Thornton City Council unanimously adopted a plan to finance the construction of Parterre, a 800 acre development project in the northeast corner of town.
Several councilors expressed confusion over the technical details associated with the metro district plan before they all finally approved it in a meeting on February 23. Several advisers cited the developers’ apparent reliability as the reason they endorsed the subway district, a controversial topic in recent Colorado development news.
“The biggest issue for me is that it’s about the ability to develop this area and make the area pay for that growth,” Mayor Jan Kulmann said before voting to approve the plan. “We want to make sure that we respect our past, but we are looking to the future.”
Metropolitan districts are established governments – in this case for a specific subdivision – that issue debt to reimburse the developer for building the neighborhood. The income to pay off this debt comes from property taxes.
Metro districts are a way for the district to pay for itself, rather than the city paying for it. Developers, city councilors, and even critics agree that neighborhoods are good for new developments that need roads and water pipes. Currently, unleveled agricultural land occupies the area where Parterre will go. Its location is north of 144e Avenue, south of 152sd Avenue and west of Quebec Street. When completed in 10 to 20 years, it will house more than 4,100 residential units.
The metro district plan board approved on February 23 is an amended version of a plan that city council approved in 2008. The debt issuance limit in the 2008 version was $ 85 million. The amended plan increased that amount to $ 189 million. The main reason for the increase is that construction costs have more than doubled, said Chad Murphy, representative of Hines, the developer. The new plan also included new accountability and transparency measures, as required by new state laws.
While most experts agree that metro areas aren’t inherently bad, critics contend they can be easy opportunities for abuse. A 2019 Denver Post survey describes different ways developers can take advantage of metro areas to increase their profits.
It’s something Charles Wolfersberger, CPA and president of a local property management company, has expressed concern about the new Parterre metro district plan. Wolfersberger spoke at the public hearing on February 23 and also sent a letter to council the same day. “Such an increase (in debt issuance) appears unreasonable and we are not satisfied that City staff have performed sufficient analysis,” he said in his letter. He also pointed out that Parterre’s debt per acre is much higher than the average calculated from six other metropolitan districts in Thornton.
Wolfersberger also criticized the structure of the metro district and how Parterre will technically have eight smaller metro districts instead of one big one. Some technical issues with the structure “expose the city to potential future litigation from residents,” he said in the letter, a point Murphy disputed during the February 23 meeting.
While some advisers expressed skepticism about Parterre’s plan at the meeting, many also believed the plan had enough checks and balances. Councilor Angie Bedolla asked Murphy, “Because of the old subway districts and those who gave it a bad reputation, would they agree that today’s subway districts … ensure that you follow directions in such a way? appropriate? Murphy replied, “Yes… Real malfeasance in the districts is very rare today. “
Other councilors said they were confused about some issues and would have preferred to delay the vote until after an upcoming study session that will examine the basics of metro areas. “I wish we had had the conversation with the staff that we were supposed to have on metro districts in general before we did this,” City Councilor Julia Marvin said before voting yes.
However, Murphy made it clear that Hines was eager for the board’s approval. “We’re trying to go there, quite frankly,” he said. At one point in the meeting, Murphy agreed to speed up a plan for some pavement improvements, to allay the concerns of some councilors in the hope that they would approve the metro district. City manager Kevin Woods called him and said to Murphy, “Suddenly you’re fixing them (the roads)… If you can suddenly be aggressive how did that happen? “
While not every advisor was 100% reassured about the plan before approving it, they said there were more important factors to consider. The main one, as articulated by Bedolla, “As a city, we cannot afford to set up this infrastructure and that is the reason for the metropolitan areas. “
After the meeting, Murphy said in a statement: “The PD and Metro District amendments approved by Thornton City Council were essential to making Parterre a reality. We are delighted to have the support of the City and are now in a position to move forward with the new updated vision of Parterre. “