Pace of growth, mistrust fuel group’s mission

Citizens committee seeks signatures in effort to rezone pair of downtown properties

Posted 10/2/19

In an event room at the Stroh Recreation Center in Parker, Terry Dodd, one of the leaders of the Save PACE Parking and Pine Curve 3.0 citizens group, explained a diagram of the Pine Curve and PACE …

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Pace of growth, mistrust fuel group’s mission

Citizens committee seeks signatures in effort to rezone pair of downtown properties

Posted

In an event room at the Stroh Recreation Center in Parker, Terry Dodd, one of the leaders of the Save PACE Parking and Pine Curve 3.0 citizens group, explained a diagram of the Pine Curve and PACE Lot 2 properties and how he believes they should be developed. It’s Dodd’s compromise proposal to the town in lieu of having the properties rezoned as open space.

“Parker’s going to grow,” said Dodd, a local real estate broker. “This group is not ‘We’re against growth’ or ‘We don’t want to see the town do this.’ They want to see the downtown businesses thrive.”

Dodd obliged anyone interested in his vision for the two downtown Parker properties. For the most part, his audience was made up of familiar faces and leading advocates for the cause. A handful of newcomers stopped by for the rally Aug. 26. About a dozen people were there.

The struggle of the group is to find enough supporters to send the two citizens petitions to rezone the properties as open space to a special election. So far, it’s not clear if they’ll make their Oct. 9 deadline to gather enough valid signatures. Dodd said the group had roughly 5,000 of the needed 6,000 or so signatures.

Dodd’s plan included fact sheets from the website of the town’s authority for reinvestment, Planning for Parker’s Progress, or P3, and Dodd’s own figures for what he referred to as “smart development” or partial development of the property — a compromise of open space and development. This vision is part of Dodd’s — and by extension, the group’s — negotiation with the town to rethink development of the properties. If no agreement is made, and the signatures are gathered, the open space referendum will be voted on by registered Parker voters in a special election.

The town entered into a purchase and sale agreement with UDC Miller, a commercial real estate investment group, on the Pine Curve lot, the 24-acre lot near the Pine Drive and Mainstreet intersection, Aug. 19. The current zoning of “Greater Downtown-Historic District” is a unique Parker zoning that allows for a range of businesses from commercial to food service to multifamily residential. An open space zoning designation would mean both lots would be preserved for no development at all, aside from some parking, trails and benches to accomodate the open space.

For the Pine Curve property, that means no development at all. The Save group specfically wants to keep the PACE Center visible from the street and save the number of parking spots the PACE Center has currently by requiring added parking for the development that could ensue on the strip of property north of the parking lot. However, an open space zoning designation would mean the property would be reverted to entirely open space if a referendum were to prevail.

Range of opinions

The group, also known simply as Save, has mixed opinions about the property.

Members’ perspectives include a desire to preserve open space, a belief that the pace of growth is too fast in Parker and a view that downtown business owners have too much power. Many either have a deep mistrust of the mayor, council and town staff or are, based on principle, against development altogether. Some, like Dodd, say limited development is acceptable, while others seem to have taken a hard-line stance against any development on either property. This can lead to confusion as to what the group’s main desire is, town leaders said.

Councilmembers and town staff have met with the Save group to see if there is common ground between the two sides, but so far, Mayor Mike Waid said in an email Sept. 13, the group hasn’t clearly defined what it wants.

“For example, the language that they created for their ballot questions specifically references the zoning being changed to ‘open space,’ which the town clearly defined to them the limitations of that zoning, but yet while gathering signatures they routinely tell people that they would like to see a park, amphitheater, playgrounds, etc., which are not allowed in open space zoning,” Waid wrote. “So where the town has tried many times to assist them and understand what they want, unfortunately it isn’t clear, outside of no development, what they really want.”

But members of the committee see the petition as a chance to bring the issue to light.

“I’d rather (the town) look for a solution that works for everybody,” said Mike Rouche, one of the five initial signers, the core of the Save committee. “We have many individuals who have slightly different perspectives, so we’re pushing every button we can to find a solution and nothing is off the table for us.”

It’s not known exactly how many support the group, but Dodd and Rouche maintain that nearly everyone they’ve encountered has agreed with them on the issue of rezoning the properties to open space.

“I believe the group itself thought ‘if there’s no other option, at least negotiate for an option people can live with,’” said Town Councilmember Cheryl Poage, who supports the committee.

Much of the group’s concern stems from the rapid growth Parker and the Denver metro area have seen in recent years. At present, the town comprises about 56,000 people — up from 45,000 residents in 2010 — with projections to grow to roughly 70,000 people in another 10 years.

One of the major cruxes of the Save PACE group’s argument is against the My Mainstreet Project, a survey that concluded last year and gathered close to 1,900 opinions over the course of about a year. Between what is allowed on the property, market trends and the survey results, the My Mainstreet Project concluded that restaurants, craft breweries and boutique retail were among the top results. For both properties, many complained that the results were not representative of the town’s overall population and makeup.

And it didn’t include an option for open space, Rouche said, “or even partial open space. Or even big chunks of open space, which I think is a fundamental flaw and a disservice to the people of Parker.”

At a Sept. 23 town council study session, councilmembers Josh Rivero and John Diak, who have been in talks with the group, presented to council a list of nine negotiation requests from Dodd regarding PACE Lot 2. The requests ranged from making the parking lot in front of the PACE Center exclusive to PACE and maintaining the visibility of the PACE Center from the street if development were to occur.

After about an hour of discussion, with Councilmembers Jeff Toborg and Poage speaking on behalf of the committee’s desires based on their past support of the initiative, council concluded many of Dodd’s requests would require significant rezoning to something other than what there is currently and open space. Rezoning the properties would require pulling the current agreement with UDC Miller and starting from scratch. Waid was frustrated near the end of the discussion when he claimed Poage was letting the group make decisions for her, which stopped the council from coming to a consenus on the issue. They later did after more discussion.

After the meeting, Waid walked out of the building to his car.

“I don’t like to lose my temper and I don’t like being held hostage,” Waid said as he left, “and that’s what this is.”

The petitioners are in the final stretch for the Oct. 9 deadline to collect enough signatures supporting their cause. They have been collecting signatures in Parker since April and had not submitted the petition as of Sept. 30.

The only thing the public would be able to vote on is whether both properties should be rezoned as open space. And it’s not clear exactly what might go on either of the properties yet. PACE Lot 2 has not yet been sold and the developer who purchased Pine Curve, UDC Miller, has not yet submitted an approved development plan for the area. The zoning of the properties, what is and what isn’t allowed, is the group’s focus. The group feels the My Mainstreet Project was an insincere effort to listen to residents. The UDC Miller sale would be unwound if the open-space vote occurs and prevails.

“They (town staff) don’t listen,” said Aleta Yu. “They care more about the businesses than they do about the residents, and a lot of those business owners don’t live in Parker.”

Dodd said many of the people he has encountered have felt unheard by the town.

“Some will be hesitant to sign until they recognize that some in this group don’t mind some development there either, but the town hasn’t given us that choice,” Dodd said. “If you zone it open space, there’s not going to be any development there. What the town is pushing is complete development.”

Most of the petition-signing stations can be found in the Parker Vista and Rowley Downs neighborhoods, both adjacent to the property. Residents there were concerned about the possibility of increased traffic, first and foremost. They want to prevent high traffic volume on Pine Drive, a two-lane road adjacent to Pine Curve, which they speculate could worsen if the wrong development is placed there.

In many ways, though, the group agrees with the town’s vision of keeping Parker’s “small-town feel.” They differ, however, on the degree to which Parker is losing its small-town feel and how it should be protected.

‘Enough already’

The Save group has been here before. In its two previous attempts, in 2008 and 2016, the town hosted community open houses, where the group made its concern and presence known. Then, people didn’t want gas stations, drive-thrus or big-box stores. Out of that came the My Mainstreet Project, an effort to hear residents’ opinions about how both sites, and three other downtown properties, should be developed.

Three years later, the Save group returned with the “3.0” marker, signifying its third attempt to keep the property from being developed.

“We’re saying, ‘Enough, already,’” Yu said.

Unrelated to Pine Curve, in 2016, town council — then consisting of Josh Martin, Amy Holland, Josh Rivero, Debbie Lewis, John Diak, Renee Williams and Waid — voluntarily ended the rezoning process of another downtown property to allow for a boutique hotel after almost every member of council reported a conflict of interest with the development group, Mars Development. Save members have cited that as one of the contributing factors to what they described as a mistrust of council.

Now, a boutique hotel, the Laszlo, a Mars undertaking, is nearing completion on the other side of Parker Road, and Pine Curve remains an empty lot.

As the Save group has become more visible, more issues have come to the table. In many cases, the rally cry is that Parker is “becoming Aurora,” referring to rapid development and a perceived uptick in violent crime, which has not been corroborated by Parker Police. Coincidentally, a committee in nearby Elizabeth is trying to recall its entire council, including the mayor, under the name “We’re Not Parker” — referring to the scrutiny Parker Town Council has received over its past development efforts.

Poage ran for council in 2018 on a platform of quelling development in the town through “smart growth,” and the voters responded by putting her on council. Toborg was elected on a similar message, though he differs from Poage on the issue of PACE Lot 2. The two are frequently the only two “no” votes seen during a town council meeting. The previous town council passed nearly every item unanimously.

“I think citizens are feeling they’re not happy with the way the town is going, and that’s what I hear all the time,” Poage said. “You can’t change everything at one time. To me, what I’m hearing is that citizens are unhappy with the direction the town is going. Period. They don’t like the apartments, they don’t like the traffic, they don’t like the growth.”

‘Becoming like Aurora’

At an Aug. 19 town council meeting, dozens of blue-shirted Save PACE members spoke as council prepared to approve the agreement with UDC Miller for the Pine Curve property. People voiced concern over speculative outcomes of development, including potential problems with parking downtown, the cost of the property, increased traffic, decreased property values, environment preservation, aesthetics and crime. Council voted 4-2, with Poage and Toborg dissenting.

“I’d like my grandkids to have a place to ride their bikes without maybe getting hit by a car,” said Patty Pearson.

“Better build another police department,” said Ron Faulkner, in support of the Save committee. In 24 years of living in Parker, he said car break-ins and robberies have never been worse.

“Yeah, it’s becoming like Aurora,” he said.

“When I sit on my patio, I don’t see birds as much as I used to … I see the parking lot of the PACE Center. I can’t for the life of me think every square inch needs to be developed to make money somehow,” said Mary Lopez. “We’re going to end up like Aurora ... I don’t want to become like Aurora.”

Poage and Toborg have voted against almost every item concerning Pine Curve or PACE Lot 2.

“I’m all in favor of the process,” Toborg said. “The topic, I’m not so fond of the PACE one as I am the Pine (Curve) one. The Pine one, there’s a lot of emotion and they see that as one of the last big lots to infill in in the town ... People just really appreciate that land and they don’t want to see it go.”

The Town of Parker operates in a town administrator-led government, meaning town staff does most of the planning for development and town council votes on whether to approve it following a recommendation.

“This feels more like the town staff’s property,” Yu said. “Not the people’s property.”

What’s next?

The group has been collecting signatures since April and has said the majority of the people they’ve encountered are overwhelmingly in favor of the group’s cause. The only setback, Dodd said, is the lack of petition gatherers. Many supporters, Dodd said, live in Clarke Farms or the Pinery, which are not within the town boundaries. Residents in those communities won’t be able to provide a valid signature, as they’re not registered to vote in Parker.

At the Aug. 26 petitioners rally, a flier was handed out to new petition gatherers.

“Currently, the Town’s plans for the Pine Curve land include a large shopping center with 65 townhomes plus ‘medium-density living spaces’ (apartments/condos) …,” the document reads. “… Of course these schematics could change depending on what the developer wants. Town Council has a history of approving developer desires.”

Stephen Shoflick, of UDC Miller, stated at the Aug. 19 meeting he is open to working with the community for development options of Pine Curve. The town has yet to sign a development agreement or any site plans for either property so far.

Dan Sheldon, of UDC Miller, provided a statement:

“UDC Miller, LLC is thrilled to have been selected by the Town of Parker as its development partner on the Pine Curve property.  We look forward to engaging with the community throughout the process to help us bring to life the My Mainstreet vision.”

Dodd said appealing to the developer is a lost cause, so, to him, the buck stops with the citizens initiative. Town council is still working to see if there is a middle ground to be met on PACE Lot 2, which seems to be of lesser interest to the group of dozens who repeatedly showed up to the rallies and town council meetings. Pine Curve has been sold, but that doesn’t mean it will be developed. If the petition is approved and a Pine Curve referendum is passed, the deal will be nullified.

So, the group has one thing on its mind:

“We’ve got that target of the ninth of October,” Dodd said. “We’ve got to remain diligent and stay the course.”

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