Arvada

A look back at 2016: celebration, tragedy, challenges

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Arvada saw celebration and growth this year along with new challenges.

Community mainstays enjoyed a memorable year. The Arvada Center celebrated its 40th year and Red Rocks Community College Arvada campus offered new programs. Development is booming, including redevelopment in Olde Town Arvada.

At the ballot box residents passed a bond for the Apex Park and Recreation District and voted Democrat Rachel Zenzinger back into the Senate District 19 seat, but rejected the city’s proposal for a new transportation tax.

But the city also saw unhappy notes this year, including the death of an Arvada man fighting ISIS with the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit and a rise in the homeless population. Fires in older buildings also killed four people and brought city fire codes into question. The Gold Line commuter rail, which was supposed to bring people into town was delayed with no timeline on its opening.

1. Fires in Arvada buildings kill four, city codes questioned

In December, a Jefferson County grand jury began reviewing a May fire in Arvada that killed three people.

The fire happened early May 14 at 6152 Robb St., which was operated by Parker Personal Care Homes as a host home for developmentally disabled individuals.

A 39-year-old disabled woman, a young mother and her 4-year-old daughter died of smoke inhalation, according to the Jefferson County coroner’s report. The mother had burns to her airways and lungs.

Details about the fire, including any potential causes, have yet to be released by fire investigators or DA’s office. The home had been built in the 1960’s, meeting the safety codes of the time, but not including basement egress windows which modern safety experts recommend for every basement bedroom.

Other fires in older buildings also broke out throughout the year.

In the Jan. 2 fire of the Scenic Heights Professional Building at 6245 Wadsworth Blvd., in which substance abuse counselor John Rutter died, a fire department investigation listed the cause as undetermined.

The building, now torn down, was built in 1974 and had single-station smoke alarms — like those commonly installed in homes — rather than a fire alarm system required in many commercial structures today, Arvada Fire Marshal Kevin Ferry said.

A more updated system would have connected the alarms and all would have gone off at the first detection of smoke.

The building also had no sprinklers, now required now under city code for new buildings, depending on height, building occupancy and size. Sprinklers, Ferry said, add an increased level of protection for all buildings.

On Feb. 20, faulty wiring in a kitchen wall started a fire at Schoolhouse Kitchen and Libations, an American-style restaurant at 5660 Olde Wadsworth Blvd. in Olde Town Arvada.

Before opening, the restaurant had undergone a major renovation in the winter of 2014, which brought much of the building up to today’s safety standards. But the wall that caught fire was not part of the remodel, and the wiring inside was not required to be brought up to modern standards.

AAugust investigation by the Arvada Press found none of the buildings violated Arvada building, safety and fire codes. Those older buildings fell under previous codes’ less stringent safety requirements. But the report found these incidents reflect a national dilemma: Constantly evolving safety standards leave aging structures falling behind, with cities and property owners grappling with how to balance incremental safety improvements against expense, according to fire and building code experts.

The City of Arvada routinely evaluates and updates building, safety and fire codes every few years.

2. Arvada Center celebrates 40 years

With its three stages — the Main Stage Theatre, Black Box Theatre and Amphitheater — the Arvada Center has produced more than 170 musicals.

It was a big year for the center, celebrating its 40th anniversary as well as the transition from a city-run department to a full-fledged nonprofit.

Since its inception in 1976, the Arvada Center has been a department of the City of Arvada. Over the past 40 years, the city’s financial contribution — both in-kind and financial donations — to the center has grown to about $4 million a year. In the early 1990s, that contribution reached a high point, one that needed to be stabilized. That’s when the councils of the time, and several that followed, decided to research alternatives.

Those methods came to fruition this year with the center’s nonprofit status. Over the next five years, the center will operate as a nonprofit, taking over all programming, operations and fiscal responsibility.

3. Residents vote for Apex bond

With 14,294 votes, Arvada residents said `yes’ to six new recreational facilities in a special election this spring. And within the next 2 1/2 years, Apex Park and Recreation District residents will begin to see the renovation and creation of those facilities around the city.

The passing of the $25 million bond will extend the district’s current package for 20 years. This package will tax district residents $11 per every $100,000 of home value to pay an estimated $28.2 million for the six projects.

Projects include replacement of the Secrest Center, construction of the Fitzmorris Site Center/Pool, renovation of outdoor and indoor courts at Arvada Tennis Center, Lutz Sports Complex improvements, renovation of the Apex Center and a splash pad addition, and Long Lake Ranch Regional Park improvements.

4. Red Rocks Community College expands in Arvada

History was made at the Arvada Campus of Red Rocks Community College recently, when the newly rebuilt facility became the first community college in the nation to offer a master’s degree program.

The campus renovation and expansion, which took exactly one year and one month to complete, tripled the size of the campus adding approximately 54,000 square feet. The project cost $22.5 million and is the largest building campaign in the history of Red Rocks for either the Arvada or Lakewood campuses. A number of community organizations contributed — the State of Colorado invested $10 million, Red Rocks Community College Reserves invested $7.5 million, Community First Foundation and the City of Arvada each provided $1 million, $250,000 came from the Red Rocks Community College Foundation Board and $50,000 from the Caring for Colorado Foundation.

The school is expected to serve an additional 800 students seeking a career in health sciences.

5. Homelessness on the rise in Arvada

The growing population of homeless people in Arvada, particularly in Olde Town, is reflective of a metrowide issue that is seeing more and more homeless navigate to the suburbs following sweeps of homeless camps in Denver, city and police officials say.

In August, more than a dozen homeless people — who had been living along a stretch of Clear Creek Trail just north of I-76 between Arvada and Wheat Ridge — were relocated by a multi-agency partnership providing support and housing resources.

The largest homeless population in Arvada live in Olde Town, but Arvada Police Sgt. Kate Herrlinger said it spreads up to 80th Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard, where many are living in vehicles. There also are homeless camps underneath Interstate 70 near Wadsworth Boulevard, Herrlinger said, which have between eight and 10 people at any given time.

One of the biggest initiatives the police department is working on is creating a severe weather shelter similar to one in South Jeffco that is comprised of a group of churches that provide shelter on cold nights, on a rotating basis.

6. Arvada man who died fighting ISIS comes home

After weeks of strenuous planning on the part of several departments in the U.S. and abroad, the bodies of Levi Shirley, of Arvada, and two other Americans, including one from Castle Rock, finally made it home on Sept. 16. All three died fighting ISIS with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a militia group in Syria.

Shirley was killed by a land mine on July 14.

Shirley’s mother, Susan, recalled learning about Levi’s death on July 19, days after he had died. It is the call Susan said she’ll never forget. Susan described Levi as her fearless son, who was never deterred by things that scared the average person.

7. Road projects on hold after tax failure

This November, Arvada voters rejected Ballot Measure 2G — the proposed half-cent sales tax increase that would have generated approximately $9 million annually for street maintenance and repairs.

The more than 55 percent of `no’ votes sent the message that the city needs to figure out how to make those improvements without raising taxes and within existing resources, City Manager Mark Deven said.

Specific road projects 2G would have paid for included widening existing lanes and improving sidewalks on Ralston Road between Yukon Street and Garrison Street, and adding lanes and sidewalks on West 72 Avenue between Simms Street and Ward Road.

Those projects, Deven said, are now on hold. Moving forward, city council and city staff will explore how funds might be redirected to meet street maintenance needs.

8. Zenzinger wins Senate District 19 race

In the race for Senate District 19, Democrat challenger Rachel Zenzinger narrowly beat Republican incumbent Laura Woods.

Zenzinger was appointed to the seat before losing to Woods in the 2014 general election.

District 19 includes the western half of Westminster, and the eastern and central parts of Arvada.

This year’s race was touted by pundits to be one of the most fiercely contested of the year, based on previous races and the evenly balanced number of registered district voters

Zenzinger described the race as uglier than anticipated. She filed a criminal complaint against Colorado Citizens for an Accountable Government, which is not affiliated with Woods’ campaign, to halt a direct mail campaign in which it accused Zenzinger of wanting to use Arvada city money to pay for a trip to China that she says is false. The Jefferson County District Attorney’s office investigation into the ads is ongoing.

9. Commuter rail in Arvada delayed

The 11-mile Gold Line commuter rail connecting Denver Union Station to Wheat Ridge, via Arvada and Adams County, was expected to be completed this fall, but RTD officials now say it won’t open until 2017.

The G Line is being built and managed by Denver Transit Partners, which has been under fire for its handling of the University of Colorado A Line to Denver International Airport.

The problems stem from a software glitch that causes the crossing arms at at-grade crossings to come down too early and stay down too long.

Currently, the RTD A Line, which opened in April, and the B Line to Westminster, which opened in July, are operating on a waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration. Flaggers, who are paid by the contractor, are stationed at the crossings to ensure public safety. These lines are on waiver through February, while the software glitch is worked out.

The G Line will not open until the A Line and B Line are fixed.

10. Development booms

About 40 years ago, Olde Town Arvada had a few staple businesses, such as the Army Navy Surplus store and Rheinlander Bakery. But many storefronts in the city’s historic heart stood empty or showcased antiques, attracting few to wander its streets.

The metaphorical tumbleweed blew down the road for decades, longtime residents say.

But not anymore.

Business owners and city leaders credit a handful of factors in the area’s rebirth: a thriving mix of entrepreneurs, an influx of young professionals and families, and a series of infrastructure improvements to attract shoppers and residents.

New arrivals include American-style restaurants, such as Steuben’s Arvada and Homegrown Tap and Dough, alongside specialty bars and brew pubs like Kline’s Beer Hall and New Image Brewing Company.

In August, Denver Beer Co. announced it will take over the old Craig Chevrolet Dealership building on Olde Wadsworth for its newest tap room.

Arvada’s oldest building was also restored and opened as Gallery 1874, a fine art gallery and event space in October. And Hunter Bay Coffee Roasters opened in December.

Arvada Marketplace, located at Wadsworth Bypass and West 52nd Avenue, is also getting a makeover. Pine Tree, the center’s new owners, has signed leases with four new fast-casual restaurants — Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar, Smash Burger, Pie Five Pizza and Costa Vida, which will all be on the center’s west end.

Last summer, development also began on the northwest corner of the Arvada Square shopping plaza with the redevelopment project, the Shops at Ralston Creek — the first phase of development in the Arvada triangle area at Ralston Road and 58th Avenue.

The mixed-use area, currently occupied by the now-closed Big O’Tires and the liquor store, will include one- and two-story buildings, which will have outdoor patio seating and a rooftop deck for a potential brewpub. It will also be bike and pedestrian friendly, including 54 bike parking spots, 156 vehicle parking spaces and a new streetscape.

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