Arvada City Council approved the redevelopment of the Arvada Plaza to include a full Wal-Mart store following a public hearing.
Council approved the plans 6-1 at about 12:35 a.m. Tuesday, July 16, with Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Zenzinger voting against the motion. Hundreds of people gathered at City Hall for the public hearing at 6:30 p.m., Monday, July 15. The conditional-use permit for a financial institution with a drive-through passed 7-0.
The council chambers and two overflow rooms were filled throughout the night as 16 people, including Arvada Chamber of Commerce President Dot Wright, spoke in favor of the redevelopment, and 35 individuals and the organized group Stop Arvada Walmart spoke in opposition.
An additional 41 in support and 306 opposed signed in, but did not wish to speak.
Residents voiced their opinions following a presentation by the owner and developer Industrial Realty Group (IRG) of Torrance, Calif., discussion of the Wal-Mart’s preliminary development plans and a presentation by Arvada Urban Renewal Authority Executive Director Maureen Phair outlining the public-private partnership.
“I’ve watched the blight for several years in this area and when Wal-Mart stepped up to the plate, I was flabbergasted,” said resident Eddie Lyons, who lives within a few blocks of the location. “I couldn’t believe that someone in these days had the courage to come into our city and take a hold of it … you don’t realize blight until it goes away. I am totally supporting Maureen’s engine. Get on it full-steam ahead, and get some money for our recreation. I love the idea of a recreation site on the north side of Ralston Road. We need to get these things going, and now is the time to get in there and do it.”
With the public-private partnership that was approved by council 6-1 with Zenzinger voting no, AURA will be refunding $5.8 million to IRG to help fund the $9.1 million in public improvements being made to the city by IRG.
Public improvements include remediation, site preparation, demolition, storm drainage, sewer lines, retaining walls, relocation of power lines, the widening of Ralston Road and Independence Street, the narrowing of 57th Avenue, streetscape and consultants.
The 3 percent public improvement fee, or PIF, is collected in lieu of the city’s 3 percent portion of the sales tax and will be refunded to IRG once the store is operating.
IRG is fronting all costs for the improvements and will contribute $3.3 million to the projects. Once the store is operating, AURA will have up to 12 years to refund the developer; the payback will not exceed $5.8 million.
Once the PIF is paid off, AURA will then collect the 3 percent sales tax as long as the area is an urban renewal district. Phair said the plan is to use those funds as a financial engine to help fund the redevelopment of the north side of Ralston Road that is part of the Arvada Triangle to include mixed-use development including retail, residential and possibly a recreation center.
Residents opposed to the redevelopment plans shared a slew of concerns with city council during the public testimony, including traffic issues, increases in crime, the fact that exceptions were made to Land Development Code criteria to allow the development, the effect it will have on surrounding businesses, the risk of Arvada losing its charm and opposition to some of the anchor store’s business practices.
Cindi Kreutzer, a founding member of Stop Arvada Walmart, which had more than 340 likes on Facebook as of press time, said she is personally opposed to the redevelopment for two reasons — traffic and crime.
“If you saw those photographs showing the differences between intersections looking at every other Wal-Mart in town, it’s not an appropriate place for any big-box store,” Kreutzer said. “Until there’s an improved street system, it does not fit in that location. Variances make if fit. Any big-box store, particularly Wal-Mart, brings additional crime. I don’t want crime and traffic right out my front door.”
“I don’t appreciate the way they do business and don’t shop there, but that’s not my biggest concerns,” Kreutzer continued. “We represent a large group of people with varying concerns, not just mine, and it’s not fair that those six people could hear the words of the majority of people who live in town and feel that way. They voted against the people they represent and that’s wrong.”
District 3 Councilwoman Shelley Cook, representative for the area that includes the Arvada Triangle, moved to pass the four items to allow a stand-alone financial institution with a drive-thru, approved the Wal-Mart preliminary development plan and to allow for the PIF to be collected and reimbursed to IRG.
Cook said her goal is to see the mixed-use development plan built on the north side and this is a way to make that possible — just as the big box stores near Interstate 70, including Costco and Sam’s Club, made the redevelopment of the Olde Town Arvada urban renewal area possible in the 1980s.
“I have advocated long for the kinds of development that have been brought as the ideal for this parcel,” Cook said. “When I was first involved in this term, I was not thrilled with the idea of a large format retailer. I’ve come around to the idea we’ve adopted.”
The Outline Development Plan, which includes some type of large format retailer at the current Arvada Plaza, was adopted by council in 2011.
“The ODP shows not only what we want to see, but how we’re going to get there,” Cook said. “Maureen talked about the plan for the north side and that’s really what I would like to see … it’s the kind of develop you’re all really taking about. The question is how do we do it? We just couldn’t get going — not just funds, but we couldn’t muster the interest to get that plan in place.”
Cook said seeing the success of the large format retailers such as Costco and Sam’s Club in helping redevelop Olde Town, she believes the Wal-Mart revenues can help make the mixed-use redevelopment of the north side of Ralston possible.
“Given that example, I think maybe it could work,” she said. “Maybe we could use this south side and make the north side possible. I couldn’t see it happening if we didn’t get the ball rolling, and since we have an example of where it really did work, I thought I kind of have to subscribe to that … I know (some residents) are not happy. It’s hard for me because many of the people who testified I feel like I’m kindred spirits with, but that’s where I’m coming from.”
Zenzinger, who voted against the preliminary development plan and the PIF, said she voted against the proposal because it does not meet the mixed-use criteria of the ODP.
“That plan is one that I voted for because I liked key elements of it such as the mixed-use emphasis, the pedestrian-friendly quality, the way that it embraced the community, and most importantly, I thought it was a plan that most Arvada residents — including immediate neighbors — wanted,” Zenzinger said. “I would consider abandoning that plan if I thought that community sentiment had shifted dramatically. But I see no such shift. Instead, I see a huge outcry from community representatives who insist that we stay the course … I don’t see the blend here, and that’s one huge reason I don’t think the proposal meets the criteria and why I am voting against it. Realistically, we will get one shot at developing this area, and Arvada deserves a better chance of making it successful.”
Though the ordinances and preliminary development plan were passed 6-1, Kreutzer said she and many others with Stop Arvada Walmart will not give up.
“We’ll regroup and figure out what we’re going to do,” she said. “It’s a matter of figuring out where we are and where we stand. Some people do believe it’s over. I’m convinced it’s not. I’ve never been political or a civil activist. I presumed elected officials were doing their jobs. At 54 I learned that’s not true. It’s got me started now and I don’t give up easily.”
The next step in the redevelopment phase is finalizing the plan, said Arvada Communications Manager Wendy Forbes.
“It’s conducted by internal staff members with the developer,” Forbes said. “All questions raised by council, such as a pocket park and the sidewalk, will be fine-tuned over a period time.”
Forbes said the final plan will not look much different than the preliminary plan, just cleaner and clearer.
No type of remediation or demolition will occur until the plan is finalized, which is expected to be by the first quarter of 2014.
The store is expected to open in 2015.
For more information about the Arvada Plaza redevelopment and the Arvada Triangle, visit www.ArvadaTriangle.org.