Housing remains a local issue after Littleton residents reject Aspen Grove

Some voters see symbolic win for what is now a moot point

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In a vote that will have little direct effect on one of the most contentious redevelopments in recent Littleton history, opponents of Aspen Grove said they scored a symbolic win. 

Ballot question 301, which asked residents to overturn the rezoning of the Aspen Grove mall to allow for new housing, passed by just under 60%. The vote was somewhat moot, as the rezoning was done through a land use code no longer in effect and Aspen Grove’s owners, Gerrity Group, have been approved for the first phase of a redevelopment project under the new code. 

Still, residents opposed to the original plans said they hope voters’ rejection sends a message about their appetite for high density development in the city.

“The results did show that the majority of the people were speaking,” said John Marchetti, who lives in the city’s southwest district where the mall is located. “We kept hearing it was a vocal minority. I think that (the vote) is a really good indicator of what the people wanted down at Aspen Grove.”

Linda Knufinke, who had helped lead a petition to collect thousands of signatures to push the referendum onto voters’ ballots, said the results show “citizens of Littleton are committed to the small town feel, quiet space.” 

Knufinke and other petitioners are critical of Aspen Grove’s future, which was poised to see as many as 2,000 new housing units under the rezoning approved by city council last year. Though the new plans currently being proposed by the mall’s owner are for less than 500 homes, more units could be added through future phases under the Unified Land Use Code (ULUC)  passed by council last year. 

The ULUC, which effectively rezoned the entire city, allows for more property owners and developers to pursue more dense developments along major corridors, such as Santa Fe Drive where Aspen Grove sits. 

“It’s really more than Aspen Grove, it’s all the corridors and the development of all the corridors,” Knufinke said. “City council really needs to address development in Littleton, particularly high density development. I mean really high development.”

Mayor Kyle Schlachter said he feels the vote was “very specific to Aspen Grove,” calling ballot language “somewhat confusing.”

The result, he said, did not send him a message that a majority of residents are opposed to dense housing developments, citing several ongoing projects similar in scale to Aspen Grove. 

“I don’t see a huge outcry over the other proposed developments,” Schlachter said. “If there was this undercurrent of anti-development in Littleton, I think we would be seeing it all the time, and we don’t.”

Matt Duff, a member of the pro-housing group Vibrant Littleton, said the referendum “definitely shows people’s feelings about (Aspen Grove)," adding he is “really happy that 40% said no” to overturning the original plans.

Duff said he does not believe the vote speaks for all residents (the turnout represents just over a third of the city's population) and said arguments against Aspen Grove have intentionally portrayed the development in a bad light.

“We already know there are many people who will vote ‘no’ if there’s development around them,” Duff said. “But this question is as much a question of ‘what do we want our city to look like 20 years?’”

Duff said he still sees developments like Aspen Grove as a key to securing much needed housing for the city’s growing population, especially if it is placed near major corridors for transportation, as Aspen Grove is. He added the ULUC, as well as the election last year of more pro-housing council members who support such development, signals the city’s openness to those ideas.

“We shouldn’t have specific ballot measures for specific developments, we should have an active citizenry shaping what those building codes are,” Duff said. “It’s too easy for a third of the town to say ‘no I don’t want this thing’ even though it may be a necessity from a planning perspective and growth and perspective.”

littleton, aspen grove, denver housing, election 2022

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