ARVADA – A citizens group aimed at stopping an urban renewal plan dubbed “the $30 land deal,” are questioning executive sessions being held by city government in response to its efforts.
Arvada For All the People has started a petition drive to amend the city charter, specifically the sections dealing with the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority (AURA).
According to the group’s website, a deal with a developer by AURA to sell land valued at millions of dollars at an “already traffic-congested Wadsworth Bypass and 56th Avenue” for just $30, sparked outrage.
“Lack of city council response to the deal has now generated this petition drive to bring more democracy and accountability to City Hall,” the site says.
The proposed amendment would require voter approval before the city could sell publicly owned land to private parties when the land is valued at more than $1 million and before the city could offer sales and/or property tax subsidies/incentives (Tax Increment Financing) to private parties when those subsidies are more than $2.5 million.
The petition was started after the Arvada City Council agreed to sell 9 acres of land that is currently a parking lot near the soon-to-be up and running RTD G-Line to a developer for high density apartments in the historic district of Arvada.
The mayor of Arvada, Marc Williams, who is also on AURA, has called the deal an “investment” not a sale. According to a FOX 31 report. The land is valued at nearly $6 million.
He called it a “partnership with the taxpayers,” but one of the petition organizers, Dave Chandler, says it’s a subsidy.
“There seems to be radiating from the city council an attitude that once elected, members are finished with their duty to represent us and speak out on behalf of the people,” the group’s website says. “In office, they appear to adopt the notion that they, themselves, always know what is best for us and that ongoing dialogue and communication with the people is more nuisance than obligation.”
The group has 90 days to collect about 13,000 signatures from the near 87,000 registered Arvada voters.
Chandler said these ordinances could be enacted at any time by the council on its own without going to a vote of the people, but suspects the mayor is actively working to avoid that.
The city council on July 31 held an executive session to receive legal advice about the petition. Executive sessions are closed to the public. Chandler’s group asked for the session to be recorded, but Maria VanderKolk, communication’s director for Arvada told Complete Colorado it was not because under state law, executive sessions that involve attorney client privilege are not required to be recorded.
Although technically correct, the fact the city continues to hold meetings outside the public’s view about a petition attempt bothers Chandler’s group. In fact, the city held a second one, August 14 about “Instructions to Negotiators, Pursuant to CRS 26-6-402(4)(e) Relating to Instructions to AURA.”
Chandler’s group again asked that the executive session be recorded, pointing out that under Colorado law an executive session requires “identification of the particular matter to be discussed in as much detail as possible,” and that the “mere presence or participation” of an attorney at a meeting of a public body doesn’t justify an executive session.
The group also claims the reason given for the session was lacking the details sufficient to put it behind closed doors. State law says executive sessions must be as detailed as possible.
VanderKolk said the city follows all open meetings’ laws when considering whether to record.
“The City of Arvada records executive sessions when the statutes require us to record them,” VanderKolk said. “All executive sessions are recorded unless it involves legal advice or security arrangements. The executive session on August 14 was called for the purpose of Instructions to Negotiators, Pursuant to C.R.S. 24-6-402(4)(e) The portion of the executive session that was for Instructions to Negotiators was recorded, in accordance with C.R.S. 24-6-402(2)(d.5)(I)(A).”
The group says on its website that the petition is about more than just the recent $30 deal.
“The unelected Arvada Urban Renewal Authority board and the city council have actually committed to giving away nearly $50 million in tax revenue and land to private, for-profit corporations and developers,” the site says. “From the minimum value of $6 million for the $30 land deal to $6 million in sales tax rebates to Walmart to the $7.2 million rebated to the Solana apartment developers, Arvada government has been on a spree of self-aggrandizement through manipulating and distorting the free market with taxpayer dollars.”
The Arvada effort is not the first time citizens have sought to address urban renewal issues at the ballot box. In 2015, voters in Littleton passed a citizen-led measure requiring voter approval for any urban renewal plan utilizing Tax Increment Financing. Also in 2015, voters in Wheat Ridge passed a measure requiring, among other things, voter approval for any Tax Increment Financing package over $2.5 million.