DENVER AND THE WEST
Money factors big in Littleton urban renewal election
Nearly $70,000 has been injected into a special election in Littleton that will help determine the course of future redevelopment efforts.
The bulk of that sum — $67,405 — has been raised by opponents of Question 300, a charter amendment that would limit the city’s power and discretion to use urban renewal tools like eminent domain and tax increment financing, to lure developers into revamping aging retail centers in Littleton.
The list of contributors to Keep Littleton Strong, the campaign committee pushing for the measure’s defeat, includes heavy-hitting builders and real estate industry groups, like the National Association of Realtors ($17,000) and the Colorado Association of Realtors ($15,000).
By contrast, just over $2,000 has been raised by those backing the measure.
The election is set for March 3. More than 30,000 ballots went out in the mail last week.
“This big money that is getting involved is really scary,” said Paul Bingham, who heads up Your Littleton Your Vote. “We’re at a disadvantage.”
Bingham’s group last year collected nearly 4,000 signatures to get Question 300 on the ballot; many of its campaign contributions have come in small increments from retired Littleton residents.
The group claims that financial deals between the city and private developers — like tax increment financing, in which future tax revenues on new development are allocated to pay for upfront road and infrastructure improvements at a site — are not necessary and divert money from school systems and other taxing districts.
Littleton has declared four retail corridors in the city blighted and thus eligible for funds from its urban renewal authority, Littleton Invests for Tomorrow.
“There’s a lot in this city that they are calling blighted that is absolute nonsense,” Bingham said, pointing to a new King Soopers at South Broadway and West Littleton Boulevard that sits in a blight zone. “We want to take the vote out of the City Council and put it in the hands of the public.”
But realtor Stew Meagher, with Keep Littleton Strong, said holding elections on urban renewal proposals at a cost of $35,000 each will bog down revitalization efforts.
“In terms of the ability of a community to approach redevelopment, anyone with this kind of thing in their charter is going to be toxic to any developer,” Meagher said. “Do we really need these repetitive, circular elections every time one of these projects comes before the city?”
Keep Littleton Strong placed a competing measure — Question 2A — on the March 3 ballot that would prohibit the city from condemning property for urban renewal purposes but would keep intact the revenue and cost-sharing elements of the law.
Kay Watson, a Littleton realtor who was past president of the Colorado Association of Realtors, said her industry has thrown tens of thousands of dollars at the Littleton election because it doesn’t want to see the same kind of campaign sprout up elsewhere.
“If a property owner or developer has to wait for a special election to redevelop in an urban renewal area, that makes it very cumbersome for the owner to do anything with their property,” Watson said.
Urban renewal has been widely used in Colorado, including the Denver Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall, the Streets at SouthGlenn in Centennial and Lakewood’s Belmar. But it hasn’t been without controversy.
Superior Town Center, which is being financed through tax increment financing bonds, drew large crowds to town hall in 2013 complaining that Superior was giving away too much to the builder.
And just last week, an audience at a Wheat Ridge City Council meeting grew testy over an urban renewal deal that city leaders approved for a proposed residential and retail project.
At the state level, the legislature is considering a bill that would amend the state’s urban renewal statutes to ensure that a portion of tax increment financing revenues be shared with schools, fire districts and other taxing bodies.
John Movius, owner of Crown Trophy in Littleton and a backer of Question 300, asked that his business be removed from one of the city’s urban renewal areas because “I wanted to be in charge of my future.”
He said Littleton is “vibrant and growing” and doesn’t need to bring in developers by diverting tax dollars on a project for 25 years or more.
He added: “We’ve had a good number of business owners buying properties, sprucing them up and making them look amazing without having to deal with urban renewal.”
John Aguilar: 303-954-1695, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/abuvthefold
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