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8 The Independent

LIFT is raising some eyebrows Search for ‘blight’ brings angry words By Jennifer Smith

jsmith@coloradocommunitymedia.com Blight. What does it look like? A falling-down shopping center, or a rambling 1913 estate? A brand-new car lot, or a 1970s-era apartment building? A study by the city’s new consultant on urban renewal says all of the above, to some degree. “‘Blight’ is a horrible word. We hate it,” Anne Ricker, a principal with the consulting firm Ricker/Cunningham, told a room full of people who attended the Littleton Invests for Tomorrow board meeting at Bemis Library on May 22. “But it’s a legal word. We don’t hide behind it. We hate it with you, but it’s a legal term.” Of course, “hate” is a strong word. But it seems mild among other words tossed out that night from citizens who are not fans of the city’s new focus on redevelopment. They used words like “outraged,” “perverse,” “sham,” “overreaching,” “embarrassed,” “disgusted,” “tragedy,” “risk” and “mistrust.” “Over the last 10 years or so, I have developed a mistrust of a lot of things that have happened in this city,” said Teresa Tucker, who owns property in one of the four areas under study for possible urban renewal. LIFT, the city’s urban-renewal authority, has hired Ricker/Cunningham to examine redevelopment possibilities in Littleton. Ricker looked at four areas: The Santa Fe corridor from Prince Street to just south of Mineral Avenue; the Broadway corridor from north of Powers Avenue to south of Littleton Boulevard; the Columbine Square area along Bel-

leview Avenue, including the shopping areas on both the east and west sides of Federal Boulevard; and the Littleton Boulevard corridor from Windermere Street to Bannock Street. The affected property owners have all been notified and invited to a series of informational meetings, said Ricker. Dr. Charlie Vail, who is an owner of the Littleton Equine Medical Center, is one of them. His clinic is housed in the stately white 1913 mansion at 8025 S. Santa Fe Drive. “So far, at the open house and at this meeting, there have been more questions raised than answers,” he said. Ricker stressed that just because a property is in the study area doesn’t mean it’s blighted, but its surrounding infrastructure might be. A lot of citizens worry about the fact that urban renewal sometimes involves eminent domain, or a forceful taking of property, which council approved the use of when it adopted its economic plan last year. Pam Nies, for example, is outraged about Vail’s clinic being included in the plan area. “It’s a perverse use of a statute of law and a sham,” she said. “It’s the last remaining truly pristine unblighted area, untouched by development in Littleton.” Ricker noted that Nies does not own property in the plan areas, and that there were only five people who do in attendance. Nies countered that she’s a taxpayer with every right to be concerned, but Nies stressed that urban renewal does not raise taxes, and that everything LIFT does has to be given final approval by city council. LIFT will give the plan areas’ boundaries their go-ahead — or not — on June 16. If council approves them, Ricker’s next task is to recommend subareas within those boundaries that could benefit from urban renewal and the financing mechanisms that come with it.

May 29, 2014

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LIFT, URA — what does it all mean? Alphabet soup equals changes on horizon for city By Jennifer Smith

jsmith@coloradocommunitymedia.com Previously known as the Riverfront Authority, Littleton Invests for Tomorrow is the city’s urban-renewal authority, or URA. It was originally named for the single metropolitan district it was created to manage. It was formed as a financing mechanism to get the building that is now Echostar, on the southwest corner of Bowles Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, built in 1985. It was originally a shopping mall called the Riverfront Festival Center. But the timing was bad, and the major recession of the early 1980s led to the mall’s demise in 1989. The original bonds were paid off, and the authority could have simply disbanded. Instead, it changed its name to Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, with the stated goal of redevelopment, revitalization and renewal of areas within the city. LIFT has a budget of $142,000 for 2014, most of which will be spent on consulting services. It also hired an executive director, Jim Rees, who has 15 years’ experience in the field and comes most recently from

the Colorado Springs URA. Additionally, the members approved a contract with the consulting firm Ricker/Cunningham, which is in the process of identifying areas that could benefit from redevelopment. LIFT’s longtime president is former city councilmember Jim Taylor, and most of the other LIFT members have been on council or the city’s planning board at one time or another. State statute lays out strict guidelines for when a URA can declare blight. It defines a “blighted area” as one that “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality, retards the provision of housing accommodations, or constitutes an economic or social liability, and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare.” It goes on to list 11 criteria to use as a basis for determining blight, of which the property must meet four. They include things like deterioration, unsafe or unsanitary conditions, environmental contamination and unusual topography. All four of the Littleton study areas met at least 10 criteria, according to Anne Ricker, a principal at Ricker/Cunningham. If an owner wants property declared blighted as a way to get financial help righting whatever is wrong with the site, just one of the criteria needs to be met.

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