Benker: Why I voted no on (LifeBridge) Union (annexation)

Why I voted no on Union
By Karen Benker
Special to the Daily Times-Call

I was the only City Council member who voted against the an-nexation of the LifeBridge Union development, and I would like to provide the reasons why I decided to vote that way.

I voted no after many hours of study, staff input and discussions with Longmont residents. I read hundreds of pages of information provided to council from the Life-Bridge developers and city staff, and distilled the key issues to the following facts.

Here are my conclusions that I would like to offer to you for your consideration:

Cost to Longmont residents
Facts LifeBridge developers contracted for their own retail cost-benefit study to demonstrate that their development would provide a financial benefit to Longmont.  Their own study stated “residential impact of annexation would create a deficit of approximately $890,000 per year at buildout.” If retail is considered, it showed a positive gain. However, the study built its retail assumptions on the development having 53 retail stores grossing $453 per square foot each year. Current, Longmont retail stores average $190 per square foot. Their revenue assumptions appear exaggerated.  Therefore, providing city services to this development will cost Longmont taxpayers at a time when the city is preparing to cut budgets and lay off employees.

Tax-exempt issues
Fact: First, we all agree that the three church buildings, which are valued at $200 million, will be tax exempt. The critical tax issue for the city is whether use taxes will be paid when the developer is issued its building permits. (These are sales taxes paid to the city of Longmont on buildings’ construction materials.) LifeBridge formed the 4C nonprofit corporation. Therefore, when I asked (several times) whether it will pay use taxes on the $25 million sports arena, the church did not answer yes or no. It said it would pay all legally owed taxes. Is there a loophole that will be used since it is a non-profit corporation? We don’t know.  This would be a significant revenue loss to the city. In fact, the reason why the city budget is being reduced next year is due to the projected reduction of use taxes.

Traffic issues
Fact: Traffic would greatly increase on Colo. Highway 119 and on Ninth Avenue. The traffic study prepared for and paid by the developers states that current average daily traffic on Colo. 119 is 30,000 vehicles. This new Union development would add an additional 17,520 trips per day in the next five years. City staff are already planning to increase Colo. 119 to six lanes in response to this development. In addition, a new road would lead directly from the Union development to merge with Ninth Avenue. This will become the new crosstown thoroughfare into the city, and a preliminary study shows Ninth Avenue daily average traffic increasing from 7,400 to 19,000 trips in 2025.

Longmont water
Fact: Originally, the developers for LifeBridge asked City Council not to annex their property into the city. Several months later, they .changed their mind. I asked them at a council meeting why. They said that when they did their calculations, the price of water in Longmont was much cheaper than securing a source from a water district in Weld County. In fact, according to city staff, coming into Longmont would save Union developers between $14 million and $23 million in water costs. That was the only reason given to me as to why they wanted to be annexed.

Fire station
Fact: When the Clover Basin residential development began, it needed a new fire station. The city stated that it would not pay for it at that time, so the developer created a special district, and now every resident in the Clover Basin neighborhood is paying higher property taxes until 2015 for construction and operation of the station. Union developers asked the city to pay for the $2.7 million construction of a new fire station that will cost $1.4 million each year to operate. The developers were able to have this written into the annexation agreement.

Affordable-housing benchmark
Fact: The LifeBridge developers requested several exemptions to this city requirement. First, they asked city staff to reduce the affordable-housing units from 10 percent to 5 percent of the total number of homes to be built. Then they requested to provide funds to Habitat for Humanity programs to build the homes off the Union site.  Finally, after nine months of being questioned about why they wanted an exemption, they changed their minds and decided to comply with city ordinance.

Open space
Fact: Several years ago, the city was in negotiation with the original property owner to purchase these 313 acres for open space to buffer Longmont from the uncontrolled growth in Weld County.  LifeBridge Christian Church offered the landowner a higher price, and the city lost the deal.  However, it is important to note that this land was planned for city open space and to establish Longmont’s eastern boundary. Now, the city’s eastern boundary line is in question.

Vesting rights
Fact: The city has never granted a five-year vesting right for retail development or a 15-year vesting right for church structures. Union is an exception to the development code. This is important, because it is a rare occurrence for the city to provide vesting rights, and now we have established a precedent that other developers may cite. A vesting right means that all plans and plats cannot be changed by either party for the time period that is set. Considering that the developers provided City Council with a preliminary plat with no proposed buildings for the commercial and religious properties, we do not even know what we have vested.

In summary, the first buildings to be constructed next year at the Union development site will be the $25 million sports arena and the estate homes priced at up to $2.25 million. The 400,000-square-foot church would be the last building to be built; it is scheduled for construction in 2020. ‘  I believe this development would cost Longmont taxpayers millions of dollars to provide city services this far east of the city. Because of a citizens’ initiative that is being circulated throughout Longmont, you now have a chance to make your own decision about this development plan and vote on this issue yourself.  Do you want to vote on this issue? If you want to learn more, visit WhatsInItForLongmont.org.

Karen Benker is a member of the Longmont City Council

Do Endorsements Matter?

Who do you trust with endorsements? They’re coming out of the woodwork right now for the upcoming election, and even one for the Lifebridge Annexation which isn’t even on the ballot.

Endorsements can either be a blessing, or the kiss of death, depending on your views. Something I figured was going on was verified in a recent letter in the paper: ” If you endorse this guy, I’m voting for the opposite!” was basically how it went. I’m going to assume most people figure in more than just that when picking a candidate, but you never know.

“Belonging” is important to some people. A club, a party, an association, a loose group of like-minded people, etc. Sometimes these groups, especially political parties, send out their mailers with their roster of picks. It’s so easy to just take this along with you to the voting precinct. Or take the suggestions of your little activist group, with the only question being ” how do we think and vote about this?” Yes, endorsements just make life easier – for the unthinking or easily steered.

Now to specifics on this election. The Times-Call has endorsed candidates Lange, Rawlins, Santos, and Finley and is in favor of the Lifebridge/Union annexation. Longmont’s Fraternal Order of Police and Longmont’s Firefighters’ Association have endorsed candidates Benker, Hansen, McCoy, and Levison. The anti-Lifebridge group, as far as I can tell, has only publicly endorsed Benker for Mayor, and of course is against the Union annexation.

While endorsements do have their place, usually in the back of your mind as you prepare to cast your vote, it’s okay to question those that would have you vote a certain way. Don’t be a lockstep lemming, even if you agree with your fellow lemmings 90% of the time. If you have to “walk off the reservation”, that’s alright, it’s called being in-de-pen-dent, give it a whirl.

Fair Access For All

A local subject near and dear to my heart is access to local government, as written a few months back here, and in appearances before city council. My main beef was the reduction in access with restrictions put on speakers during “public invited to be heard”. So you’d think I’d be ecstatic about council member (currently running for Mayor) Karen Benker‘s comments in a story titled ” City needs to listen more” with quotes like “I think government hasn’t been listening like it should.” “Sometimes it’s a matter of respect, listening to folks…” Well, you’d be wrong. Here’s why.

I was somewhat a regular at city council meetings, not always speaking, but occasionally. If someone spoke to my issue in a coherent way, I didn’t bother getting up as to not waste anyone’s time. I made phone calls and sent emails, and while I always acknowledge that these people had lives outside of council, I was usually responded to with the same respect I showed them. Then things started to change, and while I had my suspicions why, I was never quite sure until recently when an unnamed source within the city verified my suspicions.

As I suspected in an earlier piece, it was our local cabal that floats from action to action that brought on the change in policy. They’d go on and on for an hour or so, repeating themselves, tying up meetings, and shutting the rest of us out of our access to our representatives. Sure, they’ll cry their ” freedom of speech“, but what about ours? Does theirs rate higher or something? I think not.

You pick the topic: Walmart, anti-growth, Walmart, Lifebridge Annexation, and of course, Walmart. And usually they’d be on the losing side come vote time, as would Ms. Benker. That’s no coincidence; this same group is backing Ms. Benker for Mayor, as well as candidates Levison, Hansen, and McCoy, the “block” of candidates sharing ad space you may have heard of. So what’s the answer to being on the losing side of votes? Shut down meetings with these tactics. Very democratic, not.

I’m not asking for less access or speech for anyone, just equal and reasonable access without some ulterior motive. Since it appears Ms. Benker is the undeclared leader of the above mentioned group (recently referred to as her “noisy supporters”), there’s no way I could ever consider voting for her or the others above if they share this twisted version of representative government.

Election’s Only The Beginning

There will be a special election in early 2008 in Longmont, we’re just not sure yet who or what will be on the ballot. If Roger Lange wins the Mayor seat, his ” at-large” seat goes up for grabs and Karen Benker remains the Ward 2 councilmember. This means more than likely the two candidates who didn’t win the “at-large” seat in November’s election will run for this seat. Not a bad deal, a second chance at winning a seat. So it’s possible that two candidates that go at each other very well could later be sitting next to each other in city council chambers.

On the other hand, if Karen Benker wins the Mayor seat, her Ward 2 seat needs to be filled by a special election. I don’t know if any of the at-large candidates actually live within Ward 2, but if they don’t, someone we don’t currently know of will have to hustle and get some signatures to run for it.

The other item is the Lifebridge Annexation question. The 10/17/07 Times-Call article may have left a few confused about what really happened in the most recent City Council meeting, hopefully as you read this or soon it will be a little more clear. They ” agreed” to put it to voters, but won’t actually ” vote” to put it on the ballot until October 23 or November 13. This may be just a small procedural issue, but if I’m reading past stories correctly about this, they may not necessarily vote YES to put it on the ballot. Then what happens?

I suspect they will vote to put it on the special election ballot, or expect pitchforks and torches at their doorstep. There always is the option of rescinding their earlier annexation vote and leaving it up the next council to handle it. On the surface this may seem a victory for the petition gatherers, as an election is not a sure winner. But in reality the new council may vote the same way, probably not 6-1, but 5-2 or 4-3 is very likely.

I’ll ask some of you to remove your rose colored glasses in your hoped-for election outcomes, and ponder this prediction. Here is the future (post special election) council: Lange (Mayor), Rawlins, Benker, Blue, Levison, and Santos. Ward 3 is too close to call, but even if McCoy wins, that’s not an anti-annexation friendly council. Of course this all changes if Benker becomes Mayor, but not by a lot. And it is just my prediction, which might not be worth the paper this is printed on.

Don’t be in a rush to cast that vote. Watch the candidate forum that is being played on Channel 3, visit the candidate’s websites and read their positions and platforms. Call or write them, see where they sit on issues important to you. Be suspicious of the ad pushing a ” block” of candidates, not saying you shouldn’t vote for them, but beware the ” package deal“. Unless you prefer someone else to do the thinking for you.

GUEST EDITORIAL

I recently received the following submission from a longtime follower of this site, Rich Yale. Over the years Rich has been a regular in the Open Forum section of the Times-Call and has always had something interesting to send my way. Here’s his latest, enjoy.

The 2007 Campaign by Karen Benker for Mayor of Longmont offers a fake cure for her phony charge Council “rubber-stamps” development applications. Rights serve as rules of interaction between people and Government, and as such, they place restraints and obligations upon the actions of collective Council actions as well as upon groups including Benker’s noisy minority. Continue reading

GUEST EDITORIAL: Rich Yale on Karen Benker

I recently received the following submission from a longtime follower of this site, Rich Yale. Over the years Rich has been a regular in the Open Forum section of the Times-Call and has always had something interesting to send my way. Here’s his latest, enjoy.
——————————————–
The 2007 Campaign by Karen Benker for Mayor of Longmont offers a fake cure for her phony charge Council “rubber-stamps” development applications. Rights serve as rules of interaction between people and Government, and as such, they place restraints and obligations upon the actions of collective Council actions as well as upon groups including Benker’s noisy minority (among them “What’s In It For Longmont”‘s Kaye Fissinger).

If you have a Constitutional right to life, this means that the Boulder liberals do not have the liberty to kill you or liberty to steal your property for Government redistribution for open space. But, the cool-aide they are trying to sell to Longmont voters to elect Benker Mayor is the notion that because the Constitution’s Bill of Rights are enshrined in natural law members of Council cannot legitimately use the Bill of Rights to protect private property rights because the connotation is “religious”.

Her supporters claim the Establishment Clause protects only secularists who they claim are free to interfere in City affairs and are granted, in Benker’s opinion, the right to control government from the public speakers’ podium. The flaw in Benker’s theory is the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1961 finding Secular Humanity philosophy a religion. Benker’s supporter’s bloviating against LifeBridge is pure hypocrisy, nothing more, nothing less.

Benker’s claim she is for business is also bogus. Commensurate with her appointment to Council in 2005 was an effort by small business to have Council examine Title 15, New Development and Land Use Code, to make city rules and regulations easier to do business in Longmont . Benker’s noisy supporters appeared at each Public to be heard on evenings the issue was on Council Agenda to run the clock as they did later in the Ahlberg and Daily Times-Call cases to thwart those legitimate applications.

Voters, awake to the defense of your City Government, lest it be neutralized in protecting your rights. Vote for Roger Lange Mayor to preserve your freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights thus, keeping Longmont the great All-American City it is.

Richard Yale

The Costs Of Elections

Some astute visitors to my site (aren’t they all?) voiced their concerns about the possibility of a costly special election to backfill a city councilmember seat. As some of you have probably read, three current council members are running for Mayor. If Roger Lange or Karen Benker win, their seat will become vacant and since there is a specified amount of time left in that position, another election must be held to fill it. This could cost between $50k and $100k at a time when we’re hearing about shortfalls in revenues and cuts in services in the city.

The third councilmember running is Doug Brown, who is being term-limited out of office. (Campaign Manager hat on: Doug, how often can politicians say they’ll save you money and/or save some city services if you “vote for me”, and really mean it, and can deliver on it? Okay, hat off). If Mr. Brown wins, basically the city saves a bunch of money. But there’s a two thirds chance we’ll be forking out for a special election. Since I’m sure it’s part of the city charter, there’s not much we can do about it. The only future options are to not allow current council members to run for Mayor, or to not backfill vacant seats, whether due to promotion (to Mayor), sickness, or death. I don’t see either of those options as realistic, so we’re stuck with what we have.

This got me to thinking about another costly ballot situation: The Union/LifeBridge annexation issue. Here we’re being asked, no, told, that we must pony up somewhere between $60k and $100k to put on the ballot a question of overturning a city council decision to annex this development into Longmont. This is not an up/down decision on whether it should be built, just if it should be part of Longmont. That’s an important distinction. I’ll assume the petition gatherers made that clear to the people who signed it.

One of the petition gatherers said ” the buck and a half it would cost per voter is a rare bargain to have the community speak on so significant a question.” Up until now I was pretty much staying out of this issue, but some of these people’s comments and tactics can’t go unchallenged (and no, I’m not a member of Lifebridge). Where to begin with this claptrap. First, 6,000 people signed this, that’s what, less than 10% of the population in Longmont? Yet they have the right to charge the rest of us a ” buck and a half” for anything? Who died and declared you…well I better not say “God” that might offend them. How about we divide the fee amongst the 6,000 petition signers, that’s only somewhere between $10 and $17 each, what’s the problem?

Second, that’s not just a charge ” per voter“, that’s something everyone who pays sales and use taxes will pay for. People complain about elected officials unfairly raising taxes, how about a small minority of unelected citizens? Is that okay?

Third, although I may at times disagree with council votes on issues, they were legally elected to represent us. How long has this been going through all the processes required? This wasn’t just sprung upon the poor, unwitting citizenry. And the vote wasn’t even all that close, 6-1. But some people didn’t like it. Well, I don’t like a lot of decisions they make, does that give me the right to force the rest of the city residents to pay for it? I don’t think so. Lastly, I suggest you Google “union annex”, and visit both sides’ websites and educate yourself. Check the maturity level, and if you’re easily offended, don’t bother. That is, unless they start deleting.

I’m not saying you should vote for or against this ballot question, I’m just pointing out that IF this makes the ballot, the damage’s already been done financially to an already weak city budget. I better not hear these same types complain when the city cuts another $60k to $100k worth of programs and services. At least we know in part who to thank.

Longmont Election ’07 update

This upcoming election will be a mail-in ballot election. You have to be registered by October 9th to receive a ballot. They can’t make it a whole lot easier, let’s see if we can bring up the low turnout numbers.

Here is an update of the candidates for Longmont City Council. Also, I want to share a link to a website I stumbled across that I thought was pretty informative.

http://community.livejournal.com/longmont/22611.html

It has a ward map, pictures of candidates, and something I haven’t touched on – ballot initiatives and school district candidates. I found this by accident, don’t know the author, and he doesn’t know I’m linking to it. But when I find something worth sharing, and/or when someone’s just done a better job, why not expose more people to it?

There have been a couple of changes to the candidates running:

Current council members Roger Lange, Karen Benker, and Doug Brown are the candidates for the position of Mayor. This is an at-large position, everyone in the city can vote for this spot.

One of the At-Large seats is up for grabs, the candidates are Gabe Santos, Paul Tiger, and Sarah Levison. Like the Mayor position, anyone can vote for this position.

Ward One Councilmember. To vote for this seat you must live in the ward. Aaron Rawlins, James DeVore, Brian Hansen are the candidates.

Ward Three Councilmember. Same rules apply as with Ward One. Sean McCoy and Bonnie Finley are running for this seat.

There are a lot of hot topics in this city. Figure out which ones are important to you and find out where the candidates stand on them. Instead of complaining that you were snookered by politicians after they’re in office, get your questions answered before you vote for them. This isn’t rocket science.

City Council Needs You!

November’s not that far away, and that means election time for Longmont’s City Council. We’re bound to see some new faces as three members are being term-limited out, and one won’t be seeking re-election. As in the past, I’ll put the candidates on my site so you can get to know them. Although I’ve yet to endorse anyone, which could be the kiss of death anyway, the more people involved, the bigger the turnout, the better. This is an off-year election, not a general election, so interest usually runs pretty low. But with the possibility of turning over the majority of City Council, we should pay attention.

First off, the Mayor position. Mayor Julia Pirnack is being term-limited out, and I thank her for her service. This is an at-large position, everyone in the city can vote for this spot, and anyone in the city can run. So far, current councilmembers Roger Lange, Karen Benker, and Doug Brown have announced they are running.

Ward One Councilmember
. This ward is generally the east-northeast side of town currently being served by Doug Brown, who is being term-limited out of his seat. To run or vote for this seat you must live in the ward. Aaron Rawlins has announced his candidacy.

Ward Three Councilmember
. This ward is generally the northwest side of town currently being served by Marty Block, also a member being term-limited out of his seat. Same rules apply as with Ward One. Sean McCoy and Bonnie Finley are running for this seat.

One of the at-large seats is held by Fred Wilson, and he is not seeking re-election. Like the Mayor position, anyone can run and vote for this position. Gabe Santos, and Paul Tiger are running for this position.

All I’m looking for from a prospective council member is accountability and accessibility to their constituents first, and their staff members second. Remember who runs this city, you, the council, not some of these staffers who hide behind you, safe from the voter’s wrath. Don’t look for new and interesting ways to spend our money with more taxes and fees. Find ways to get more value out of what we pay, and find ways to lessen that burden, all the while being fair to your employees.

Candidates: Speak your mind, get heard, and good luck.