Neighbors submit petitions opposing Jeffco Health site rezoning

LAKEWOOD – Neighbors of the Jeffco Health Department campus turned over petitions with nearly 3,000 signatures calling for a city-wide vote challenging a City Council decision to rezone the nearly 18-acre property to accommodate commercial and retail development.

Council in late April voted 7-3 to rezone the parcel, despite concerns from nearby residents that the plan – which would allow up to 150,000 square feet of retail space on the parcel – is too vague to ensure their quiet, rural neighborhoods would remain safe and secure.

“On April 26th, the mayor and City Council passed an ordinance that seems to us to have gone against what the citizens of Lakewood wanted and the referendum seems to be the only avenue left to us at this point,” said Cathy Kentner, one of the leaders of the petition drive.

Kentner’s quiet Bonvue neighborhood is immediately east and north of the county-owned parcel and many of its residents turned out to oppose the rezoning during Council’s public hearing on the rezoning request.

The group delivered petitions containing 2,975 signatures, at least 100 more than needed to meet the required 3 percent of Lakewood voters who cast votes in the last mayoral election. The drive fell short of the 1,000-signature cushion Kentner and her neighbors wanted, but Kenter said she is impressed with the dedication of her neighbors.

One thing I am really proud of is what a grassroots effort can accomplish in a short time,” Kentner said. “They did an awesome job.”

The hoped-for cushion would provide some insurance for the group in case City Clerk Margy Greer invalidates enough signatures to render the petition moot. Greer must verify the signatures submitted are those of active Lakewood voters.

The effort got off the ground only three weeks before Friday’s deadline. The petition drive was cut short by two days because the actual deadline fell on Sunday and the city requires petitions be returned on the last day city offices are open before the deadline.

Had it not been for that quirk, Kentner said, the petitioners would have compiled a much larger cushion.

But she is confident the signatures will stand because “we were out talking to relatives and friends and neighbors,” making it more likely those signing are registered to vote in the city.

If the rezoning is not overturned, it would permit supermarkets, gas stations, banks and financial institutions, fast food outlets, office buildings, convenience stores and low-power telecommunications facilities at the site.

The list of uses is lengthy because the county’s rezoning application was submitted without a definite buyer in mind, resulting in few specifics the neighborhood can rely on.

Jeffco Commissioner Kevin McCasky said the county intends to find developers with potential tenants that would maximize the sales- and property-tax income potential of the high profile site at one of the city’s busiest intersections.

“Our focus is economic development,” when disposing of county properties, McCasky said.

The nebulous nature of the parcel’s future worries residents who live near the site at West Alameda Ave. and Kipling Street, one of the city’s busiest intersections. The issues were aired at the April 26 Council meeting in which the rezoning was approved.

“The proposed (plan) is too vague and is not well-formed,” Terry Ferguson, who lives near the parcel, saying the lack of specifics heightens neighbors’ concerns about traffic, noise and potential “impacts on neighborhoods, parks and schools.”

The potential traffic impacts of a major shopping center at the location also drew a number of comments from the plan’s opponents, who told Council the traffic study submitted by the county and endorsed by City Hall staff is inadequate and contradicts similar studies done by the city.

Dr. Robert Dickinson backed up that claim by displaying the differing versions of traffic figures indicating conflicting estimates of traffic on Kipling and on Alameda.

An earlier city traffic analysis indicates expected traffic volumes of 45,000 cars a day on Kipling and 27,900 cars a day on Alameda. But the Traffic Impact Analysis presented for the county’s rezoning case, Dickinson pointed out, claims 8,000 fewer cars travel Kipling each day and 2,600 fewer on Alameda.

“How can these significantly different traffic reports be explained,” Dickinson asked. “The only answer I can see is that the TIA is fundamentally flawed.”

And Josh Finkler said some aspects of the proposed access and exit routes could lead to “lane-hopping” and, especially at the intersection of the Alameda Frontage Road and Garrison Street, violations of Colorado’s traffic codes.

Finkler, who was instrumental in organizing the opposition to the rezoning request, said the neighborhoods will continue the fight, but did not elaborate.

A spokesman for the city’s Public Works Department said the figures reflect a decrease in overall traffic over the past few years.

Other residents said the county’s plan is not compatible with the neighborhood and would pose a safety risk for kids walking or driving to nearby schools.

The county asked Council to rezone the property at 260 S. Kipling, changing the existing 1-R large lot residential designation to Planned Unit Development (PUD). The Jeffco health agency has operated at the site under special-use permits approved by the city in 1974 and 1988, but has occupied the site since the mid-60s, before Lakewood was incorporated. The current zoning carried over from a similar large-lot residential zoning category originally bestowed by Jeffco.

The county is looking at the increasing cost to maintain a number of properties with an eye toward consolidating some of the facilities. Money from the sale of the Kipling Street acreage will go into the county’s General Fund and could be used to meet much of that maintenance burden, McCasky said.

Kentner and her neighbors, meanwhile, will be lobbying voters.

“It is important that their voice can honestly be heard and they have a say in the land-use of their neighborhoods,” she said.