RTD station slated near wetland area?: Inside Adams County-Federal Boulevard fight

Categories: Business, Politics

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Near station site.
Update: Moments ago, Kevin Flynn, public information manager for RTD, shared his thoughts about the debate over where a Gold Line commuter rail station in Adams County should be located -- on the east side of Federal Boulevard, where it was previously set, or on the west side, near a wetland area. Flynn's remarks are beneath the original post -- and he also offers a statement that's included with previously published supplementary documents.

Original item, 1:37 p.m.: At a Monday morning meeting, the Adams County board of commissioners is scheduled to determine whether a new RTD Gold Line commuter-rail station originally slated for the east side of Federal Boulevard near West 60th Avenue should instead be built along the west border of the street. Sounds like a minor issue, but a local group charges that the change trades revitalization of a blighted area for a developer's profit.

Area resident Kim Gillan, who's part of an organization called Concerned Citizens for Compatible Development (CCCD), isn't exactly a disinterested party. She owns property on the east side of Federal -- and while she insists that the land won't grow in value if the station is built nearby, she feels a west side project would negatively impact its worth. Moreover, she's involved in a lawsuit that names The TOD Group, the Louisiana-based developer in question, and accuses Adams County of "violating their own land use and zoning regulations," she says.

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The original east-side-of-Federal location for the rail station.
Adds Jessica Corry, Gillan's attorney: "The lawsuit against the county and the developer is just one part of a broader citizen revolt to allegations of wrongdoings by the defendants. Regardless of how the case shakes out, the people deserve the respect of knowing that their tax dollars are being used responsibly, that their needs aren't taking a back seat to the interests of an out-of-state developer, and that their community's long term sustainability, safety and desires will be the top priority in all decision making."

Gillan's gripe about the county's approach to the station?

"They're proposing amendments that involve removing zoning classifications and requirements," she says. "This is important, because a lot of the current standards are in place to protect citizens and residents and people who live near vacant lots and blighted areas. It gives them protection about what comes into areas near them, and Adams County wants to remove those, opening the door to the county and developers to decide."

According to Gillan, the plan to build the station on the east side of Federal was a "multi-year, multi-million dollar process" that would have "cleaned up a landfill and a blighted area." But as the Denver Post reported, The TOD Group's John Renne, who had acquired property on the west side of Federal, asked RTD to consider building the station near his land. RTD and the Federal Transit Administration eventually agreed that the west was best.

Why? For one reason, the Post points out, RTD officials say environmental cleanup on the east side would cost around $2 million.

The Post made the switch public in September, and having to read about it in the paper rather than hearing about it from the county or RTD upsets Gillan. "There was no community input, no opportunity for the public to say, 'We don't want it on the west side,'" she says.

After all, she continues, "the west side is a wetland area, and it would require structures such as bridges and elevators that would make it more difficult for handicapped people to access. The distance increase for them to get to the station from the parking on the west side is substantial, but the parking on the east side would be immediately adjacent to the station. And there would be very little difference in elevation, unlike the west side, where there would be a huge difference in elevation."

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A CCCD graphic showing the two different station sites along Federal Boulevard.
In Gillan's view, the main person to benefit from the west-side swap is The TOD Group's Renne, "because it will increase the profits for his development and increase his opportunity to get investors. He's willing to cover some of the costs to put the station there, but that's at the expense of the broader community, and also at the expense of the wildlife and the wetlands and everything else in the area."

Given that the Adams County planning commission has already given its blessing to the west side plot, Gillan fears the commissioners may simply rubber-stamp the proposal -- but if opponents show up in force on Monday, she's hoping they'll stop and think about the repercussions of the turnabout.

She doesn't rule out the possibility of another lawsuit should the current proposal be approved. "This whole process is in violation of the transparency that RTD keeps proclaiming to have," she says. "The station on the east truly benefits the entire community. The station on the west benefits a land developer from Louisiana."

Update, 4:19 p.m.: RTD's Kevin Flynn has a very different take on the east/west issue from the one Kim Gillan shares above.

First of all, he emphasizes that the station development on the west side of Federal that he hopes is approved "completely avoids the wetland area." The proposed station in the RTD graphic below "would be bridged by two clear-span pedestrian bridges connecting the train platform with the parking to the north. The scene in the picture already is bridged by the Clear Creek Trail bridge, which actually has its footings in the wetlands. Our bridges would not touch that wetlands area at all."

He presumes that Gillan and others had every opportunity to know about the proposal to move the station from the east to west side because "the developer had been proposing it for a year. Moving the station was part of his development proposal in March of '09 in Adams County, and this site was fully analyzed alongside the east site during the EIS [Environmental Impact Study] process, side by side."

In respect to Gillan's assertion that RTD should have posted information about the switch from east to west in September, Flynn says that his organization was and is still in the process of negotiating with the various stakeholders about the west side property, and that no final decision has been made. Therefore, it would have been premature to make an announcement of any kind. He also stresses that the Monday meeting has no impact on RTD's role in these talks. He's unfamiliar with what, precisely, will be discussed there.

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RTD graphic; click to enlarge.
Regarding the east side property, he says the owner of a parcel there "is not cooperating with us. We haven't made an offer yet, of course, but he's denied us right of entry to do soil sampling and things like that. But on the west side, we have a willing and cooperating land owner. The east side raises the distinct possibility we would have to use eminent domain to acquire the land, but not on the west side.

"Bottom line," he continues, "we haven't decided to move it, but we're doing due diligence to figure out if we should -- and if we can, we would like to, because it works better for us. It's much better for users of the system, it's out of the flood plane, and more importantly, it's out of the floodway. The east-station site is both in the one-hundred-year flood plane and the floodway of Clear Creek."

At least two neighborhood groups back the move from the east side to the west side of Federal, Flynn says, while others do not. "I think it's divided the community, and that's unfortunate," he concedes. "But it's not us versus them. This request came from Adams County, and we believe Federal-west will work better, and make for a much better station."

That's not all Flynn has to say. After an extensive interview, he sent another long e-mail synopsizing RTD's views. You'll find his statement in its entirety following documents provided by CCCD: a press release offering details about the Monday meeting, a November letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation laying out arguments against the side switch, and a December letter from attorney Corry noting that more than 1,000 residents have signed a petition opposing the move to the west side.

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