DALLAS — Littleton is the first city in Colorado to require voter approval for tax-increment finance and condemnation of property through eminent domain after two ballot initiatives passed easily on March 3.
TIFs and eminent domain are commonly used in urban renewal scenarios. So far, no other city or jurisdiction has called for a public vote on such matters.
The issues appeared as two ballot questions. Question 300, requiring a vote on tax-increment finance districts, won 60% approval. Question 2A, restricting eminent domain, won 67% of the 9,473 votes cast.
Littleton Mayor Phil Cernanec opposed the measures and was backed by opponents who raised about $91,000, more than 30 times what supporters could muster.
"Regardless of the voters' decision, the city council and I will continue engaging with citizens and encouraging healthy dialogue on the very important issues we face," Cernanec said in a written statement after the election. "It is, and always has been, our goal to look for ways to keep Littleton moving forward."
Proponents of the ballot measures cited the Littleton Riverfront Festival Center, calling it "a colossal failure that led to a $9 million debt from the authority to the city being written off because it could never be paid."
The Littleton River Authority, the city's original urban renewal agency, was created in 1980 to redevelop a 25-acre parcel on the South Platte River.
Between 1983 and 1984 the LRA issued $8.6 million of bonds to buy the land and relocate 72 mobile homes and 16 businesses in the area. In 1984, construction began on Riverfront Festival Center, a $150-million development anchored by an upscale farmer's market and retail with a proposed hotel, theatre/performance venue and office space.
In 1985, $4.8 million of tax-increment bonds were issued by the LRA to refund the $2.5 million bond issue of 1983 and the $1.1 million bond issue from 1984.
However, income from the center was insufficient, and the project never succeeded. In 1991, the developer Writer Corp. lost the property to the lender banks.
The Littleton Planning Commission approved a zoning change for office use and EchoStar/DISH Network purchased the Riverfront property for its corporate headquarters for $7.5 million.
The LRA issued another series of bonds in 1999 to repay 1988 bondholders and to waive rights of further repayment on those bonds. At the end of 2008, the LRA's authority to receive tax increment expired, and all bond obligations and debt were repaid or terminated by agreements with bondholders.
In late 2013 the LRA was renamed Littleton Invests for Tomorrow with a new goal to provide additional investment options for property owners not just along the Riverfront area, but the broader community as well.
The ballot initiative came after the renamed authority began including properties in an urban renewal zone that the owners said were viable businesses, including a café and motel.
With a population of 41,737, Littleton is the county seat of Arapahoe County south of Denver. Despite the suburban sprawl surrounding it, the city maintains a quaint downtown area. The city is served by the Regional Transportation District's original light rail line.
Standard & Poor's raised its rating on Littleton's certificates of participation one notch to AA from AA-minus in March 2014.