Amid the agreement and good-natured humor that are typical of a Centennial City Council candidate forum, a palpable concern among the candidates showed over issues of development in the city.
“I don't think I, as a councilmember, would support an urban density level that was initially suggested to council in January by the developers,” said Christine Sweetland, a District 2 candidate, about The Streets at SouthGlenn outdoor mall.
The forum Sept. 23 was held by the Centennial Council of Neighborhoods — a coalition of homeowners associations and similar neighborhood groups — and saw candidates discuss topics such as annexation, affordable housing and density, including plans for SouthGlenn and The Jones District developments that have raised concern among residents.
Here's a look at what the candidates had to say.
An empty former Sears at the outdoor mall is a problem for the SouthGlenn area, and it does need redevelopment, but density is a concern, said Sweetland, whose comments reflected a dilemma for candidates.
The mall at South University Boulevard and East Arapahoe Road is a top source of tax revenue for the city, but it's pulling in a smaller proportion of funds than it used to, said Candace Moon, incumbent councilmember in District 1.
Developers want to turn the Sears property mainly into apartments, with retail possible on the ground floor, and similar plans could come to bear for the mall's Macy's, which could see apartments, office space, and possibly retail and entertainment establishments within a few years.
On the Sears and Macy's land, 800 apartment units could be possible on each property, but plans for Macy's call for about 400. The Sears property's plan is for five stories. But because Centennial passed a master development plan more than a decade ago that deviates from normal zoning — the rules for what can be built where in the city — developers need the city's approval for certain types of proposed changes. The city will likely hold another informational meeting this fall, and a final decision by city council is still months away.
Centennial “is going to have another large issue with The Jones District,” said Richard Holt, a candidate in District 3.
That development — a 42-acre, mostly vacant swath of land on East Mineral Avenue in Centennial just north of IKEA — has 306 existing residential units at The Glenn apartments, and developers have said they want to add more than 1,000 more units. Under land-use rules for the area, The Jones District could not exceed roughly 1,500 units, according to Allison Wittern, city spokesperson.
The project will largely consist of office buildings, which could be 13 to 14 stories high along Interstate 25, but some hotel and retail uses also are part of the vision.
“Getting the sales tax (revenue) up would be fantastic. The mixed use, that suburban-urban lifestyle, is definitely something we want to encourage more of,” Holt said. But “having high-density, 10-story units — no, it isn't what Centennial's about.”
Echoing her opponent, District 3 candidate Rhonda Livingston advocated for a “healthy balance of retail and residential” in the city.
The only full-throated endorsement of housing density came from District 4 candidate Anna Burr, but even that comment came with a qualifier.
With the challenges of growth in the Denver metro area, “we have to agree that high-density housing is necessary,” Burr said. She wants smaller, more affordable living spaces, but she added that on something like SouthGlenn, she would defer to the councilmembers in areas that would be most affected.
Ron Phelps, a District 1 candidate, said by email that he was not able to attend the forum due to an urgent family matter. Phelps said by email he has "concerns about how the redevelopment will impact the neighborhood."
"This is a principal reason why I formed and have led the neighborhood coalition group, Neighbors for The Streets at SouthGlenn," Phelps said. The group has spoken with SouthGlenn developers to express the concerns of residents in the area.
Large swaths of land near Centennial's central and east regions are unincorporated — meaning they aren't within city boundaries — but taking many of those areas into the city would require property owners to ask for annexation.
“In District 4, we've got two holes,” said Don Sheehan, a candidate in the district where well over 1 square mile is unincorporated.
Sheehan said he recently had a meeting with Centennial City Manager Matt Sturgeon, who advised that annexations require considering many factors.
“It's mostly residential, so the (added) tax base isn't as large as if you had business in that area,” Sheehan said. “Whether the city is interested in bringing that area in is an open issue.
A city incurs costs when it annexes land because it must provide services such as law enforcement and road maintenance to that area.
Depending on the type of land, the city may also receive sales tax revenue, as well as construction-use tax for new development that may happen in that spot.
Moon brought up that some annexations can be “friendly” — with property owners asking for it — and some can be done unilaterally by the city. Enclaves — unincorporated areas surrounded by city land — are eligible for annexation after three years of being an enclave. Annexing enclaves doesn't require property owners' consent.
“Ultimately, what the benefit is to the city may not be benefit to the resident,” Moon said. But “we need to look at annexing to close those holes up, and that will allow us to provide better services.”
Sheehan would like to see more development in some of District 4's shopping centers, which are “getting a little frayed around the edges,” he said.
“What I would love to see is something like downtown Parker in District 4,” with a brewery and boutique businesses, Burr said.
Livingston advocated for annexation and possible added retail areas in her district.
“I'm in the middle of Centennial, so we're always going outside city limits to do what we need to do,” Livingston said.
Brian Beatty, a candidate in the heavily residential District 2, said his area could use more places for families and kids to enjoy, rather than going east to Centennial Center Park.
“As a parent, it's got to be a much better focus on providing family gathering,” Beatty said.
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