BY DORIS B. TRUHLAR
A badly divided Centennial City Council heard from numerous residents Nov. 5, in regard to the highly controversial issue of permitting more car dealers on East Arapahoe Road. All the speakers in a packed council chamber were opposed to permitting more dealers on the main thoroughfare through the city. A Mercedes dealer has withdrawn its proposal to build a dealership on that street.
City Clerk Barbara Setterlind told the council that there were 4,734 valid signatures submitted to the city. This was substantially more than the required 4,089, which is 5 percent of the registered electors of the city. She also indicated the cost of a special election would be $150,000, which would not be a huge expense for Centennial. The city has ample revenues.
One councilmember, Mike Sutherland, said he was “bothered” by the “dark money” that went into raising funds for the petition-gathering campaign. In the campaign, signers asked that there be a vote on the issue of whether more dealers will be permitted on the street.
The signature gathering was made primarily with out-of-state money, by individuals who don’t own property in Centennial, Sutherland said. The city was formed on the principle “of self-determination,” and the outside money does not reflect that principle. Sutherland said the petition drive “is flawed” because of the outside money.
It was not entirely clear what
the next step would be for the council; however, the issue will be back on the agenda at the meeting next week, Monday, Nov. 12. Agreeing with Sutherland was Councilman Ron Weidmann, who noted that Bobby Rahal’s Mercedes dealership has withdrawn its request to be permitted to build a Mercedes shop on a large parcel of land near East Arapahoe Road and South Jordan Street.
The issue has been “a no win for any of us,” Weidmann said. The city had an opportunity to have a really quality business on East Arapahoe, but scared them away, he said. He said he is not sure whether the public actually understands the car dealer issue. It seems likely that any vote will be a close one, although there is no longer a dealer asking to have a plan approved.
Speaking against permitting car dealerships were Councilmembers Kathy Turley and Tammy Maurer. In addition, a number of residents spoke against
permitting any more car dealers on Arapahoe. No resident spoke in favor of allowing a new dealership.
Councilwoman Marlo Alston said the issue “is more complicated than I thought” and said the issue has been “divisive.” She said that it was “mainly outsiders” who gathered the signatures and were “leading the charge” against car vendors.
Councilwoman Candace Moon said the city is “very dependent on our businesses.” The city could run out of money if it tries to cherry-pick businesses permitted to locate in the city.
No one made any motions Monday night. There will, however, have to be a motion made in order to resolve the issue, and it is anticipated that will happen at the meeting Nov. 12. A public hearing will be conducted Monday, Dec. 3.
Among those speaking against permitting more car vendors was Donald Doerr, who was opposed to car dealers and asked the council to “just listen to the people.” Jill Meakins told the council that the signature-gathering effort was “citizen-led.” She spoke angrily to the council and said, “maybe some [citizens] even signed [petitions] twice.”
Andrew Spaulding said he was “very disappointed” in the council and disputed that the effort was one involving “dark money.” He said that “average citizens” were at the helm of the effort but “needed outside support.”
Beth Ramsey said that, in other cities, the Rahal dealerships have not “abided by the rules.” Adding some of what Rahal’s personnel did was “astounding” and wrong.
Former councilmember Andrea Suhaka scolded the council, stating that there was out-of-state, out-of-city money on both sides of the controversy.
It appears likely that the council has only two choices. One is to submit the issue to a vote of the people. Another is to repeal the ordinance that would have permitted the car dealership to be built.
There are only two parcels of land upon which a car dealership could be built. This is primarily due to the requirement that a parcel has to be at least 5 acres in order to accommodate a car vendor. There are only two such parcels remaining.
In other business, the council approved the 2019 budget, appointed Jenny Young to the Open Space Advisory Board (and also appointed alternates Jeff Dankenbring and Richard Holt), approved a proclamation honoring John McCarty for his work for the South East Metro Stormwater Authority for the past 10 years, and approved the new Centennial Comprehensive Plan. The council also agreed to receive certain medians in an area of the city known as Southfield.
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