A petition to stop a move by the Centennial City Council to allow for new car dealerships on East Arapahoe Road in the central part of town was due by Sept. 17, and the city will likely announce in …
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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.
A petition to stop a move by the Centennial City Council to allow for new car dealerships on East Arapahoe Road in the central part of town was due by Sept. 17, and the city will likely announce in mid-October if petitioners reached the roughly 4,100 signatures necessary to send the issue to a special election.
Two petitioners, Mike Glass and Rhonda Livingston, brought forth the petition effort, according to Jill Meakins, one of two petitioners who pushed against the city on a similar issue in 2016.
Meakins and other residents in the area of the Central Arapahoe Road Corridor — roughly between South Parker Road and Interstate 25 — have expressed desire for other uses to fill vacant land in the nearly built-out stretch of the city, where car dealerships are the defining feature of the thoroughfare for blocks.
“We would rather see a restaurant there, or a mini-downtown,” said resident Annette Jewell, in a previous interview along with Meakins.
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.
The pushback to the council's 5-4 split decision on Aug. 13 echoes the previous fight over development on Arapahoe Road in 2016, when Meakins and now-Councilmember Tammy Maurer pushed a petition that stopped the city from allowing more car dealerships, among other types of businesses.
Now, this petition — specifically concerning dealerships — could send the issue to a special election, likely in March, to approve or vote down the council's ordinance. The city has 30 days to verify whether the petition has enough proper signatures from registered voters. It needs about 5 percent of voters in the city to sign.
If it hits the mark, the council could choose to repeal the ordinance and possibly pass some kind of compromise, like it did after the 2016 petition, to avert the need for an election.
Claims of influence
Critics of the anti-dealership push claim that outside interests are involved. The company that owns a piece of land intended for a Mercedes-Benz outlet on Arapahoe Road is among those detractors.
Ron Ferris, CEO of Pennsylvania-based Bobby Rahal Automotive Group, 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.
Ferris argues 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 has said, adding that 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.
That dealership 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 law firm did not have a 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.
Supporters or opponents of a ballot question — in this case, asking voters to support or decline the council's move to allow dealerships — are required to register as what's called an “issue committee” under state and municipal law if they are:
• A group of two or more individuals, a business, or both, and
• Have accepted or made contributions or expenditures of $200 or more to support or oppose that ballot question; or have printed more than 200 petition sections (copies of a petition) or more than 200 petition sections have been accepted.
But the city said that the requirements only come into play if the actual election is set to happen.
According to Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, financial reporting requirements kick in once a petition is submitted for approval to be circulated — in other words, when people are allowed to collect signatures. Payments before that point would not require reporting, according to the office.
All municipal filings under campaign-finance law are filed with the Centennial city clerk and posted on the city's website, the city said.
Influx of dealers unlikely
Ferris is looking to open the dealership near East Arapahoe Road and South Potomac Street, at 13831 E. Arapahoe Place.
Only two sites adjacent to Arapahoe Road in the corridor are vacant and at least five acres in size — a requirement for a dealership development — so possible locations for new dealerships are limited, according to Derek Holcomb, deputy director of community development for the city.
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