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Council opts against urban renewal district

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 Jeremy Johnson

 

FORT LUPTON — A plan to address blighted properties and spur economic developed failed to gain a second sponsor June 2 as Fort Lupton City Council opted against voting on a measure to form an urban renewal authority.

Fort Lupton Assistant City Administrator Aaron Herrera said he and the city’s Planning Department have been researching for nearly a year the possibility of establishing an urban renewal authority to address blighted properties and spur more economic development within Fort Lupton.

  Herrera on June 2 told council members and other city officials, after a year of research that included an 18-page “Improvements Blight Study” complete with pictures of blighted properties, released by the city’s Planning Department in October 2013, staff members were recommending council approve the establishment of the urban renewal authority.

Herrera said he and others working on the initiative felt it was best to first establish the authority before “nailing down the study area … and negotiating with (the city’s) taxing authorities.”

Herrera also said he felt the establishment of an authority would benefit local economic development.

“For economic development, I think (the authority would be) a good thing,” he said. “Currently, our incentives (for developers) include speed and a smile … and that’s not really cutting it.

“Every single developer that comes into our town asks about our incentive packages, and with the creation of this (authority), I think we’ll actually have some incentives to talk about.”

When Councilman Chris Ceretto asked when and how Herrera would be looking to create a URA board, Herrera said his original thoughts on the matter were not apparently the same vision shared by Fort Lupton Mayor Tommy Holton.

“What (legal counsel) recommended was, essentially, keeping council as a board,” he said. “But after discussions with (Holton), I don’t think that’s the direction the mayor would like to go.

“So what we’re recommending is, after the creation of the authority, appointing an advisory board to select community members, business leaders, etc., if council chooses to move in that direction.”

As for the area that would be included in the initiative, Herrera said, again, those details would be better addressed after establishing an authority. However, he said staff has been originally looking at a “T-shape” region from the city’s border at Route 52 over to Vincent Village and up Denver Avenue to County Road 16.

Herrera said figures for the tax base of that targeted area were a touch over $614,000. In an email three days later, Herrera said any property tax base increase over the base amount would have been used to fund the authority, but noted there was never any intention of implementing new taxes for the project.

“To be abundantly clear, it is not new taxes,” Herrera said in a June 5 email.

Holton, at the meeting, reiterated the motion before the board was only to establish the authority, not to set boundary lines.

Following a brief public discussion, the resolution was in council’s hands. However, only silence followed Councilman Bob McWilliam’s motion to approve the resolution, despite Holton’s urging for council to take action.

“If we don’t get a second, the motion dies,” Holton said. When Holton asked if he could second the motion, city solicitor Andy Ausmus indicated he could not. 

After the meeting, McWilliams declined to say whether he supported the motion, but said, “They put a lot of work into the whole thing and the only thing I wanted was to get it on the table.”

Councilwoman Shannon Rhoda said she would have voted the motion down “because of the tax base and taking monies away from other entities.

“And there just wasn’t enough interest,” she added.

Councilman Kevin Schwickrath added there were “too many unanswered questions.”

Holton said after the meeting that the resolution could not be brought before council again if it was voted down. But since it never reached a vote, he said he would have to look into whether it could be reintroduced at a later date.

In the June 5 email, Herrera said: “As far as whether or not it can be brought back in front of council, I believe we are going to try, but I am still waiting on an opinion from our attorney and direction from the mayor and city administrator.”

According to a draft of the resolution itself, which was brought before council with 32 petition signatures, the push for the authority came after an 18-page study concluded that five of the 11 blight factors set by the Colorado Urban Renewal Law did exist within the boundaries of Fort Lupton, including:

• Slum, deteriorated or deteriorating structures;

• Predominance of defective or inadequate street layout;

• Unsanitary or unsafe conditions;

• Deterioration of site or other improvements; and

• Unusual topography or inadequate public improvements or utilities.

According to the resolution, those factors gave “reasonable cause to establish an urban renewal authority.

“The study determined that these blight factors ‘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.’”