Coronavirus is slowing new development

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 4/20/20

It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that there are some signs of the wind coming out of the sail of new construction — at least to some degree. While I will only cite examples involving …

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Coronavirus is slowing new development

Posted

It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that there are some signs of the wind coming out of the sail of new construction — at least to some degree.

While I will only cite examples involving Westminster development projects, it is safe to assume that major new development projects are being impacted throughout the whole Denver metro area. These impacts include the Coronavirus, some softening in capital markets funding, city councils deciding to postpone processing new development plans where public hearings are required and some cities having challenges with making on-site construction inspections.

Virtual city council meetings do not adequately lend themselves to public input on rezonings, official development plans and the like.

And while city officials, economic development staffs, commercial lenders, commercial realtors and others connected to new construction might prefer to not have this happen, some see this as a needed breath of fresh air.

Benefits of slowing down

Before I point out some specific examples of new developments slowing down, I want to reiterate that I am not against new development. I am not anti-growth as I know the importance of some growth to maintain a community’s vitality. My issue all along has been a case of growing too much, too fast.

In turn, some slowing down would bode well for the city and its citizens from the standpoints of stretching the remaining raw land for development, pacing the remaining water resources to have more time to acquire the additional needed water and to hopefully address traffic mitigation on our major streets. The last component may well be too difficult financially to accomplish given the current state of municipal finances.

Impacts from COVID-19 and a changed economy

Some projects currently underway are experiencing a slower pace of construction due to the health requirements involving the Coronavirus. Projects are experiencing imposition of maximums on the number of subcontractors who can be on-site at any given time.

The boutique hotel/Tattered Cover Book Store located in the new Westminster Downtown is several weeks behind on its construction schedule, according to city staff. It will be completed and opened, but opening later than was expected.

Another project in the new Downtown that has been affected is the previously announced office development consisting of two multi-story office buildings. Schnitzer West, LLC was set to purchase two parcels from the city at a cost of approximately $6.5 million. Together, approximately 500,000 square feet of office space, structured parking and 8,000 square feet of retail had been planned.

The developer pulled the sale and purchase agreements with the city’s urban renewal authority.

Proposed rezoning postponed due to no public hearings

An example of a rezoning application being held up due to the required public hearings by Planning Commission and City Council, involves land on the southwest corner of 73rd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard. The defunct auto repair/neighborhood performing theatre building and adjacent buildings to the south are proposed for senior or affordable apartments. A total of 30 apartments on less than two-thirds of an acre (34 units per acre) are proposed. No specific dates for the public hearings have been announced by city staff.

The city’s decision to postpone holding public hearings on land use matters is quite appropriate and appreciated during the hiatus caused by the Coronavirus. Other municipalities in the metro area are practicing the same policy.

Local financial support to small businesses

As we are aware from personal experience and various news outlets, small businesses and their employees have been hit extremely hard due to the stay at home mandates. While there is $349 billion in federal assistance programs approved by Congress to provide stop-gap assistance totaling nationwide, the timing on getting funds into the hands of business owners is critical. Filling the time gap can make the difference in businesses staying alive in these terrible times.

Some metro Denver area municipalities are stepping up with financial assistance to their local businesses. The Cities of Westminster, Arvada, Brighton and Wheatridge have implemented either one-time grant or loan programs to help fill the gap. These local governments are to be commended in their timely response to the overwhelming need. Small businesses in our communities are the backbone of our communities’ economic strength. Restaurants, bars and retail stores produce a major part of municipal sales tax revenues and jobs.

Obviously, not every business will receive local assistance, but helping some is far better than not helping any. It is fundamentally important to help local businesses and their employees stay alive.

WestyRISE business grant program is underway

The City of Westminster’s “WestyRISE Business Grant” program was unanimously approved by city council April 6 to make $1.5 million available to eligible businesses.

Individual grants will equal the lesser of (a) 50% of each of two months’ rent or mortgage payments or (b) $7,500. The grants will be disbursed on a first come-first serve basis according to Economic Development Staff.

The deadline to apply is May 30 and details on eligibility can be found on the city’s web site. The funding for this unexpected program comes from the city’s General Fund Reserve and therefore does not impact any existing operating budget amounts.

Political turf war over opening businesses

There’s a big fight coming. You can already see it taking shape and it could explode before you read this column.

It’s a political battle that we have rarely seen in America. It’s the battle of who has the authority to open and close local businesses. President Trump has pounded his chest like Tarzan and proclaimed that it is his decision when to re-open businesses across America from sea to shining sea.

On the other hand, numerous state governors have publicly stated that such authority rests with the respective governors.

This turf war had already shown itself with the Strategic National Stockpile involving masks, gowns, gloves, ventilators and other medical equipment. Constitutionally speaking, it’s clear that the individual state governors have the authority to declare opening and closing businesses. Such major decisions should be made by the governors as they know best for their respective states with their individual health situations. It definitely should not be a “one size fits all” approach with the federal government dictating such critical matters.

People’s lives are at stake in these decisions.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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