In 2005, the City of Centennial limited several types of development on the Central Arapahoe Road Corridor, which roughly stretches from South Parker Road to South Yosemite Street. It prevented new drive-in or drive-thru restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations, car sales and rental services, and car washes from opening along that road.
After a 2016 vote by city council to lift the restrictions and a petition effort by residents to overturn that vote, the council passed a set of compromise measures in 2017.
Among the new rules were that the restricted types of businesses could open in a redevelopment if part of a “master-planned development,” which the city defined as including at least four non-restricted businesses and 50,000 square feet of gross floor area.
The exception for master-planned developments existed since 2005, but the new rules allowed it to apply to redevelopment, too.
But car dealerships are the one type of business to which the master-planned development exception did not apply.
A new ordinance passed Aug. 13 allows for new (not used) car dealerships to be approved on a case-by-case basis under conditional-use approval from city council, which is a public-hearing process.
The Central Arapahoe Road Corridor technically stretches from South Parker Road to South Quebec Street, but the restrictions on types of businesses only run between Parker Road and South Yosemite Street, according to the city.
The company that owns a piece of land intended for a Mercedes-Benz outlet in Centennial claims that some pushback against new car dealerships is merely a ploy by an outside interest — namely, another Mercedes-Benz dealer in Littleton.
That's a hard claim to pin down, but what is clear is the Centennial landowner and those who oppose new dealerships have widely different ideas about what's good for the Arapahoe Road corridor.
Car dealerships “'get in and they stay'— is that a bad thing?” said Ron Ferris, CEO of the company looking to open the dealership near East Arapahoe Road and South Potomac Street. He quoted Tammy Maurer, a Centennial city councilmember who has pushed to keep new dealerships off the city's central business thoroughfare.
In 2016, Maurer and resident Jill Meakins brought forth a petition that stopped the city from allowing more car dealerships — among other businesses — on Arapahoe Road, roughly between Interstate 25 and South Parker Road. Now, in a 5-4 split decision on Aug. 13, the city council has allowed for new car dealerships on that corridor, and another petition by citizens may halt this change as well.
The petition was approved by the city clerk Aug. 22 and has until 5 p.m. Sept. 17 — 30 days after the new ordinance was published — to submit 4,089 signatures. That's roughly 5 percent of Centennial's registered voters.
“My point is, if you live on this end of town — 100 percent of my retail-sales tax goes to Aurora or Greenwood Village,” said Meakins, who lives in the eastern half of Centennial, just a few blocks from the potential dealership. “We have no services for citizens of Centennial on the east side of I-25.”
Meakins didn't bring forth the current effort — the new petitioners are Mike Glass and Rhonda Livingston, Meakins said — but she intends to help it succeed.
Ferris, on the other hand, has claimed that most of the people collecting signatures for the 2016 petition were paid for, essentially, by the Mercedes-Benz of Littleton, and that it was behind a mailer around this spring that opposed the city's current green-lighting of dealerships, too. He made such claims during a public hearing at the Aug. 13 council meeting. Ferris is the CEO of Pennsylvania-based Bobby Rahal Automotive Group.
Ferris said Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a law firm that has represented the Littleton dealership, pulled the strings in supporting the pushback in 2016 and this year. He claimed Meakins said in June that she got a call from the law firm, asking if it could use a website — citizensforabettercentennial.org, which opposes dealerships — on its mailer.
“I've had no communication with a law firm for another dealership,” Meakins said.
Around the time of the 2016 petition, Maurer said she had a private financial backer who provided funds for an attorney to draft the petition and for a company, Denver-based Black Diamond Outreach, to collect signatures.
Meakins said that to her knowledge, a law firm was not involved with Black Diamond, and she said there's no truth to the idea a law firm sent out mailers she was involved with.
Mercedes-Benz of Littleton filed a lawsuit in late 2016 over the potential Centennial dealership, alleging it would bring unfair competition.
Mercedes-Benz of Littleton did not respond for comment after a phone call and emailed questions about Ferris' statements. Lara Day, spokeswoman for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, said the firm doesn't disclose its clients and did not have further comment on Ferris' statements.
The city does not have records as to financial backing of the 2016 petition because under campaign rules, there was no required filing, according to Allison Wittern, city spokeswoman.
Annette Jewell, another area resident who supports the petition, said her complaints are not about a particular automotive company but, rather, dealerships in general.
“We would rather see a restaurant there, or a mini-downtown,” Jewell said.
Her desires echoed those of other residents who say they want different kinds of development — theaters, restaurants or other shopping, for example, that could benefit more families — on their central street. Former Mayor Cathy Noon has argued medical uses would be preferable.
Ferris said a dealership would contribute helpful property-tax and sales-tax revenue to the city, and that other uses of the land would have more traffic, longer hours and potentially more lighting at night.
At the Aug. 13 meeting, Noon said a dealership wouldn't bring the city much tax revenue. Car-sales tax goes to the city where the buyer lives, not to the city where the car is bought.
Only two sites adjacent to Arapahoe Road in the corridor are vacant and at least five acres in size — a requirement for a dealership on the corridor — so possible locations for new dealerships are limited, said Derek Holcomb, deputy director of community development for the city. It wouldn't be financially feasible to tear down other buildings to build a dealership, Ferris said.
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