A group of residents from the Golden Heights and Golden Hills neighborhoods have begun circulating a citizen petition that would change the zoning of the embattled Golden Overlook property to allow …
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A group of residents from the Golden Heights and Golden Hills neighborhoods have begun circulating a citizen petition that would change the zoning of the embattled Golden Overlook property to allow for commercial solar energy, hiking trails and three other non-commercial uses.
That move comes after the Golden City Council voted 6-1 last July to zone the site for commercial uses. The site’s owner, Jim Blumenthal, is seeking to build self-storage units and other storage or business space on a portion of the property, which was already zoned for residential units but had not seen any such development.
The Golden Overlook is a 27-acre property located between the residential neighborhoods of Golden Heights and Golden Hills on Green Mountain and the interchange of I-70 and C-470. The space, which is considered by many to be a picturesque site when approached from the west, has been mired in controversy since Blumenthal bought it in 2000 with plans to relocate the Trailer Source RV dealership he owns to the overlook.
The July vote came after the Golden Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend that the council deny the request to rezone the property for commercial use. However, Golden Mayor Marjorie Sloan said the developer came to the council with a revised plan that included a reduction of the size of some of the storage buildings and other changes she said will limit the impact of the development.
Residents concerned about traffic
The residents behind the petition say they are trying to protect their neighborhoods from the impact of the planned development, which would bring 740 additional daily car trips to the neighborhood according to developer estimates. All of that traffic would access the overlook site via Fourth Avenue, the only street access.
Debbie Morrison, one of the residents behind the petition, says that additional traffic threatens not only neighborhood character and quality of life but also the safety of residents.
“If an emergency were to happen and Fourth Avenue were blocked there is no other way out of the neighborhood,” said Morrison. “How safe is that?”
Residents have also raised concerns about the negative impact of developing an open space that is used by bikers and walkers and backs up to Green Mountain, although Morrison said the petitioners are motivated by traffic concerns and not a desire to see the space remain open.
The group argues placing commercial solar generation facilities on the site would be an appropriate use that would allow it to generate commercial value for Blumenthal without bringing additional traffic to the community.
The residents have until May 12, which is six months from when the city clerk accepted the petition, to collect the 1,400 signatures necessary to get the measure on the November ballot for city residents.
Memo warns financial risk
Members of Golden’s government, have publicly come out against the petition with warnings to residents that restricting the site’s zoning to the five uses mentioned in the lawsuit would likely lead to a lawsuit that could cost the city millions of dollars.
In a memo to the city council posted to the city’s Guided Golden website, Golden city attorney David S. Williamson suggests it is likely the courts would find the rezoning of the property to constitute a “taking” under the constitution for which the city would need to compensate Blumenthal.
The memo notes that the rezoning could be viewed unfavorably by the courts because Blumenthal has followed the city’s public process to determine appropriate uses for the land three times over the last 20 years, while the rezoning would leave him with few options for use of the property. Most of the remaining uses would be considered “public uses” which Williamson argued would expose the city to liability for the taking.
On Dec. 8, Golden Mayor Marjorie Sloan also posted a message to her Facebook page asking residents to decline to sign the petition and linking to another article on the Guiding Golden Facebook page. That page states that the city could be forced to pay Blumenthal between $2 million and $5 million in a lawsuit, which it says is similar to the entire annual budgets for both the city’s fire and street departments.
“Save Golden from significant expenditures and divisiveness,” Sloan wrote in the post. ”Please look closely at the consequences of the petition and decline to sign.”
The statements from Williamson and Sloan haven’t sat well with the members of the petitioner committee, who say they represent an “inaccurate, unfair, and an improper attempt to quash the citizen initiative process.”
On Dec. 12, the petitioner committee published a letter sent by their attorney, Marie Williams, to Williamson, Sloan and the city council. Williams writes in the letter that by publishing the memorandum, Williamson “comes dangerously close to conceding takings liability on behalf of the city.
The letter states: “The ill-advised choice to publish this memorandum can only be explained by what now appears to have been the City working hand-in-glove with the landowner all along. The City has repeatedly ignored the concerns of the residents of Golden Heights and Golden Hills, and now seeks to thwart their right to pursue an initiated ordinance.”
Williamson, however, defended the decision to publish his memo and said he was specifically asked by the council to draft such a memo for the public warning it of the potential consequences of rezoning the property.
“Any time there is a proposed ordinance that could be a taking it is problematic to come out and give an opinion on it,” he said. “But in this particular case council thought it was important that the general public have an idea of what the legal ramifications of enactment (of this zoning change) are.”
Williamson also said he thinks the city will see a takings lawsuit if the ordinance is enacted but said he had not done enough research to know whether his memo would be admissible in court.
Sloan, too, defended her decision to post her decline to sign message.
“I feel a direct responsibility to make statements about something that I feel would be problematic for the community,” she said.
Morrison, however, says such indicates point to a city government that is now trying to blame its residents for its own bad decision.
“That is the ultimate irony that just really rankles us because all we are doing is defending our neighborhood and city council made the decision to approve his zoning application at the peril of our neighborhood,” she said. “If a takings lawsuit happens that’s their problem to deal with, but they shouldn’t be trying to blame the citizens of Golden for this.”
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