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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Annexation Misinformation and Some New Topics

Okay, I know the annexation issue is getting old, but I have to bring up a concern that others have told me is no longer a real issue: the misrepresentation of the environmental qualities of the parcel in question. Specifically, its description as a wetlands, which is false. In a letters to the editor in the Daily Camera on Monday, Dani Meyers says "perhaps since a wetlands will be paved over" while advocating for a "No" vote.

The impacts of the proposed development based on proximity to wetlands is worth debating. However the continuous reference to the annexation leading to direct destruction of wetlands is not limited to Ms. Meyers and I want to use this forum to spread the word about this incorrect assertion.

To Dreamer's request, here's a snapshot of issues in Lafayette to start new debates: the Visitability discussion to require residential construction convenient for elderly and disabled potential occupants (never mind current market demand - this is a touchy issue in a PC way); how the Youth Advisory Committee will move forward; how the city's community (affordable housing) program is serving Lafayette residents; the approx 300 residential units that will be going into 95th and Baseline; the single-hauler trash contract; whether something will ever happen in the Lafayette Tech Center (or with Cheese Importers); how the $1 million grant to the fire dept is spent (how will ambulance service be paid post-grant?) and just what will replace the McDonald's on South Boulder Rd? And plenty more... tell me your favorite!

14 comments:

Alex Schatz said...

The annexation issue won't really be old until the vote is tallied, but the issue has maybe run its course with people who contribute to this blog.

Still, I can't object to the final word being that, whatever you choose to believe, don't let it be that wetlands will be paved over. That issue has been exploited shamelessly, which the lingering confusion (or deliberate confusion?) amongst letter writers only attests to as a powerful force in shaping public opinion.

If someone is truly concerned about the voters being armed with facts, the facts about environmental values are extremely important, just like the facts about city finances, the facts about what the ordinances up for vote say, and the facts about what is possible in Lafayette's future. So thanks, Dan, for making that note.

I respect the opinions that were expressed by Cyclorado on earlier posts. Which is to say that the no vote may include those looking for alternative development, not just those who believe that development can be eliminated altogether. Isn't it ironic that we will have people voting no because they prefer development of the southwest corner of Baseline and 119th, and others who will vote no because the southeast corner is already too close for comfort?

This sort of split amongst the no vote only strengthens my conviction that failure of Issue A will lead us to nothing but much more confusion and frustration. If no prevails, there may always be a majority in the city that favors some form of development, but enough of that majority will disagree on whatever is envisioned at the time of annexation that a vote can be forced under the City Charter to successfully block the annexation.

While I don't agree with most of the substance Kerry Bensman has contributed here regarding Issue A, I do respect that he has taken the time to stand up and participate in the discourse. Our city leadership is not leadership without people who have the guts and conviction to engage the public, so councilors who have posted all deserve credit for exercising some leadership.

As to the substance of what Kerry has said, you can only stand up your strawman and knock him down so many times before the exercise becomes less than helpful.

I'm not sure anyone would have the patience to read page after page of analysis and rebuttal on issues of questionable relevance. If so, please let me know, because I have just that at the ready. The fact of the matter is that sales taxes have been made into a central issue by the proponents of Issue A, so Kerry has appointed himself to critique that argument just like I have serious concerns about the environmental claims being lobbed about so wantonly by opponents. So I do respect that critique, but at the same time, my point, from my perspective, has been that maybe the election shouldn't be decided on the basis of an issue that is not factually compelling. For Kerry to make a critique of the sales tax issue into a decisive reason to vote no is more than a bit of a stretch if you ask me, but I guess readers are welcome to judge that for themselves.

Issue A is about two annexation ordinances and one zoning ordinance. It is a referendum on land use. To that end, the City has guiding documents, taking into account many factors in determining appropriate future land uses as the city builds out.

When the 2003 Comp Plan update was adopted, it was very evident that Chuck Waneka was heartbroken at the way control of his property's future was being taken away from him. One can accuse the City of whatever they like for processing the Waneka annexation favorably, but it is a legitimate application that attempts to comply with a fairly radical prescription for a mix of uses and open space on the eastern flank.

The City's vision for the rest of the land on the eastern flank is ambitious, involving many valuable natural resources, open space corridors, community buffering, and trails. If Lafayette voters reject the path the City has set for itself (and there is no option to qualify a no vote otherwise), it is a real gamble that something better will happen as a result.

Anonymous said...

The Waneka's land is tilled farmland and not a wetland or other ecological gem. Who is behind the misrepresentation, is it PLEE? I know PLEE is the anti-annexation neighborhood group. I guess a PAC. Vote Yes for Lafayette is the group supporting annexation and there is another PAC called Friends and Neighbors Supporting Lafayette or something like that also for annexation. There is another group called Preserve Lafayette and I was told they are the same PLEE people using another name. It's confusing. Does anyone know if Preserve Lafayette is another PAC? Or are they a nonprofit group? They are collecting money. Dan?

Cyclorado said...

I think some new topics that you listed should springboard off of the annexation topic. For example, why are we discussing paving over an open field, when we could be actively redeveloping a burnt out corridor on S. Boulder Road. I don't really care to hear arguements about how these things are in the works, because it is becoming a too little too late project. It has been years since companies started fleeing these locations for better spots along 287. If Lowes built at the old Walmart site I bet just as many people would go there and that would jump start other development there. Here is where the city should be applying tax incentive. Instead they have wasted valuable tax resources making incentives to pave over new places and abandoning the ones that will take some work and investment. I don't think is a bad location, it's just old and in need of some updating.

This certainly doesn't preclude Chuck Waneka from developing his land in a manner that he sees fit and that matches the comp plan. The fact is, this land is NOT part of the city yet. Maybe this vote should be a referendum on where we should concentrate efforts at this time. As it stands this property is part of the county and is zoned Ag. The S. boulder Rd area is a commercial spot that needs a boost now.

Alex Schatz said...

Let's put it this way, if I were not extremely concerned at the potential for the open space program, especially on the eastern flank, to be thrown into a complete tailspin by the failure of Issue A, I probably wouldn't have the motivation to put up post after post, trying to honestly get to the heart of the matter.

We can spin this around every which way, but I can't emphasize enough that there is already an ambitious vision for the eastern edge of Lafayette. And the one thing that is sure to happen if Issue A fails is that all bets are off on getting the regulatory, funding, and land owner picture together on a track that will bring that vision to life.

Unless someone can devise a new process to come up with answers, we ought to stick with the process we have. I'm seeing a mix of development and open space, and I'm finally seeing people standing up (maybe) to support sub-area planning and the best possible development standards. The time is now to push for the best solution.

I cannot see the logic in saying that Chuck Waneka can and should develop his land in an appropriate manner, but just not right now. A great many assumptions are necessary to make that a sensible policy. Without any more detail provided, I have to say that I doubt that, everything else held equal, the timing of putting C-1 zoning at the southeast corner of 119th and Baseline is a major concern. Unless there is a plan for permanent preservation of the 32 acres, it doesn't seem to me that delaying development for the foreseeable future serves much purpose other than soliciting an endless progression of speculation about what is best for the City in that location.

I certainly don't subscribe to the idea that the annexation of 32 acres of Chuck Waneka’s greenfield land, two miles away, has much to do with the ability of the City to redevelop the Countryside Village site. Do we really need to break that down, or can we just agree that your proposal, Cyclorado, is not grounded in the mechanics of land use and real estate, but rather is intended as a message on priorities?

I cannot begrudge one for trying to send a message with a vote, but I also think we need to get real. If you want to send a message, the waters are pretty muddy if you're trying to attach it to the vote on Issue A. There's a lot of contradiction going around, a lot of self-deception, and a veritable potpourri of messages and slogans to choose from.

When I say we need something other than reactionary politics, this is what I’m talking about. If you want to send a message, do it in a context that makes sense.

As far as Issue A goes, a choice will be made in the end, and the City will go one direction or the other. There won't be a mass exodus or a plague of locusts if Issue A is approved, and the lights won't go out and criminals won't run rampant through the City streets if Issue A is disapproved. It's a yes or no choice, and people have every prerogative to make that choice on the basis of whatever misguided or petty criteria they choose to apply to the situation, pro or con. They also have the right to believe, as I do, that bigger things are at stake.

Though I do think a no vote is unwise, I'm not telling anyone how to vote. I will happily live in Lafayette with the result either way. It's just disappointing to see so much distortion at work on an issue that will ultimately determine what will happen on the entire eastern flank. Can anyone think straight with the squelch level turned up so high? This will be a tough choice for some, as you've acknowledged, Cyclorado.

What will truly be a shame is all this concern about everything under the sun in the City being laid to waste when someone thinks their cause is lost. If we're really talking about an election to determine priorities, the aftermath is where we will see if there is real conviction in the community. The alternative, I’m afraid, is that this campaign of high-minded debate and endless issues is nothing more than a subterfuge for obstruction at all costs.

Cyclorado said...

Well... we agree on a few things Alex. I don't think the town will fall apart either way, Yes or No. I do, however take, offense to you considering my opinion on the city's priorities as "misguided or petty". You claim that I have every right to support a No vote, yet insult the basis of it. We may not all have the insider edge on everything planned for the city, but others opinions do count! I don;t think I have tried to distort anything here. Maybe it takes someone who's head is outside of that process to see through the muddy water that is the thought process behind a lot of the haphazard development that is already happening here. I think you have stated this before, but I will reiterate, because the comp plan says this should be developed does not make it a done deal. I bet you could tell us about a number of propertied that were developed in exception to what the comp plan suggests.

My only question is, If this issue is clearly a done deal for the city, why did council put it up for a vote? A vote is needed and it's not as clear cut as you think.

I agree, also, that the squelch level is deafening. I just read the Lafayette News and I think I might pass out from the tension.

I was happy to see discussion in the Lafayette News about pushing the redevelopment of the old Albertson/Walmart site. Maybe we can call truce for a few weeks and discuss this, instead.

Alex Schatz said...

Cyclorado: I'll give you an example of pettiness, if that reference wasn't clear: People vote yes to spite Karen Norback, with no other reason; or, on the other hand, people vote no because they buy into all the innuendo that has been attached to personalities in the Chamber of Commerce or City Hall. That distinct set of possibilities was literally the basis of my comment.

I do think that kind of thing puts what is best for the City completely out of the picture, and I make no apologies if that is the basis of your no vote.

Somehow I had gathered that you were among the other group I referred to, being those people who think something bigger is at stake.

You do indeed have every right to vote however you see fit. My point is that no one will win if half of what has been raised as a concern is really a concern, but then people abandon all of it when the vote is over.

I do know this: If a property is going to be put to use other than as specified in the comp plan, it takes concerted action to make something different happen. The eastern flank differs from the type of comp plan problems we've seen before, though, because it is just so much land.

As you hopefully understand, I am in favor of more planning to figure out how to develop and preserve land in this area appropriately. So I do want to be clear why I cannot endorse the no vote. That is because the one thing that is established by the comp plan is a balance between development and open space. The consequence of throwing out the current plan will either be to push the City well beyond what can accomplished with the tools available or to compromise the vision we already have. At best, we end up right back where we are today.

And while voting no does not preclude the City from reaffirming or even attempting to somehow bolster the vision of balanced development, it does threaten to abolutely destroy good faith and forward momentum toward the goal. Those may sound like little words compared with all the lofty, weighty technical issues that have been thrown around, but they have everything to do with whether or not the City, people, wildlife, and so forth can really draw the most benefit from this land and all of its resources.

Also, short of what I believe to be an unattainable goal of preserving every acre on the eastern flank, pretty much every other concern that has been raised regarding Issue A can be resolved within the framework of what amounts to a few changes to some lines and text drawn on a map.

Alex Schatz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dreamer-believer said...

VISITIBILITY - What's the harm? It might not be possible to make every new home "visitable" due to sloping lots or other conditions, but what is the cost difference really in constructing a new home with wider doorways and hallways instead of standard? It can't be an outrageous amount of money, and the cost would be passed on during sale of the property, right? Which might be an affordable housing argument, but if the housing program were augmented to include an either/or on affordable/visitable, not just affordable, home builders would actually have more options and I think the community would benefit.

KERRY BENSMAN said...

Well folks, a lot of issues on the table. But a lot of them are based on myth and simply won't happen.

Let's take vis-it-ability. Really a laudable goal. But the reality is that the resolution passed by the council (I voted against) says ALL units must comply after a certain date. It was voted on with no staff work or legal work. If you watch the workshop and discussion, those requirements lead to less density per acre and some $20,000 increase in building costs (foundations and elevation are the real issues) which will push up the prices of the units, so much for affordable housing. As for after what date, developers are building now with approved plans and others are in the works. These developments will take ten years to build out. So what is the effective date? They will sue, by the way.

This uncertainty over the building code will exist for six months or more. New developers will wait per the Director of the Planning Department until this is all set in stone. Probably illegal but we will see. Or developers will move on to other towns. If development slows or halts for a while, the city forfeits revenue from building permits and use fees. So then we face financial problems.

As for the revdevelopment of the WM/Old Albertson's site, whoever comes to the table (if anyone) will drive the development. City Hall will have to come up with $5M to put in the infrastructure. Where will that come from? And with the building code up in the air for six months to eight months, who will think of housing units. So let's forget the 300 housing units for now - that's already dead.

Lot's of hope and myth. But the realities are harsh. Cause and effect. The devil is in the details. It's easy to be in denial of these things and not work this stuff through. But there is a domino effect and a lot of unintended consequences, many negative. Sorry, but that's the way it really is.

Anonymous said...

You've got to be kidding me. How much revenue are we going to lose because the coucil is considering this visitability program? Now how much revenue are we talking about passing up if Lowe's gets booted out of the City's picture? Get some real priorities. Your credibility as a fiscal conservative has been spent, Kerry, sorry.

dreamer-believer said...

Elevations and foundations I believe may present problems with some, not all lots. The 100% inclusion is ambitious, probably overly so. But I still like that analysis of the issue is moving forward.

I do agree with anonymous that bringing up concern over loss of development fees on one hand while arguing against a known large sales tax producer at the same time raises eyebrows. But I think Kerry is fairly consistent in just voting BANANA although his stated reasons run the gambit.

KERRY BENSMAN said...

Well, folks, since you intend to be anonymous, I don't know what kind of expertise you have in how the city budget works and what is going on these days.

What I will continue to point out is the oxymorons that exist and will continue to exist. In February, 2006, the city went on a budget freeze and cut $500,000 of expenses. It was six weeks after implementing a major compensation increase. That was due to a drop in building permits and use fees. It did not include any money for road repairs either. So throwing a wrench into residential development has that effect as well as reducing the amount of income that can be spent in town when new families live here. So if proponents of Lowe's are going to cite this $1M/yr sales tax revenue benefit, why at the same time not be concerned about tanking residential development for several years.

I also wonder how much money the city can afford on lawsuits these days.

And here is a question I'd like answers to? What should the city's position be if the annexation is approved an Lowe's askes for financial incentives as they did in Castle Rock last year?

Alex Schatz said...

Kerry, I was tuned into the visitability workshop and discussion. The Lafayette Planning Director did not say he would block residential applications. The threat of a lawsuit over potential "visitability" regulation is not only exaggeration at this point, it's completely unfounded.

For a guy who's made it his badge of honor to pore over every line of the City budget, I find the simplistic view offered in your comment puzzling. For one, residential building and use permits are a "non-renewable" resource, to use an anology, as a revenue stream. The Town of Erie, notably, got caught up in major budget problems when its dependence on exactly this type of revenue got them in trouble with the economic downturn and slow of housing starts a few years ago. Secondly, residential development is one of the most expensive land uses for a city to develop, in terms of costs into the future. Where a sales tax producer (also paying property taxes, directly or through a landlord) will generally be able to account for costs of General Fund services like police, code enforcement, etc., residential property taxes in Colorado do not account for an equivalent budget contribution. That's a well known fact.

Who knows what the politics will look like when visitability has some real flesh as a proposal. That's not really the case right now. For now, the juxtaposition of City finance and land use ought to be put into its proper context.

When the Lafayette Planning Commission looked at the very questions voters are being asked with Issue A - should the property be annexed, should it have commercial zoning - there was zero presentation of sales tax revenues, zero presentation of the odds of an application for an economic development agreement. That's because those details are not very relevant, if at all relevant, to the land use questions at hand. If we follow the comp plan, we don't have to have these kind of details and reinvent the wheel with every parcel of land brought into the city.

I've tried to be honest about my position on this entire issue, and it's time to lay it to rest, vote, and get on with our lives. People can (and will) choose to spin us in every possible direction to persuade us that they know what they're talking about. That doesn't change the fact that it is riskier to follow a blind path, a path that is defined only by an endless sequence of distractions and riddles, rather than a path that has some direction and purpose. I'm going to respect everyone's judgment about the path they are choosing and do my best to quit pretending that this debate is covering any new ground.

Frank Phillips said...

Unfortunately the facts are not much fun because they can't be spun with innuendo! The voters passed a growth cap of 200 residential building permits a year (with an additional 50/yr available if they fit the affordable housing requirements) a while back.
Keep in mind that was for new developments (any lots platted before 1993 are exempt).
The day that happened it should have been clear that permit revenue was history and the only way to make up for it (other than raising property taxes or significantly cutting city services) was to grow the economic base. Even though we have a number of new residential developments, the facts are that the total 200 permits per year have not been pulled in the last three years. The shortfall last year was partially due to fewer folks buying new cars, but the bigger hit was due to even less permits being pulled then estimated. The saving grace was that our sales tax revenues have continued to grow and offset some of the shortfall.
A well know fact by those in government and the development community is that residential housing does not proportionally pay enough (property taxes) to cover the cost of city services.
As to the visitibility issue, council gave staff direction on where to head with an ordinance with the clear understanding that there would be issues and exceptions that come to light with the development of this ordinance. We have already heard legal issues raised that we may only be able to apply this to developments that have not entered the formal planning process with the city. In this case Councilor Bensman is correct, from this perspective the impact will be nil until all the existing developments are built out (the monkeys will have to do something else with their wrenches).