Plans are moving forward to develop Littleton's largest remaining parcels of vacant land, which could see more than 700 housing units and more than 30,000 square feet of commercial space in coming …
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Plans are moving forward to develop Littleton's largest remaining parcels of vacant land, which could see more than 700 housing units and more than 30,000 square feet of commercial space in coming years.
Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers, the nation's fifth-largest home builder, is pushing ahead with plans to develop a cumulative 77 acres along Santa Fe Drive south of Mineral Avenue, documents filed with the City of Littleton show.
The land is just south of a 33-acre site at Mineral and Santa Fe targeted for mixed-use retail and residential development by Evergreen Devco, a Denver-based developer.
April 12: Development at Santa Fe and Mineral could get green light
Together, the two development sites represent the 110 acres often called the Ensor property, part of holdings once owned by well-known midcentury housing developer K.C. Ensor. The family sold the north 33 acres to Evergreen for $6.5 million in 2017.
The remaining 77 acres to the south are mostly owned by Santa Fe Park LLC, a company formed in 2011 to market the land, listed online as valued at $19.7 million.
A small parcel in the middle of the property is still home to Wendy Cogdal, a scion of the Ensor clan. Cogdal said the 77 acres, technically split into several smaller parcels, are under contract to Toll Brothers and declined to comment further.
According to documents filed with the city, Toll Brothers plans to build a project called Santa Fe Park South, featuring as many as 403 townhomes and “carriage homes,” as many as 336 multifamily housing units, and roughly 30,000 square feet of commercial space on the site in coming years.
Click here to see documents submitted by Toll Brothers to the City of Littleton
Unlike Evergreen to the north, which is pursuing a rezoning for their site that mandates public hearings, Toll Brothers is planning to develop the site administratively, meaning the plans conform to the current zoning and no public hearings are required, said Jennifer Henninger, Littleton's director of community development.
The Ensor property was annexed by the city in 1985, and the site's current planned development zoning and land use codes are far looser than what would be pursued for such a site today, Henninger said.
“It's left the city in a precarious position,” she said. “We're having to honor a plan that isn't going to pay for everything it needs. If you look at any growing community today, when they annex areas in, there are all sorts of stipulations for what a developer is on the hook for. That's really not the case here.”
A more modern plan for the site would likely include significant impact fees to offset the cost of providing city services to so many residences, she said.
“We've tried every which way to get an agreement” that better addresses potential costs, Henninger said. “We will have one that addresses many things, but it can't go against the annexation agreement from 1985.”
The city developed a process in recent years to analyze the economic impact of new developments, in hopes of crafting more beneficial regulations on new growth. An analysis on Evergreen's proposal to the north resulted in a plan for the developer to pay $120 per month per occupied bed in a senior housing facility, for instance.
But in the case of Toll Brothers, preparing a comprehensive economic analysis is proving tricky because of the developer's piecemeal approach.
“Some parcels are mixed-use, and others they're not entirely sure what they're going to do with yet,” Henninger said. “It's hard to run a model when some of this is still hypothetical.”
The plans are moving forward just as Littleton is on the verge of passing the United Land Use Code or ULUC, a total overhaul of city zoning regulations following a years-long “visioning process.” But because Toll Brothers began filing plans in 2018, the site will be judged against older versions of the code.
Littleton draws the majority of its general fund revenue from sales tax, and city council discussions often center on the goal of broadening the city's tax base.
Still, Littleton needs housing, Henninger said. The city's 2019 comprehensive plan calls for the city to help facilitate the building of more than 6,500 new housing units by 2040 to help stave off skyrocketing housing prices, though the city currently has no legal mechanism to mandate developers offer any housing below market rate.
The goal of broadening the city's sales tax base and increasing the housing stock are not at odds, Henninger said.
“They're complementary. We have to row both oars. We have to be really careful that we don't get too far ahead with residential development we can't support, but at the same time, you can't have too much commercial and not enough rooftops to support it.”
Also at issue is how the development will impact traffic at Santa Fe and Mineral, notoriously Littleton's most congested intersection. Plans for the Evergreen property to the north call for the development to incorporate a “quad road,” a mini-beltway that will supersede the left turn from northbound Santa Fe onto westbound Mineral. The measure is considered a stopgap ahead of longer-term plans to build a freeway-style interchange at the intersection.
Henninger said the traffic study that produced the call for the quad road incorporated the anticipated traffic from the Toll Brothers property as well.
Asked if the quad road will sufficiently offset the increased traffic, Henninger said, “It's as close as we can get, given the land constraints we face with how much land we have to work with and the constraints from (the Colorado Department of Transportation).”
There are other tricky aspects to developing the land. The area is part of the South Platte River floodplain, and is crisscrossed by irrigation ditches that will need to be moved. Doing so requires lengthy negotiations and approvals from state and federal water management entities, Henninger said.
Historic preservation concerns are coming to bear on the project as well. What will be done with a century-old barn at the south end of the property has drawn the attention of Historic Littleton Inc. (HLI), a not-for-profit group that seeks to protect historic structures in the city.
The barn, built in 1918 and clearly visible from Santa Fe, was once part of the Canary Farm, according to a letter sent by HLI to city council. The barn is an unusual style called a “bank barn,” meaning earth is banked up along one side of the structure to form a ramp to the upper level.
CDOT determined the structure was eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places during a 2004 survey, said Gail Keeley, who heads HLI, though no steps were ever taken to obtain historic designation.
Keeley said while earlier iterations of plans for the site suggested Toll Brothers intended to leave the barn in place, a recent community meeting left HLI with the impression that the developer may demolish the barn and build a replica elsewhere on the site for use as an event space.
Keeley called the barn an important link to Littleton's agricultural past, and a unique piece of architecture.
“Evidence of our agricultural heritage is so hard to find now,” Keeley said. “A replica would be a poor substitute.”
The barn is currently used for storage by Green Valley Turf Farm, a sod farming operation. Company president J.R. Wilkins did not respond to requests for comment about the barn.
A structural analysis of the barn conducted by a consultant at the behest of Toll Brothers found it's in poor shape.
“In its current condition the building is neither safe for occupation nor moving to a new location without rebuilding the frame in its entirety,” the consultant wrote.
A project narrative filed with the city says “the existing barn at the south-eastern end of the property is planned to be reconstructed and repurposed at a more central location to function as a community amenity,” but does not clarify whether that means shoring up and moving the barn or demolishing it and building a replica.
Toll Brothers spokesperson Andrea Meck responded to requests for comment about the development as a whole and the barn in particular with the following statement:
“We are still very early in the process. We look forward to working closely with the City of Littleton to finalize the design of the community, including plans for the historic barn on the property.”
Meck declined requests to provide the slides presented at the community meeting or to comment further.
Henninger said the development is largely a matter of private property rights.
“We hear from people who want it to stay open space, but the thing is, it's not open space,” she said. “It's someone's property that they have legal rights to develop. However you want to look at it, there was a plan in 1985 for what it was going to look like, and the world's a different place now. To create a place that has value, we have to work together. There's still room for compromises here.”
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