some neighbors. 

Still, the vote could serve as a show of Littleton residents' appetite for such mixed-use developments as the city continues to push for denser projects aimed at shoring up housing supply and driving down costs. 

Downtown Development Authority

Business leaders in Littleton's downtown have long floated the idea of forming a Downtown Development Authority, or DDA.

The DDA would be made up of several members appointed by council, with one council representative, and would be charged with generating additional revenue to be used on upgrades and upkeep of the downtown area.

Along with creating the DDA, voters will be asked two questions that could approve its funding mechanisms. 

One could allow the DDA to undertake tax increment financing, or TIF, a funding plan that is intended to be self-sustaining.

In essence, TIF would allow for the DDA to allocate a portion of money generated each year by the downtown area's sales and use tax. The idea is that investments from the DDA into the downtown area will increase tax revenue that can in turn pay for even more projects. 

Pat Dunahay, a Littleton business owner who served on a committee this past year to explore a DDA, said he estimates the area could generate about $100,000 to $150,000 in TIF funds.

"At this point, the city has not granted or guaranteed any funding at all to the DDA," Dunahay said, making it imperative that the organization can muster its own funding. 

The other ballot question will ask voters to raise property taxes within the area by roughly 4% to pay for investments, though Dunahay said the DDA would still be able to operate even if a property tax hike fails.

Only registered voters living, leasing or owning property within the proposed DDA boundary can vote on these three questions, which Dunuhay said is more than 800 people.

The boundary includes all of Main Street and Alamo Avenue, Church Avenue and the Arapahoe Community College campus to the south as well as some undeveloped space near the South Platte River to the west and some of Littleton Boulevard to the east. It also extends north and includes some of West Berry Avenue, Prince Street and Rio Grande Street, including the Arapahoe County government building.

The election for the DDA will be one person one vote, and entities such as LLCs, corporations or public services will need to designate one person to vote on their behalf. 

For example, Arapahoe Community College will be able to vote once as a lease of its property, according to Dunahay, while the property owner — which is separate from the college — will also have one vote.

While championed by Littleton's business community, some downtown residents during the Aug. 16 public hearing raised issues with the scope of the DDA boundary — which includes private homes. 

Dunahay said the boundary "can't just be about Main Street" and hopes it will "encourage business in the other outlying areas" as well as account for future properties developed in open land. 

littleton, election 2022, lodging tax, aspen grove, downtown district authority

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