It's not just the $30 land deal in Arvada, it's years of sweetheart deals for developers
By DAVE CHANDLER | Guest Commentary
Nine acres of publicly-owned, prime real estate in Denver’s hot market is to be “sold” for $30 and the sales and property tax revenue until 2034 rebated to the developer, as well. All for the construction of a two story parking garage topped with four floors of apartments that will loom over the already congested Wadsworth Bypass and end the “grand view” from Grandview Avenue
Yes, this scheme has caused quite a stir in Arvada.
But this sweetheart deal only highlights a much bigger problem. In the last couple of years or so, the unelected Arvada Urban Renewal board and the Arvada City Council have actually committed to giving away nearly $50 million in tax revenue and land to private, for-profit corporations and developers.
From the $30 giveaway of land valued at a minimum of $6 million, to $6 million in sales tax rebates to Walmart, to the $7.2 million rebated to the Solana apartment developers, Arvada government has been on a spree of self-aggrandizement through manipulating and distorting the free market with taxpayer dollars.
All of these giveaways approved or sanctioned by the same city council that unanimously voted to put a sales tax hike on the November 2016 ballot claiming more money was needed to repair and maintain our deteriorating streets. Arvada taxes groceries, so the proposed increase would have been highly regressive tax and resulted in one of the highest sales tax rates in the entire state of Colorado.
Voters wisely turned down the tax hike, but the large amount of giveaways in part explains why city government doesn’t have the revenue required for basic services like keeping the streets in good order. They’ve given away current and future tax revenue worth millions and millions of dollars to special private businesses.
So, while you are paying Arvada sales tax on bananas, a box of cereal or a new school backpack to support police, water and sewer services and parks, the developers and businesses with sweetheart deals are rebated the taxes collected, getting a free-ride on city services.
The entire Denver metro region is now experiencing a remarkable burst of economic growth. We don’t need government hand-outs to developers to entice them to open businesses and build in our community. Arvada is a wonderful city and new developers and businesses ought to be paying us to locate here.
And they do. When the free market is allowed to work and urban renewal and city hall let them open here under the regular rules all developers and businesses have to follow, then they pay 100 percent of the taxes they’re liable for like all the rest of us.
Now, citizens and taxpayers have a plan to put some breaks on the government giveaways. The Protect Arvada Taxpayers charter amendment would require that any “incentive” to developers over $2.5 million and/or a sale of public land to a private business valued over $1 million be taken to the voters for approval. The “PAT” proposal is a citizen initiative, petitions are circulating now to place the plan on the ballot.
The Protect Arvada Taxpayers amendment does not take away any economic development tools from the city or the Urban Renewal Authority, but it does mean that for circumstances involving large sums of tax revenue or sales of public land to a private business, we, the people and taxpayers, get to be the ultimate decision-makers.
Growth and progress for our community are fully compatible with fiscal responsibility.
Dave Chandler has been a civic activist in Arvada for the past 25 years advocating for reform and more openness at City Hall. For more information about the initiative go to www.protectarvadataxpayers.com.
1. Economic impact of urban renewal - Jesse Silverstein, consultant, Development Research Partners: proposed contractArvada urban renewal plans to spend $35,000 for a 6-week "economic analysis" of the impact of Arvada's urban renewal projects. To be completed by mid-October -- (note the timing vs. the PAT petition). Commissioner Tony Cline,broker at Cliff Dwellers, summarized the purpose of this project - to "sell" urban renewal to the citizens - needed due to recent "events" (i.e., PAT petition). He also stated that the "results" needed to be translated so the citizens could relate urban renewal benefits to their lives - like paving 15 miles of roads.COMMENT: Regarding Mr. Cline’s “roads" comment, there was no discussion about the fact that the additional sales tax revenues, supposedly to fix roads, are offset by additional sales tax "sharebacks" of other projects.Even though there was lots of lip service about "blight", it was clear that AURA is positioning itself as an economic development engine. New City/AURA "speak" -- they want the study to focus on the "Bounce Back" -- the property tax revenues that special districts receive AFTER those districts have spent 25 years of hardship providing services to new residents/businesses generated by urban renewal, without receiving the tax dollars to provide those services.The Board approved a motion by Michelle Delaria to allow Executive Director Phair to continue delineating the scope of the project and to sign an agreement of up to $25,000 to engage the consultant (they didn't want to lose any time). This means that any final agreement, authorizing up to the full contract amount of $35,000, will need to be approved at the next urban renewal board meeting.2. Loftus - Triangle developmentMs. Phair stated “Loftus has lost his shirt” on this development — anything that could go wrong has done just that. Board chair Fred Jacobsen cut her off on this topic, noting that “this was not the proper forum for this discussion” (i.e., "the public" was present and taking notes).3. Loftus - Arvada Square - called a "moving target" by Ms. PhairLoftus has never had an interest in the residential development at the Arvada Square, although he agreed to be the master developer of the entire 14 acres: Triangle -- commercial; Square/Safeway -- residential. He expected to break-even on the Triangle and make his money on the Square/Safeway.Loftus brought in Carmel Partners to create the residential, but they are encountering some real issues with the Planning Department at the City — primary issue is the density that AURA wants vs. parking requirements of the City for that density. Carmel is near the end of the 90-day due diligence period. They might request an extension for review of a "sketch plan" by Planning Commission/Council to get their guidance on the parking issue. The feeling in the room is that Carmel will probably walk away.COMMENT: If Carmel walks, then it’s back to the drawing board, Loftus continues to bleed money, and the residential project is delayed for months, if not years. You could almost feel panic in the room … Looks like it is all falling apart.Here are the residential alternatives being considered:• 3-story walk-ups, garden style apartments: would require lots of surface parking - not enough space on the site to accommodate both the surface parking and density that urban renewal wants.• Podium building, i.e., parking garage below, rental apartments above. Not feasible -- can't get the rents needed to justify the cost like they could with Park Place and Trammel Crow close to the transit station.• For sale townhomes — too expensive to build; not an option.Carmel wants to reduce the parking requirement for rental units, the 3-story, walk-up option, from the City-required 2.2 parking spaces per unit to 1.7 spaces per unit -- a 23% reduction. If Loftus grants another 90-day extension, then Carmel could present a sketch plan to Planning Commission/Council and get some feedback.Ms. Phair noted that parking for multi-family units has become a big issue at Council. Marc Williams noted that the issue was compounded by inadequate parking at multifamily developments in Denver that are a disaster — from press reports.Not only is parking an issue at the Square/Safeway site, but there are also other issues: access/easements that need to be renegotiated, floodplain issues, and the massive flood tunnel under the former Safeway lot -- nothing can be built over it, which creates big issues with the layout and design of the residential project.At the end of this discussion, Board members asked when the "drop-dead" date is for Loftus on the residential portion. Ms. Phair said 2018, but would look into it.4. Ms. Phair stated that Trammel Crow has made a 3rd submission to the City Planning department. Trammell Crow expects to present a final plan before the end of the year. It was interesting — she was not enthusiastic that it would be approved, nor was there any discussion of the Trammel Crow project by the Board members.5. City attorney Mike Polk stated that he has done almost nothing but urban renewal for the last month and will submit a written report to the Board.Finally, when it came time for Ms. Phair’s staff report, near the end of the meeting, she opened with congratulations to Marc Williams on his birthday. Phair ordered special cupcakes from Rhinelanders for the Board. Williams’ cupcake was topped with a martini glass … Phair explicitly pointed out this fact. Everyone in the room received a cupcake - except the two citizens present. Williams admitted to being age 61 today.
Protect Arvada Taxpayers would like to respond to the treatment its petition circulators received this past Sunday, September, 3, 2017, while at the Farmers Market.
In the future, we would simply request that our petition circulators be treated respectfully and civilly if there is any question about the area under the jurisdiction of the Farmers Market. Also, however, when petition circulators are in public areas that they be accorded the deference they are due — without interference — to exercise their constitutional rights under the First Amendment.
Since the Olde Town Square is seen as literally the ‘town square’ in Arvada, we encourage the Farmers Market to continue the forbearance they have shown in the past towards a variety candidates and political activities. The concept of the ’town square’ has a long tradition in American history as the central, open, community gathering place for citizens.
Protect Arvada Taxpayers will return to the public area adjacent to the Farmers Market after the Harvest Festival (where PAT will have a booth) to collect petition signatures. We look forward to continuing to meet many Arvadans and to a courteous relationship with the Farmers Market.
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Is Marc Williams willing to turn the popular Arvada Farmers Market into a political football?
After peacefully and Constitutionally being available for citizens at the Sunday Arvada Farmers Market in Olde Town for the past five weeks, today two Protect Arvada Taxpayers petition circulators were rudely escorted out of the public square.
Just remember the old saw: "In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."
The popularity of the Protect Arvada Taxpayers amendment and the notoriety of the $30 Land Deal controversy must be causing great consternation for those opposed to reform of the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority (AURA) and taxpayers wanting to put the brakes on a system that has let City Hall giveaway nearly $50 million of land and taxes in recent years to private, for-profit developers and corporations.
The Protect Arvada Taxpayer petition circulators were doing nothing out of the ordinary at the Farmers Market. Petitions have been circulated there before; candidates for a variety of offices have campaigned there; and as mentioned above, the PAT circulators have been there for the past five Sundays with no incident.
Why couldn't the Farmers Market have just left alone these good Arvadans and Americans exercising their First Amendment right to "petition the government for redress of grievances"? Is the boss machine in Arvada really willing to make the Farmers Market a political controversy?
It further appears that the organizers of the Farmers Market stepped outside the rules in their actions today -- the "Fountain remains open to the public" -- the circulators were on the steps by the fountain, not in the market area.
An apology is in order and a promise to let any and all citizens utilize their free speech, freedom to assemble, and their right to petition.
AURA Board Chair Refuses to Face the Public
Arvada for All the People will present a public forum to discuss current issues facing the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority, especially in light of the Protect Arvada Taxpayers charter amendment initiative. The petition for the proposal is now being circulated for signatures.
The forum will be held ...
Sunday, October 1, 2017
at the Olde Town Jeffco Public Library
between 1:00 and 2:30 P.M.
Let's Talk Arvada - Urban Renewal: What You Need to Know is part of a series of informational public meetings Arvada for All the People has organized over the past three years.
Arvada for All the People is a grassroots advocacy group promoting more accountable, open, and representative government at City Hall. It's Action Agenda for Arvada can be viewed here.
The controversial $30 Land Deal has caused many of the city's taxpayers to question what has been going on at the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority (AURA). AURA and the City's recent spate of land and tax giveaways has totaled nearly $50 million.
The Protect Arvada Taxpayers charter amendment, if approved by the voters, would require that any sales and property tax subsidies over $2.5 million to private business and/or any sale of city-owned land valued over $1 million to private business be brought to the voters for a decision. The amendment does not take any economic development tools away from local government, it simply gives the taxpayers a voice in deals involving large amounts of public dollars.
Though an advocacy group, Arvada for All the People sought to have the perspective of the AURA board also presented at the October 1 public forum. The offer, however, was refused by AURA Board of Commissioners chair, Fred Jacobson. (Mr. Jacobson's refusal apparently based on a viewing of Facebook discussions at Let's Talk, Arvada ... yes, really ... read his letter below.)
Mr. Jacobson's rejection highlights why reform of AURA is so critical.
The chair of the AURA Board of Commissioners should be responsible to the citizens of Arvada, as well as the city council, especially when millions of dollars worth of land and taxes are being given away to a developer.
Accepting a public appointment as a trustee of the people means taking on certain duties and obligations -- one of which is certainly to be forthright with the citizens and taxpayers when making decisions involving millions and millions of dollars in land and taxes.
While Mr. Jacobson's history as a business leader in Arvada and his willingness to serve his community can be appreciated, as a public official, he should face his critics.
Or as President Harry Truman put it: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
The forum has been rescheduled and Mr. Jacobson is still encouraged to participate.