EDITORIAL: Aurora lawmakers need to stick to city business when ruling on private projects

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A map of East Bank. The 311-unit apartment building would replace a section of a partially-vacant commercial center in the East Bank Shopping Center, northeast of Parker Road and Quincy Avenue.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this editorial said that some residential apartments in the mixed-use development were atop commercial development at East Bank. The commercial units are adjacent to apartments, not atop. The Sentinel regrets the error. 

Few places find the bedfellows stranger than in the Aurora political scene.

That quirky reality manifested recently during an Aurora City Council meeting where arch conservatives joined with passionate liberals in thwarting a sizable strip-mall redevelopment project that most lawmakers deemed “unfair” to existing retail tenants.

Probably just as strange is that The Sentinel Editorial Board finds itself in solid agreement with the lone city dais dissenter on halting the project: Mayor Mike Coffman.

The Sentinel editorial board has found itself at odds recently with Coffman’s plans for homeless sweeps and resistance to local campaign reform.

But we stand behind the mayor in his observation as the city council halted the redevelopment of the East Bank strip mall into a mix of residential and commercial uses.

“So much for free market economics,” he said during the Feb. 14 meeting.

The project encompasses the failing East Bank strip mall at Parker Road and East Quincy Avenue. Once a giant mix of grocery stores, restaurants, shops and even an athletic club, the pandemic has accelerated a plague of terminal vacancies in the center.

Imitating what’s been successful at similar dying shopping malls across the metro area, East Bank owners have for months been working on a redevelopment that would essentially raze what’s there now and rebuild it with a 311-apartment project with four-stories of homes adjacent to space for restaurants and shops below.

The project originally drew ire from existing residential neighbors, concerned about the size of the apartment complex abutting a single-home residential area.

But what drew a yellow flag from city lawmakers last week was how East Bank developer Kimco would handle commercial lease arrangements with existing retail tenants, such as Pet Palace and the Second Chance Bicycle Shop. Both have indicated that either price or position in the redevelopment may put them out of business.

That drew scolding from conservative and liberal city lawmakers alike.

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

Progressive Councilmember Juan Marcano joined in.

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

We appreciate concern for small business owners, many of which have gotten little but bad news since even before the pandemic began. But there’s little doubt that sympathetic city lawmakers should hand out anything other than advice on the matter.

The city council’s job here is to ensure Kimco has complied with all of the city regulations, zoning requirements and building rules. Accommodating tenant requests or needs is outside the city’s purview.

We’re not siding here with Kimco on how they’re handling lease contracts with tenants. That’s a job for the courts, mediators or the particulars to the contract.

And we’re not so naive as to not understand that Kimco could lure council votes for its project by having existing tenants endorse the redevelopment plan rather than oppose it. But Aurora lawmakers have no grounds to deny the project for acting like an “aloof corporate place that doesn’t really appreciate long-term tenants.”

At the same time, new conservatives on the city council are pressing for the city to hold a series of public hearings soliciting from businesses what Aurora can do better to ease the way of commerce in the city, and what things Aurora does that are impediments to getting business done.

Here’s a good place to start. Don’t let the city council interfere in private business matters and impose expensive and difficult delays on getting business done.

Coffman is right. If the project is compliant with city requirements, it warrants city council approval. If lawmakers are concerned about current tenants, there are numerous local government and private resources to mediate a solution.

But allowing the city council to determine the right way and the wrong way for private business to do business is nothing but bad business.

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Dean
6 months ago

Every time a developer has come up with some concept it has to go to city planning. The Sentinel writers completely discount the fact the city planners, city employees that call themselves professionals could care less about required building codes covered in this project. There was elementary code deviation and what looked like a short circuiting of regulations.  Anytime there is a zoning or a variance hearing for the benefit of the Sentinel authors, a public hearing is posted. The publics input is requested, an option for the public. In this case the public did come out and flat out take a stand. This time these folks were record numbers strong.  It’s now my presumption Mayor Coffman, is unaware of this particular public process, as is the author of this misguided judgement piece on councils delay of the land development.  It is strange however, to discover that the council, both sides joined together, broke this down to the basics to think the process has provided rational restrictions, politics had nothing to do with it.  Thus, they concluded together, and wanted more discussion and discovery on the issue. That alone should have indicated planning departed from the norm, and a comprehensive reverse of course was in order as the only option.  Be that as it may, it’s clear one of the two parties is still wondering, what’s going on.                

Good Citizen
Good Citizen
6 months ago
Reply to  Dean

“There was elementary code deviation and what looked like a short circuiting of regulations.”

Present proof and specifics. If you can, I can join your ranks.

If you can’t, well you shouldn’t really lie in a public forum

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
6 months ago
Reply to  Dean

Most cities cave to developers, and Aurora is among the worst. All they see is dollar signs and they get all ga-ga. And then they look at the fancy, beautiful drawings that look just wonderful and trip over themselves to grant approval. I wonder if the so-called “planners” actually learned anything in school or dig deeper into the plans. And once approved, let the plan changes and amendments begin! Few know how easy it is to make an “administrative amendment” to a site plan without anyone’s involvement other than the developer’s. It happened in our community when the developer went in and hand wrote changes on the site plan, and some of them were substantive. Then the plan as approved by Council was not complied with and no one at the City seems to care. But move or remove a tree and watch what happens!

But realizing its error, the Planning Department did deny future developments by this developer based on lobbying by our homeowners. Good for us, although too late to help our project.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
6 months ago

But doesn’t the Council have the right–even the duty–to protect the interests of the people vis-a-vis big developers? Doesn’t it have the right to decide which businesses will be allowed? Denver does. That’s why there is no Walmart in the city limits. And isn’t this what happened in Arvada a few years ago in a kerfuffle between the citizens and Walmart?

Helen
Helen
6 months ago

Good business does not necessarily make good government. There is a reason the surrounding neighborhoods are in an uproar about this development. So it is refreshing to see city council might actually be listening to its constituents.

Publius
Publius
6 months ago

Zoning laws and site plans create reasonable expectancies both within the planned area and with its neighbors. Folk buying into a neighborhood look around it. They check the zoning and the planning for the area. Realtors sell that expectation and the city is fully aware of this and they actually participate in selling those expectations as they too market Aurora’s neighborhoods. Then, when a powerful developer, usually not an Aurora based company, comes around and says to the city that they, the developer, can make a lot of money if only the city will change its zoning and sell out the very expectations the city helped create the usual outcome is that the city agrees to do so. One might ask why? Why would the city sell out the expectations of its residents to assist out of state companies to make profit by abusing the dreams and reasonable expectations of residents. What could be incentivizing selling out residents, voters? It must be some powerful incentive. What could it be?$?$?