Aurora lawmakers cite developer in delaying action on East Bank project


AURORA | City lawmakers have put the brakes on plans to turn part of the fading East Bank Shopping Center in southwest Aurora into an apartment complex, questioning what will happen to existing retail tenants.

Lone council opposition to halting the project came from Mayor Mike Coffman, who said the city council was interfering in private business.

While neighbors of the project focused their complaints on the 610-foot length of the proposed apartment building, which would require a variance from code of about 410 feet, council members said they didn’t believe the development team had done enough to relocate current businesses, such as Pet Palace and Second Chance Bicycle Shop, which would be displaced.

“I don’t think you’re going to be winning landlord of the year,” Councilmember Steve Sundberg said to officials from property owner Kimco. “I think you’re a big, aloof corporate place that doesn’t really appreciate long-term tenants.”

Tausha Wells of Pet Palace told the council her business had signed a letter of intent to relocate within the center but added that “this has been a very stressful time for everyone involved in this project.”

“The fact that these conversations started nine months ago, and here we are at the eleventh hour, and (Kimco’s) longest standing tenant is not in a lease is a huge letdown,” said Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky.

She moved successfully to delay until March 28 the council’s vote on the project, technically an appeal by neighborhood opponents of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision a month earlier to approve the site plan with the variance for building length.

On the other side of the aisle, Councilmember Juan Marcano, too, said he was uncomfortable giving the project his blessing without ensuring existing businesses were taken care of.

“I don’t want to sign a death warrant for some small businesses here,” Marcano said.

In response to questions from Marcano, City Attorney Daniel Brotzman said the city would work with the project sponsors to see whether there was additional information they would be comfortable sharing in executive session.

Built in 1980, the East Bank Shopping Center was acquired by its current owner in 1989. Businesses such as Albertsons, 24 Hour Fitness and Colorado Fabrics have called the center home over the years, but recently it has struggled to keep large retail spaces filled.

The redevelopment would affect about 95,000 of the shopping center along South Atchison Way, replacing it with a four-story, 311-unit apartment complex and parking garage.

Marcus Pachner, a lobbyist associated with the Pachner Company who presented alongside project sponsors, argued that the developers had paid close attention to neighborhood concerns and offered to meet with all impacted businesses, mentioning how they walked back early plans to close the northeast access to South Atchison Way in response to neighborhood outcry.

“The neighbors have done a remarkable job,” Pachner said. “They have influenced the design of every edge of this building.”

Many neighbors who spoke Monday criticized the proposed redevelopment — Bill VanSickle, who led the appellant presentation, called the proposed building “monolithic.” Project sponsors pointed out that one of the existing buildings that overlaps the footprint of the redevelopment is more than 900 feet long.

Pachner said the developer believed that neighbors speaking in opposition to the project weren’t willing to engage with them seriously, adding that, after the debate over the Atchison access, “we lost the neighborhood then, and they’ve never come back.”

He and some neighboring businesses characterized the apartments as a new “residential anchor” attracting visitors to the center.

“The reason tenants have not been able to survive here is there are no (major retail) anchors,” Pachner said. “There is no doubt that a dying center is the worst thing that can happen to those businesses.”

Pachner also pointed to the letter of intent with Pet Palace as proof that the property owner is interested in working with existing tenants. Regarding Second Chance Bicycle Shop, which would be bumped out of its space by Pet Palace, Pachner said the project team was “going to work to” find somewhere for the shop to go.

The shop reconditions donated bikes, often hiring people without homes to do the work, and then donates the bikes to children and others in need.

Mayor Mike Coffman echoed Pachner’s comments about the importance of redeveloping the center and accused the rest of council of being “invasive” regarding the developer’s relationship with tenants. 

“So much for free market economics,” he said. “The worst thing that can happen tonight is nothing.”

Regardless, council members voted unanimously to continue the public hearing on the appeal to March 28.

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Bob Garcia
Bob Garcia
9 months ago

readers would have benefitted from a bit of information on the current zoning/ variances.

generally though I have great concern over the introduction of a significant amount of daily vehicle trips into a highly congested intersection.

kudos to council for a united position!

9 months ago

Mayor Coffman, has the prerogative to object to the councils stay on their vote.  His  reasoning however, it’s a “private” matter comes as  a stretch. The planning dept good faith decisions we rely on as  part of the process.  For the Aurora planning staff to “unanimously” agree to some project that is non-conforming to city code and is currently a direct code violation where  without a variance fails owed to  code default. But planning has no worries, is a strange perspective. 
There is two sides to the story. The citizens are also part of this equation. This “private” matter needs the citizens input. It appears they don’t trust the city planning department and for good reason, inconsistent code oversight for one. If this project is allowed to fly-by the checks and balance in place so easy what is planning looking at? The next project in Aurora that the developer wishes to stretch the code using creative variances is also most interested in the elasticity of the planning department. Council on this significant  land redevelopment   is working as the last Gov.  check and balance.