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Opportunities explored along Littleton's Belleview corridor

Columbine Square, traffic are among topics of concern

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More than 100 neighbors accepted the city's invitation to discuss the future of the Belleview corridor at St. James Presbyterian Church on Feb. 5, a meeting that was part of a larger effort to flesh out a future for a piece of Littleton that has received little attention amid an economic and population boom that has reshaped much of the city.

The city defines the Belleview corridor as the chunk of Littleton west of Santa Fe Drive, north of Berry Avenue, east of Bow Mar, and south of Union Avenue. The area is largely the domain of big-box retailers, home to Lowe's, Home Depot and King Soopers.

Much of the talk at the meeting, though, centered on one spot: Columbine Square Shopping Center, a long-derelict strip mall that for the past four years has sat vacant, accruing broken windows and graffiti. A fire allegedly started by transients last month destroyed one of the buildings on the site and breathed new life into efforts to demolish the rest.

“We've got to get Columbine Square down to the dirt,” said Patrick Driscoll, the city councilmember who represents the area, after a lengthy roundtable discussion with area residents. “It's not only an eyesore but a hazard.”

Driscoll said he'd like to see the shopping center replaced with “mixed-use retail and commercial space.” He said that neighbors he spoke to are largely opposed to the idea of high-density housing on the site, many citing concerns over traffic and school crowding.

No formal applications for redevelopment at Columbine Square have been submitted to the city. If all goes according to plan, the site will be bulldozed by the end of this month.

Plan for the best

The meeting was the second step in a process, begun last summer at the direction of city council, to create a comprehensive planning document to guide development efforts in the area, according to documents provided at the meeting. City staff met with area stakeholders last fall to gather input on the corridor's assets and challenges.

Numerous city staff and councilmembers were in attendance at the Feb. 5 open house, seeking feedback on the initial findings. Responses garnered will be presented to a joint study session of city council and the city's planning commission on Feb. 26. A finalized plan is slated to be adopted by this fall.

The plan is intended to be used as a reference for city staff, the planning commission and city council to review and consider development proposals in the corridor, according to documents provided at the meeting, as well as a reference for developers and property owners seeking guidance on desired uses and characteristics for the area.

Public input is the cornerstone of the project, said Littleton Senior Planner Dennis Swain.

“We don't want to just go ahead and leave behind something we should have done,” Swain said. “I'm amazed by how many people showed up.”

Other concerns

Many attendees aired grievances over Columbine Square, or expressed apprehension at what would come next.

“We live really close to Columbine Square, and we don't want condos or multifamily housing,” said Hillary Wittenhagen, a young mother who recently moved with her partner, Reed Perry, to a house on Irving Street, just west of the shopping center. “We get beautiful morning sun, and tall buildings would take that from us. I'd love to see a park there, or even just some shops with a nice fountain — someplace to walk my baby to.”

Though Columbine Square topped the list of concerns for many attendees, concerns over traffic and pedestrian safety were close runners-up.

“This area is the redheaded stepchild of Littleton,” said Heather Peterson, who said she's lived in the neighborhood for a decade. “All the high schools, the library, the rec centers are on the other side of Santa Fe. It's unpleasant and unsafe to walk along Belleview. You really have to drive to get anywhere worth going.”

Visions of the future

Placards set up around the room displayed findings from previous corridor planning meetings regarding existing conditions and future visions for the area.

The corridor's condition presents numerous challenges toward redevelopment: a lack of vacant land for new builds, an auto-dependent land-use pattern, and antiquated zoning in the corridor's eastern half that doesn't reflect current market trends. The region also suffers a mish-mash of pedestrian accessibility amid a landscape designed for cars rather than people.

The corridor lacks a sense of identity or character, according to the findings, and the preponderance of aging single-family homes on relatively large lots could make the area susceptible to “scrape-off” development that could alter the “feel” of the neighborhood.

The corridor's current condition offers opportunities as well, though. O'Toole's Garden Center, just south of Columbine Square, is viewed as a community institution and regional draw that could help attract other retailers. The South Platte River, which flows along the corridor's eastern edge, offers a desirable recreational amenity. Aging shopping centers along the length of the corridor could see renewed redevelopment interest in a strong economy poised for further growth.

Building on the corridor's existing conditions, the project's initial findings establish a series of goals or visions for the future.

First is to create a distinctive identity for the corridor through the use of branding, wayfinding signage, landscaping, and building design principles that comport with the neighborhood.

Other goals include drawing more neighborhood-focused retail and encouraging development and engagement of the riverfront.

Additional information and feedback forms are available at littletonplans.org and openlittleton.org.

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