Centennial council newcomers cautious on development

Moon wins contest with Phelps; Sweetland takes close District 2 race

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Incumbent Councilmember Candace Moon pulled out a comfortable win in Centennial's highest-profile race for city council.

In unofficial results three days after Election Day, Moon stood ahead by about 6 percentage points, garnering 53.2% to challenger Ron Phelps' 46.8%.

“I think for me, what separated me from my opponent is that I'm responsive ...,” said Moon, who represents the far-west part of the city. “I really tried to listen to people and what their needs are, and if it's something that can be done simply, I do it. If it's something that needs to go up for further study, I encourage people to be patient and let the process work. And just try to keep everything factual and (with) level-headedness.”

In an election focused squarely on the balance between further development and the status quo, Phelps gained a following by focusing on The Streets at SouthGlenn outdoor mall, which is slated to see apartments replace a recently shuttered Sears anchor store.

Since this spring, Phelps has maintained an email newsletter updating residents about the process for redevelopment and encouraging them to make their concerns heard.

Over time, his emails increasingly functioned as a campaigning tool that cast Phelps as a “conservative leader who will fight for limited government.” Centennial's elections are nonpartisan, meaning candidates do not run under a party identification.

Phelps also voiced opposition to statewide Proposition CC — which would have ended small tax returns under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and redirected the money to K-12 education, higher education and transportation — and encouraged Centennial residents to vote against it in his newsletter, which boasts more than 400 subscribers, according to Phelps.

Phelps, who works in learning and organizational development for Denver Water, said the SouthGlenn-focused emails and campaign-related emails were sent to two different sign-up lists. They were sent from the same email address, and some people signed up for both lists, Phelps said.

His campaign Facebook page criticized Moon for taking a campaign donation from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party. Phelps took a donation from Republican state Rep. Susan Beckman of Littleton, according to campaign finance filings. Phelps argued that's different because it was from an individual. Beckman recently ran for the state Republican Party chair position.

Other Centennial council candidates this year also took donations from people who have run for or held a partisan elected office, or from a party-affiliated group, according to the filings.

"If another candidate running for city office also took money from a political party, I would not object to that, as has happened in this race," Moon said, noting that the public has access to candidates' donor records. "It doesn’t affect the partisanship in my opinion and based on what I’ve read in the Fair Campaign Practices Act."

Nothing in state law prohibits a candidate in a nonpartisan race from accepting contributions from partisan sources, according to Serena Woods, spokesperson for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office.

Phelps called the election's nonpartisan aspect a "veneer" and said it's unrealistic.

"I would actually encourage the City of Centennial to do away with nonpartisan elections and let it be transparent," Phelps said.

With the race behind him, Phelps argued that those who claim his neighborhood organizing on the SouthGlenn issue was a campaign tactic will see they're mistaken.

"I very much am going to stay part of that (issue), and I am going to advocate what the neighborhood wants," Phelps said.

New councilmembers will be sworn into office on Jan. 6.

Other races

Overall, the three newcomers in Centennial's three other council districts appear likely to reinforce the council's cautious approach to new multi-family residential development.

In the contest in District 2 — just east of District 1 — residential real estate appraiser Christine Sweetland pulled off a close win with 51.6% to Brian Beatty's 48.4%.

Both Sweetland and Beatty heard voters' concerns about a changing Centennial on the campaign trail.

“What I heard was, it's not affordable to live in Centennial, and you can't get people to work places because they can't live here. So transportation and affordable housing, those things go hand in hand — that's what we need to tackle," said Sweetland, who said the city should focus more on housing affordability without disrupting its "suburban lifestyle."

Density and traffic congestion were among the “hottest-button” issues residents told Beatty about, he said.

“Certainly, one of the most common phrases I hear: 'We left Denver to get out of the density,'” Beatty said.

The questions of how the city can grow wisely without overburdening its infrastructure and changing citizens' quality of life are top of mind, said Beatty, who is vice president and regional manager for an architecture, engineering and construction consulting company.

Rhonda Livingston, a well-known activist on city issues who brought forth a successful petition to prevent new car dealerships on Arapahoe Road in 2018, lost by more than 20 percentage points to Richard Holt, a business analyst for a digital media company. That race was in District 3, which spans roughly the middle and eastern parts of the city.

The "growth factor" will be the issue the city must pay attention to, Holt said.

"Just trying to find that balance between what (a) developer wants and what the community wants … it’ll be a challenge to find that sweet spot," Holt said. "I definitely will be listening to both sides of that argument."

Livingston said she'll stay involved in city affairs and that she hopes to remain on the board of the Centennial Council of Neighborhoods — known as CenCON, a coalition of homeowners' associations and similar neighborhood groups — unless someone else gets elected to her position in January.

"I hope to represent the people in some capacity," Livingston said.

Retired resident Don Sheehan won by a roughly 6 percentage-point margin over attorney Anna Burr in District 4, the northeastern part of the city.

Sounding similar notes as other candidates, Sheehan said one of the biggest issues on Centennial's horizon is the path forward for SouthGlenn, which sits at East Arapahoe Road and South University Boulevard.

"Between now and next year, my obligation is to understand as much of that as I possibly can," Sheehan said.

Burr said many voters she spoke to are concerned about maintaining the city's infrastructure without raising taxes.

Like many other candidates, she offered praise for her opponent.

"A loss is always disappointing, but I’m confident that Mr. Sheehan will do an excellent job in that spot on city council," Burr said.

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