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2017 in review

Development dominates Lakewood’s 2017

A look at a year that included elections, a hail storm, and traffic woes

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Looking back at 2017, its clear that all the top topics of discussion in Lakewood came from the same root — development and its role in the future of the city.

From city council chambers and chamber meetings to community events and social media, residents and city officials spent much of the year grappling with the effect that increased residential and commercial projects would have on the city.

In his state of the city speech on March 9, Mayor Adam Paul encouraged residents to look to Lakewood’s future by considering the children.

“Enriching a child’s quality of life enriches everybody’s quality of life,” Paul said. “A city that’s great to grow up in is a city that’s great to settle down in. And a city that encourages and fosters a child’s future success is a city that’s built to last.”

Here are some of the most impactful happenings over the past year in Lakewood:

Big-picture development

Lakewood started off 2017 by examining one of the last areas of undeveloped property in the city - Rooney Valley, the area along C-470 on the west side of Green Mountain, south of the West Alameda and north of the Morrison Road exits, falls primarily within the jurisdictions of Lakewood and Morrison.

The municipalities have managed the areas jointly since the 1990s, but the last update of the master plan was in 2002, and a lack of development in the area spurred Morrison and Lakewood to re-examine it. The original master plan provided for a maximum build-out that theoretically would have allowed for 28 million square feet of building space between the two communities.

In a 6-5 vote on Feb. 6, Lakewood’s city council approved the updated Rooney Valley master plan, which aims to articulate the vision of the two municipalities by providing a solid foundation for policy direction, land use decisions and public investment.

During public comment, residents criticized the plan’s inconsistencies and what they described as lack of information and forethought. They also said they wanted to ensure any development is of the highest quality.

“There are a number of problems with the master plan that require further study,” said Lakewood resident Barbara Engemoen at the meeting. “This type of development plan should at the least have a citizen advisory council. All of us are impacted by increased development.”

The concern of many residents about residential development was a powerful central issue for the year.

At the end of July, the Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships, a nonprofit started by citizens in 2014 to help residents deal with neighborhood issues and problems with city hall, submitted more than 7,500 signatures from community members in support of a proposed ballot initiative to place a 1 percent annual limit on residential growth and return decisions on large multifamily projects to city council. City Clerk Margy Greer verified 6,192 signatures were sufficient to move it to the ballot at the time.

But Steve Dorman, vice chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, filed a challenge to the initiative at the end of August because he said people who signed the petition weren’t made fully aware of the contents of the measure.

Over two days of hearings on Aug. 31 and Sept. 7, Dennis Polk, counselor for Dorman, argued those who collected the signatures did not follow the city’s election rules, while former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, and counsel for Cathy Kentner, a board member of Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships, argued that all the signatures were valid.

In a decision announced on Sept. 18, Greer found in favor of the Kentner and her co-petitioners, and it was expected to make it to the November ballot. However, Dorman challenged Greer’s decision, stating, “The question will not be on the ballot as the city cannot proceed with this ill-advised measure.”

Lakewood’s Municipal Code does not allow for council to take action on an initiative petition while it is under protest or appeal, therefore council could not vote to approve the petition nor vote to send it to an election.

The Jefferson County District Court will make a judgment regarding Greer’s decision, so next steps depend on the court’s schedule.

“They are sending a message loud and clear that if you petition in the City of Lakewood, you will be punished and silenced,” said Anita Springsteen, a co-petitioner. “I believe this is a reflection of citizens’ inability to petition our local government effectively and lack of faith in the voter to be smart enough to make the right choices.”

The candidates who did make it on the November election, and claimed victory were incumbent Ramey Johnson in Ward 1, Jacob LaBure in Ward 2, Michael Bieda in Ward 3, David Skilling in Ward 4, and incumbent Karen Harrison in Ward 5.

“A lot of people were surprised that the 1 percent initiative wasn’t on the ballot, and there’s a lot of frustration out there,” Johnson said following the election. “People are saying this isn’t the Lakewood they were first attracted to, and they want to see what’s happening addressed.”

The effect on citizens

Growth in Lakewood has been affecting residents for years, and these effects are becoming more evident to longtime residents.

The city has been conducting a traffic study to get more information on the city’s traffic issues, present and future, particularly at areas like Union Boulevard, Wadsworth and Highway 6, and Kipling and Wadsworth.

Neighbors of Lakewood High School are still hoping for relief from their parking issues, following the creation of a group made up of about 20 Lakewood residents will join a newly created working group that includes members of city staff, Jefferson County Schools representatives, and members of the Lakewood Police and West Metro Fire District.

The group was formed after two hours of discussion on the problems and possible solutions on the topic mediated by Mark Loye, Executive Director of Jefferson County Mediation Services, at the school on June 27. There have been several meetings so far, and options are still being considered.

“At the end of the day, we may not all be happy, but that’s the way it is,” said Marty Schechter, a resident who signed up for the group, during the June 27 meeting. “So far, all the solutions in place are short term solutions, and we can’t keep implementing short term solutions.”

Colorado Christian University is growing and bringing in more students, but that is causing a problem for some residents at South Cody Court. The university owns three properties on the street, and have taken over the leases. In early March it let the people in these residences know that we wouldn’t be renewing their leases.

This makes things difficult for longtime residents like Lenore Herskovitz, Jerri Dulin, and Elise Hoover. Students are already living in some of the other properties the university owns on Cody, and Herskovitz said they have been good neighbors.

“We’re not contesting the legality of anything the university is doing,” she added. “I wanted to stay here indefinitely, and I wish the university had taken more time to think about what they’re doing. Why can’t they put students in some of the other properties they own?”

The mayor and ward 1 councilmembers Ramey Johnson and Charley Able became involved, and started a dialogue with representatives from the university, but so far no solution has been found.

The cost of housing continues to be a problem for many all over the metro area, which is bringing the issue of homelessness and affordable housing front and center.

Organizations like Metro West Housing Solutions and Archway Investment Corp received state and federal grants allocated by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, to get new affordable housing projects off the ground. Both also celebrated major milestones in projects already underway — Metro West started significant construction work at the Martischang tower at 5800 W. Alameda Ave. for its new Fifty Eight Hundred project, and Archway celebrated the opening of 40 West Residences, located at 5830 W. Colfax Ave.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is also in the process of taking ownership of 59 acres owned by the federal government near the Federal Center. If their application is approved, the site will be used to provide temporary and long-term housing and employment solutions for the homeless.

While all of this is going on, organizations like The Action Center and Mean Street, founded by the Rev. James Fry and headquartered in Lakewood, are seeing an increased need for their services.

“People need to be aware this is a problem happening right in their backyards,” said Pattie Stermole, director of Mean Street’s food bank. “The main thing we do here is expanding as much as we can to help the working poor.”

(Mostly) welcome changes on West Colfax

One part of the city that is eager for redevelopment and investment is West Colfax and the 40 West Arts District, which had a banner year in 2017.

Reed Art, which has national clients like photographer John Fielder, moved to the former location of the Avalanche Harley-Davidson at 8000 W. Colfax Ave. The NEXT Gallery, which also serves as an artist cooperative, moved to West Colfax in late April, and Pirate: Contemporary Art moved in June. Both NEXT and Pirate had been located on Navajo Street in Denver before coming to Lakewood.

It was the farthest west end of the avenue that experienced the biggest change of the year, when a devastating May 8 hailstorm ripped open roofs and flooded stores at the Colorado Mills Mall, leaving millions of dollars in damages and lost livelihoods and siphoning nearly $3 million in sales tax revenue from Lakewood city coffers.

Taxes from mall sales contributed about 6 percent of Lakewood’s general fund in 2016, which pays for everything from police to community resources, Larry Dorr, Lakewood’s finance director, said. Last year the mall generated about $7.12 million in sales taxes to the general fund.

At 1.1 million square feet, Colorado Mills is the largest outlet retail center in the state, with 160 outlet and value retail stores. More than 100 of these businesses and restaurants opened in November and December, including J. Crew Factory, LEGO, Burlington and Victoria’s Secret.

Stores will continue opening into 2018, with construction continuing during the evenings through early 2018 to finish repairs and updates required to return the mall to 100 percent.

“I live nearby, so we received hail damage as well, and I wanted to see what was open here,” said Karen Newcomm, who was there when the mall opened on Nov. 21. “I think it’s amazing they were able to get it opened because that was quite an undertaking. We have to support it, and I’ll definitely be back for holiday shopping.”

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