BY FREDA MIKLIN
Last fall, before the city council election, over 150 of the residents of the 278-unit Landmark Towers in Greenwood Village signed a petition to the GV City Council asking that they be provided the same trash and recycling services that other homeowners, including townhomes and other condos receive, compliments of their city government. Anne Ingebretsen, who along with Dave Kerber, represents the district in which the Landmark Towers are located, told residents she saw their point and would bring the issue to the council early in 2022.
On January 3, at the first study session of the first city council meeting of 2022, Ingebretsen had the subject placed on the agenda. Garrett Graybeal, management analyst in GV’s public works department, told the council that the city’s new trash contractor said it would cost $30,000/year to add the 278 units in the two Landmark Towers to the city’s contract. By comparison, he noted that the city spends $20,000/year to service the Hermitage condominiums that have half as many units. Hermitage has been receiving these services since 1996. Graybeal told the council that the estimated cost of adding the last two remaining condo developments in the city that were also presently not receiving trash service was $20,000/year for each.
For the city’s 1,950 rental apartments in seven different developments, Graybeal told the council he estimated it would cost $190,000/year to provide trash and recycling services. Since it was city policy to not provide this service to apartment buildings from the time the program was instituted 26 years ago, no apartments in GV have ever gotten it and there was no indication that owners of any of the apartment buildings had asked for it. The request for that cost estimate came from the city council.
After Graybeal completed his presentation, the first question came from Mayor Lantz, who wanted to know what the cost of providing the service was compared to the amount of GV property tax Landmark residents paid. After the city’s finance director provided that information, Council Member Dave Bullock said to the mayor, “I don’t think we can make any decisions based on how much property tax contribution there is to the city because…As we all know, 96% of our revenue comes from commercial-related taxes…so everybody who lives in the city is a net beneficiary of our commercial -related taxes.” He continued, “Mr. Mayor, you and I had this conversation earlier today and I posed the question to you, why have these units been excluded?… To me, it’s not a tax issue. It’s a fairness and equity issue.”
Ingebretsen said, “I’ve never been comfortable with the notion of different levels of services for different citizens,” noting that it creates “a feeling of inequity.” She continued, looking at Landmark residents who came to the meeting, “If I were sitting where you’re sitting, I’d feel the same way.” Ingebretsen said she supported providing the service to the Landmark and the only other two remaining condominium developments in GV that were not receiving it.
Council Member Paul Wiesner, newly elected in November, said he didn’t feel that the Landmark fit “the original philosophy” of the city’s trash program.
Councilmember Donna Johnston joined the conversation with, “I agree with what everyone has said but…can we afford it? We don’t know how the city will grow…So there’s a lot of factors in this that we haven’t even broached on.”
Councilmember Libby Barnacle added, “And I would second that…Can we afford it?” Councilmember Judy Hilton agreed that affordability, not equity, was the issue.
Although it has not released any official financial data for the full year, four months ago GV projected that it would have a $6.7 million surplus for 2021 and its 2022 budget, included in the city’s January 2022 newsletter, has a projected surplus of an additional $1.1 million.
Ingebretsen clarified that she “would not support adding the apartments to our trash service,” noting that Landmark residents pay city property taxes, while apartment residents do not, and including apartments would “not be consistent with what our policies have been in the city, so I would not advocate for that.”
Bullock agreed that there’s a difference between rented apartments and owned condominiums. He also pointed out that the cost of including all condos in the city would be around $70,000, noting that, “When we talk about affordability, we have a $55 million revenue budget, we have $15 million in capital improvements, we have a lot of places we can find $70,000. I don’t think that the financial argument is a valid one.” Wiesner said he agreed with Bullock that the issue was not one of finances but that he believed that “using equity as a criteria is a dangerous, bad path to go down.”
Next to last to join the discussion was Dave Kerber, the other city council member who represents The Landmark. It was his opinion that, “If we do this for the condos that you’d have to do it for the apartments.”
The other new city council member, Tom Stahl, a real estate professional, explained that condos and apartments should not be treated the same, pointing out that reduced expenses in a condominium development would result in reduced HOA dues to unit owners because they pay the actual operating expenses of their buildings. Conversely, apartment rental prices are determined by what the market will bear, so the owners of the buildings, not the residents of apartments in GV would benefit if the city provided the service to apartment buildings.
At that point, Ingebretsen asked the council to only consider providing trash service to condos and drop apartments from the discussion. Mayor Lantz asked for a show of hands as to whether the council wanted to proceed with the discussion on that basis. Councilmembers Kerber, Johnston, Barnacle, Hilton and Wiesner made it clear that they did not want to continue to even talk about the subject anymore. Mayor Lantz declared that the discussion to consider adding Landmark to the city’s trash and recycling services contract was finished since five out of eight members of the city council did not wish to consider it further.
Landmark residents who had come to the meeting, anticipating that the issue would at least be discussed further at a later date, appeared stunned. When the regular city council meeting started a few minutes later, Tom Lee, a 20-year resident of the Landmark and Executive Managing Director of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank commercial real estate development and management services company, addressed the council. Pointing to the important role that Landmark residents have had for local businesses, especially during the pandemic, Lee said, “I would argue that in the last 22 months, without the 500 people who live at the Landmark, a lot of those restaurants would have gone out of business,” adding, “The average value of a residence at the Landmark is over $1 million… We’re huge contributors to the commercial base as owners and residents. I hope you would seriously consider that. As to what is going to happen to GV commercially, that’s an area that I am an expert in. That’s what I do. I think Greenwood Village is going to be just fine. It has very solid institutions that can weather the storm we’re going through. The tax base coming from the commercial property owners has never been stronger.”
The next day, The Villager reached out to Dave Kerber and Anne Ingebretsen, since they represent the residents of the Landmark Towers. Kerber told us that although he voted to discontinue any discussion whatsoever about adding Landmark residents to the city’s trash and recycling contract, which staff estimated would cost $30,000/year, he would have supported giving the free service to all GV residents who live in condos, apartments and any other multi-family dwellings, which staff estimated would cost $275,000/year.
We asked Kerber if Landmark homeowners were being treated inconsistently with other GV homeowners. He said that Landmark was different because it uses dumpsters instead of individual trash bins. We pointed out that there was testimony last year that the Hermitage condominiums uses dumpsters and the city has been paying for those to be emptied, currently four times each week, since 1996. Kerber said that the Hermitage was an anomaly and asked if we thought the city should withdraw the service from those residents.