Town Board Retreat: August 27, 201821 min read
TL;DR: The Board held their quarterly retreat and discussed designs for a Town Monument, potential changes to the park facility reservation process and fees, potential sale of the Town 15, a partnership with Verizon to expand their wireless coverage, future community space in the Town Center, and status / future plans for the Superior Marketplace. Although formal decisions cannot be made in a retreat, one of the biggest takeaways was that no one on the Board is in favor of selling the Town 15 at the moment – so this retreat set the stage for the Board to reject Jack Chang’s proposal to purchase the land and build a school / community center, which they did shortly after midnight in the regular Board Meeting.
Last night’s session was a long one – it began with the Board’s quarterly retreat at 3pm, which ran until 7pm. At that point, the Board transitioned to their official meeting. While it was a regularly scheduled meeting, there were so many hot topics that needed to be discussed at length that it was anything but regular – finally wrapping up at 1am. For last night’s marathon session, I am dividing the lengthy coverage into two parts, posting about the Retreat and the Board Meeting separately. Grab a drink and settle in!
One note before we get started. While I’m always committed to getting recaps out in a timely manner, I also don’t want to compromise integrity and rush the information I provide. For those who don’t have the time to sit through these long meetings yourselves, I want to ensure you still get all the facts – including the supporting research, details, and nuances that I track down after the meeting. I hope you find this detail valuable! If you’re looking for the quick update, though, I will always include a “TL;DR” at the top of these long recaps so you can see the essentials at a quick glance.
The Board kicked off with a relatively safe topic: designs for a new Town monument (options viewable here). There was a lot of discussion of whether the monument should say “Town of Superior” or “Superior, Colorado”. Trustee Mark Lacis said he liked the second option because of the eye-catching design, but that he wasn’t worried about the wording distinction. Trustee Sandy Pennington was concerned that someday Superior might not be a Town (we could be a city based on our size), but Attorney Kendra Carberry said that was not an issue because we have made the choice to be a Town. Mayor Clint Folsom liked the second logo’s design and wording. Trustee Sandie Hammerly said she liked “Superior, Colorado” more than “Town of Superior”, but preferred the first design option – although she was fine with either. Finally, Trustee Rita Dozal expressed her preference for the second option.
Park Facilities / Fees
Next up, park pavilion / rental fees – a topic I covered in my recap of the last Board meeting, and which subsequently launched a lengthy discussion in the Superior Residents Facebook group. Parks, Recreation and Open Space Director Patrick Hammer gave an overview of the facility rental process (documents here), and pointed out the prioritization for rentals on page 3. Reservations are essentially ranked by who has the most resident impact. Trustee Pennington pointed out that this prioritization only comes into play if two groups request a facility at the same time, though, and expressed concerns about how low our fees are relative to the costs. Trustee Lacis also expressed concerns about how low the damage deposit is – people could cause much more damage than their deposit would cover.
Trustee Dozal said that in Thornton, facility rentals have different fees based on the size of the group. Mayor Folsom expressed concern that if we change our rates, it could adversely impact many of the youth groups that are already used to our current rates. With regard to groups, though, Director Hammer said that we have very few non-resident groups, because most groups have at least one resident in them, and simply get that resident to fill out the application. He noted that the Town has started asking for team rosters to understand how many residents are part of groups requesting facilities, to again attempt to prioritize reservations with the most resident impact.
The Board discussed potentially having different rules for carrying out trash when it’s a group of a certain size – which seems like a fair compromise. Director Hammer said that he would come back with a new proposal for fees and rules, and at Trustee Pennington’s urging, the costs of cleaning / servicing these facilities relative to rentals.
Town 15 Potential Sale
Next, the Board discussed the Town 15 (the 15 acre parcel of land at the corner of Coalton and McCaslin). Attorney Carberry let the Board know that if they do not want to sell the property, there is no need to respond to Jack Chang’s proposal to buy the property (which would be covered in the Board Meeting that followed the retreat). Almost everyone on the Board agreed that they are not looking to sell the property at this time, but there was discussion about the nuances of not wanting to sell it ever vs not wanting to sell it right now. Generally, everyone felt that there should be a more robust planning discussion for this land prior to entertaining any offers.
Trustee Pennington pointed out that anyone can make an offer at any time for a property, whether it is for sale or not, and believes that the Board should respond to the offer in an official capacity at the subsequent Board Meeting. Attorney Carberry disagreed with this, saying that the Town is under no obligation to respond, and Trustee Kevin Ryan concurred, vehemently emphasizing that the Town 15 is not for sale.
There was lengthy discussion on this point, and around what constituted an “official offer” (written, notarized, etc), which I at first thought was largely semantical. With seemingly everyone agreeing that the Town 15 is not for sale, why not just have the Board officially reject it in the Board Meeting? It would have taken much less time to notice / vote on this than to have a long discussion of whether it should be formally rejected or ignored. In my opinion, any written offer made to the Town should receive a response rather than sitting on it, which I don’t believe is fair to a developer. However, several Board members pointed out that without this distinction, Town Staff wouldn’t have clear direction around whether to bring “proposals” to the Board, ignore them, or dismiss them without consulting the Board – which could set a dangerous precedent.
Trustee Pennington emphasized that she would consider selling “at the right price, and for the right project” (a direct quote as she repeated this phrase several times), and challenged the other Board members to say they would not do the same. Trustee Ryan said that he is not interested in selling the Town 15 at any price without a large scale community engagement effort. Trustee Lacis said that the Town 15 is an extremely valuable asset for the community, and that he wants to know what the community wants to do with it before making any decisions as to whether it’s for sale. However, he pointed out that the Board ought to be proactive rather than reactive (I’ll come back to this) – and that the Board needs to make planning for the Town 15 a priority if we are to do community engagement the right way.
Trustee Hammerly said that she would also be open to selling at the right price and for the right project, and would not shut down any offers by simply saying it is not for sale. However, she also believes that if there were an offer the Town wanted to entertain, that we ought to open it up for others to bid competitively. There was talk of pulling item #6 (Jack Chang’s proposal) from the Board Meeting tonight, but ultimately the Board agreed to keep it on the agenda to formally say that the Town 15 is not for sale at this time.
The Board considered having a longer discussion of plans for the Town 15 and moving forward with a full community engagement process, but agreed that it would likely take the entire rest of the retreat to do so. Instead, Trustee Ryan suggested this discussion be pushed to 2019, with the new sitting Board – which I hope to be on.
While I am happy that I will have the opportunity to weigh in (either as a Trustee or as a citizen as part of community engagement), I am equally glad that the Board is taking the time to allow for creation of a well-thought out plan rather than trying to come up with a less robust interim solution. Trustee Pennington pointed out that the Comprehensive Plan was created in 2012, and was intended to be updated every 5 years – which we are now past with no updates at all. (In fact, the document itself says that it was intended to be updated every 3-5 years, so we are nearing two cycles of missed updates.) As I have noted in my campaign platform, one of my priorities if elected is to ensure proactive planning and a fully updated Comprehensive Plan – specifically to prepare for unexpected offers like this.
Verizon Small Cell Wireless Network Expansion
The Board moved on to discussion of Verizon’s small cell proposal – essentially, a build out of infrastructure that would improve cellular service, which residents have been clamoring is abysmal. Attorney Kendra Carberry said that she believed we could have the master lease agreement signed in the next 60 days to work with Verizon on this initiative, but was concerned that implementation could be difficult due to concerns about design aesthetics and locations (i.e., people not wanting these in their yards). After questioning from Trustee Hammerly, Attorney Carberry noted that these small cell structures are not exclusive – that her understanding was that competing carriers like AT&T could share the infrastructure through colocation.
Trustee Ryan said that he does not believe there is an issue with dropped cell phone calls; he believes that anyone with a service problem can solve the issue by just switching providers, and so he does not want to vote for “anything that looks like an eyesore”. I wholeheartedly disagree with Trustee Ryan that we don’t have a service issue. While I am lucky to get good cell service in my home, my friends and colleagues have learned to say “Oh, you must be in your neighborhood now” when my phone calls invariably cut out while I am driving or walking around. I also disagree with Trustee Ryan that Verizon’s small cell designs are unattractive; they can be combined with street lights and traffic control poles to look like typical infrastructure. You can view photos of Verizon’s sample designs here, though the Board brought up that our designs may not look the same as the ones in the photos (which are from San Francisco).
Speaking of communications infrastructure, Trustee Lacis brought up the ongoing Comcast work to upgrade to advanced fiber. The Board agreed that they would like to see more messaging from Comcast around the outages, because there is a lot of confusion over whether the cutover has already happened or not. While we’re talking about internet service, the Board discussed the fact that Louisville will not be going to the voters this fall around municipal broadband; they were unable to complete their feasibility study in time.
With 25 minutes to go before the dinner break, Mayor Folsom asked which other agenda items to cover, and the Board decided to talk about agenda topic C: the discussion of downtown Superior and the $10 million commitment from Ranch Capital in 2013 to provide community space in block 6. The cost sharing agreement says that SURA (Superior Urban Renewal Authority, essentially the Town – click here to read more) and the developer will coordinate to build parks and civic space. However, there aren’t details of what that collaboration will look like, and the Board is concerned that the developers will use that ambiguity from 2013 to skirt their responsibility.
According to Trustee Pennington, in the very last meeting of the nine-meeting series in fall 2013, there was a suggestion to split the funds 60/40 between parks and civic space. Trustee Chris Hanson understood that the split was just an example and not an agreement to use those exact proportions. Attorney Carberry agreed that the language was intentionally vague, since it was being built at a future date, but Trustee Lacis pointed out that it’s now time for us to get some more firm commitments – and suggested a formal meeting to align on how to spend the $10 million.
Trustee Ryan stated that he did not want us to start spending any of the $10 million on parks until it was clear whether payment for parks comes out of the $10 million committed in total – which it seems that it does. Unfortunately, now that Village Green is under construction, some of these funds are already allocated / being spent. But the Board members agreed there is a lot of confusion whether the $10 million would need to go toward land or just buildings, and also agreed that the number of square feet for indoor civic space had not yet been decided (some say 20,000 square feet and some say 40,000 square feet).
Trustee Pennington suggested that it would be beneficial to form a working group to focus on this issue, and expressed concerns about continuity given that the Board is turning over this fall and participants in the original 2013 agreement will no longer be on the Board. Trustee Pennington encouraged everyone on the new Board to watch all nine of the meeting videos from 2013 when the agreement was made – which I surely plan to invest the time to do. Trustee Ryan echoed the concern about a loss of tribal knowledge, and said he hoped that our current Board members will still be willing to provide historical context even after their terms have ended.
Trustee Pennington then brought up concerns with the amount of the initial agreement and how that is now being tallied. While $10 million was agreed upon back in 2013, there was no adjustment made for inflation – but the facilities are now being built years later. The actual cost of Village Green, for example, is coming in at ~$700,000… but the original budget estimated ~$400,000. As a result, we are clearly getting less than we bargained for in the individual agreement. While some residents may not be “numbers people”, this is an incredibly important nuance of the agreement that has big implications for our Town. Trustee Lacis suggested that we fight for the developer to only credit the expected cost (from the final development plan) against the $10 million promised, rather than crediting the actual cost today to build, since the developer is the reason it was delayed till now.
Open Space Acquisitions
Trustee Lacis had asked for this item to be on the agenda in order to talk about open space priorities and opportunities. He points out that we now have several developments on previous undeveloped land that OSAC (the Open Space Advisory Committee) had prioritized. Trustee Lacis suggested that while resident / OSAC member Tracy Koller has the appetite to drive this forward and work with the Trust for Public Land (a nonprofit that helps towns get external funding to acquire Open Space), the Board should mobilize to support her. Having had the opportunity to meet Tracy while campaigning this summer, I’m thrilled that she is taking the lead and being given the support of the Board in this endeavor.
Furthermore, Trustee Lacis pointed out that if the Board is just reactive to development, everything is going to be developed before we can have a chance to purchase / designate more Open Space with the funding we have already amassed ($4 million by the end of 2018). I could not agree with Trustee Lacis more on this point. As with the earlier discussion on the Town 15, I believe our Board needs to be proactive in setting a vision for the Town, and should be making every effort to update the 2012 Comprehensive Plan so that it can be used as a tool to guide our Board’s choices. In my career as a management consultant, I’ve worked with many clients who bring me in midstream to clean up initiatives already in progress, and I’ve learned that it’s rarely too late to pause and intentionally decide on a new way of working that sets a stronger path forward.
At 5:30pm, Matthew Berger from Brixmor Property came in to discuss the Superior Marketplace (where Target, Costco, and Whole Foods are located). Mr. Berger is the President of the West Region for Brixmor, and has been working with the Town of Superior for more than 12 years in various capacities. Mr. Berger brought copies of several reports on the Marketplace that contained sales, demand, and demographic data supporting his outlook for the Marketplace – check them out here. I was really excited about this part of the agenda, since my consulting specialty is the consumer markets industry!
To begin, Mr. Berger first walked through some of the upcoming new tenants. The old Sports Authority building has now been signed to Stickley Furniture on one side and Goldfish Swim Academy on the other. Stickley is trying to come in as soon as possible, and Goldfish is working through construction challenges associated with building an indoor pool in the space. The Build-a-Robot Learning Center was just opened by Wayne’s Smoke Shack (which recently celebrated its 5 year anniversary – congrats, Wayne’s!), and Cactus Wax is also being added to the roster and will open in October.
On the closing side, although Panera Bread was just sold to another franchisee, the Panera isn’t going anywhere. (Thank goodness – I worked at a Panera for several years in high school and college, and love the chain!) However, Great Clips will be vacating soon, and Mattress Firm is expected to declare bankruptcy and vacate shortly after Labor Day. Mr. Berger also said that he is closely watching Office Max, and is also concerned that Ulta Beauty and Party City are not doing very well.
Chuck E Cheese had been of concern, but now it looks like they will stay – Brixmor is actively negotiating with them. Finally, Brixmor is working with Whole Foods on a longer term extension of their lease. Although the Superior store is a small store for the chain (~32,000 square feet), they are expected to stay longer term.
Very generally, Mr. Berger said that restaurants have struggled in the Marketplace because there aren’t enough people to support them. When there are only 3,200 people in a one mile radius, Brixmor struggles to attract restaurants. In particular, the lunch daypart doesn’t have enough people nearby – and restaurants need a strong lunch business in order to survive. Wayne’s Smoke House has been the exception to this, and has become a destination lunch spot for people beyond the immediate neighborhood – go Wayne’s!
Mr. Berger said that Brixmor’s new CEO has a mission to make their shopping centers the most relevant in the community, and is investing $200 million each year to achieve this goal – which often means the incorporation of housing to turn the shopping centers into mixed use lifestyle centers. He seemed somewhat bearish on incorporating housing into the Superior Marketplace, though, despite that being a focal point of our Northwest Subarea Planning study. Brixmor has six properties right now in Colorado, one of which is in Westminster (details here). Mr. Berger said that at Westminster City Center, he is looking at tearing down some of the box space and changing it into housing to make it more relevant. However, he noted that he does not have a close proxy that matches Superior, and said he is open to ideas for how to improve Superior Marketplace. Trustee Pennington offered up the idea of hosting a farmer’s market, which would be a neat draw for residents and visitors, and Mr. Berger agreed that he loves having farmer’s markets in his shopping centers.
Trustee Lacis asked whether there is an appropriate amount of parking at the Marketplace (implying that there is too much), and Mr. Berger said that Target and Costco own their own parking so he can’t touch that. However, Target recently met with Brixmor about parking at one of their Minnesota stores, to figure out how they could repurpose the lot – so there may be some changes in the future. Trustee Ryan later agreed that thinks the parking contributes to making the Marketplace unattractive. The Board and Mr. Berger both agreed that the design of the Marketplace is problematic, in that it’s essentially split into two distinct sections with Marshall Road bisecting the center.
Trustee Ryan said that he would like to see us partner with Brixmor to figure out how we can make our shopping center “cooler” and more aesthetically attractive, in order to draw business travelers in the area. He would like to see improvement of the Superior Marketplace take priority over developing some of our other undeveloped land (like the Town 15 that was discussed earlier). Given the financial importance of the Marketplace as a sales tax base, he makes a valid point. And beyond the tax base, the Marketplace serves a key need for our citizens in providing places to eat, shop, learn, and recreate – without having to leave Superior.
Overall, my own work with retail & consumer clients has shown me the importance of delivering a strong customer experience to drive repeat business – and that’s evident in Brixmor’s strategy as well as how retail centers all over the country are evolving. Rather than focusing on traditional stores where people drive up to shop and then leave, we need to create an inviting environment that compels people to stick around – even if they aren’t spending money the whole time. I had a great discussion on Saturday with a group of Original Town residents around how to make the Marketplace more of a gathering spot (more on those in a future blog post), and I’m looking forward to further exploring those ideas to bring a more vibrant experience to the commercial and mixed-use areas of Superior.
Mr. Berger said that while mall retail is certainly changing, you can’t use a broad brush to apply those takeaways to the Superior Marketplace. He would like to see the Marketplace become more of a lifestyle center to attract visitors, rather than purely a shopping center. (Check out this interesting categorization from the International Council of Shopping Centers.) Mr. Berger says he has a team of three people focused completely on redevelopments like the one in Westminster, and suggested the Board work with team lead Andrew Gracey around plans to create a vibrant town square in the Marketplace. Mr. Berger himself is in town about once a quarter, and Trustee Pennington expressed her desire for the Board to meet with him much more frequently to discuss opportunities to partner on transformation.
Finally, the Trustees circled back to the topic of the Town 15 once more, with Mayor Folsom attempted to go around the table for each person to succinctly provide their viewpoint (though the discussion kept getting sidetracked). Trustee Dozal believes there is better value for the Town 15 than using it as Open Space. Trustee Ryan doesn’t yet know what should be done with it, but emphasized again that the property is not for sale. Trustee Hanson thinks that next year’s Board will need to make the ultimate decision of what should be done with the land, but before weighing in, would like to see OSAC’s recommendation, including a reprioritization of all undeveloped parcels (i.e., taking out Zaharias, Anderson, and other parcels that are likely be developed in the near term). Trustee Lacis wants massive community outreach before any decisions are made on the Town 15, and points out that OSAC has targeted the Town 15 as an Open Space acquisition (i.e., to designate it as Open Space rather than just have it as an undeveloped lot); he is also open to the Town 15 becoming fields, parks, or even a town arboretum. Finally, Mayor Folsom stated that while he’s open to many uses for the Town 15, he would prefer more of our amenities to be focused at the Town Center, and is in no hurry to make any decisions.
Although I’ll of course cover this in depth in my next post focused on the six hour Board Meeting that followed the Retreat, I’ll close out the Town 15 topic with the final update: shortly after midnight, the Board unanimously decided to reject Jack Chang’s proposal to purchase the Town 15. You can read the Daily Camera’s coverage here.
More to come!