BY DORIS B. TRUHLAR
The development of the remaining vacant land along East Arapahoe Road – with the issue being car dealers or something else — was the topic of a heated Centennial City Council study session Monday night.
Staff presented a history of zoning along Arapahoe Road, going back to 2005, four years after Centennial was created. The subject was raised because the staff has been requested by council to present a new ordinance for zoning along Arapahoe Road.
The ordinance, which has not been written yet, will only apply to “operations predominantly selling newly manufactured vehicles … and which also contain an on-site service and parts facility specific to the manufacturer” of the new cars for sale. The law is to have “enhanced design requirements.”
The ordinance would not allow other uses, such as gasoline stations and drive-in or drive-thru restaurants. One such parcel that could be used for car sales is at the southwest corner of Arapahoe Road and South Blackhawk Street. There are only limited sites having five acres of land, which would be the minimum.
The next step will be for the topic to be considered by the Centennial Planning and Zoning Commission at a public hearing June 27.
Councilwoman Carrie Penaloza stated she was “extremely disappointed to see this on the agenda for a work session.” Noting that “thousands of people signed petitions” opposing development of Arapahoe with more car dealers. Penaloza said, “I think there’s a real transparency problem here.” In response, Councilwoman Kathy Turley inquired how the subject could be dealt with in a way meeting Penaloza’s approval.
Penaloza responded it should be discussed “in an open meeting” at which the public could comment, and the public could not comment at the study session. “There are no microphones” for comment and the public is not invited to speak. In fact, the meeting was held at the city’s auxiliary facility, about two miles from city hall, often referred to as “Eagle Street” by council and staff. Only seven of the nine council members were present for the meeting Monday night. Absent were Ken Lucas and Marlo Alston.
Councilwoman Tammy Maurer said that only 6 percent of the land along Arapahoe Road remains to be developed. She questioned whether car dealerships will provide the income to Centennial that other uses might provide. She also said that “the senior population,” ages 65 and over, is “growing fast.” There will be many seniors “who won’t benefit from this type of use,” she stated. She also said that there was a survey in which vehicle sales were at the bottom of a list of what citizens would prefer to have along Arapahoe.
Councilwoman Candace Moon said that it is “one thing for citizens to say what they would like to see … but property owners have rights to do what they want with their own property.” Unless “you are the owner” of the property, you do not have the ability to control what is built, Moon said. She went on to say that “tastes change,” and that while she enjoys driving “my old Cadillac,” she might decide she wants a sports car. Councilman Mike Sutherland cited the Arapahoe Road Retail Study, performed by an outside consultant in 2017. “We have to look at what that research tells us.”
Councilman Ron Weidmann said the revenue from an office building is less than from a car dealer. The city “wrestled” with this issue “long ago,” he said. “We wanted Arapahoe Road to be this retail mecca” but it has not turned out that way. “The people who own the property deserve to develop it,” he said. “Let the market take care of itself.”
Turley said she was thinking of “design standards. For me, it’s about what it’s going to look like.” She said she agreed with Penaloza about the lack of transparency.
City Manager Matt Sturgeon said that perhaps the council should have another “work session,” to enable the public to “know what the issues are.” He said the city staff was not “trying to do anything” underhanded.
Moon said she felt the council was being “transparent.” Penaloza responded by saying the “level of transparency” was not the same because there was no opportunity for public comment.
Mayor Stephanie Piko said that the study session was merely an opportunity “to have a more casual conversation around a table” at which “people would be more comfortable to ask questions.”
City Attorney Robert Widner said the discussion will affect a number of properties in Centennial.
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