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Lakewood residents petition to protect parks by removing development 'loophole'

Plans to build apartments near Belmar Park were the "tipping point" for residents frustrated with the current laws.
Lakewood Belmar Park
Posted at 5:45 PM, Mar 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-29 21:06:53-04

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — An apartment building planned for the edge of Lakewood’s Belmar Park prompted some residents to protest late last year. Now, a petition led by residents hopes to change the city’s laws around developers’ responsibilities to protect the environment by dedicating parks and open space.

Currently, Lakewood allows developers to pay a fee instead of setting aside land for parks or open space. The city can approve this so-called “fee-in-lieu" without any feedback from residents.

“Most communities do have some kind of a community input process for large development projects. In Lakewood, we have none,” said Cathy Kentner, who serves on the Lakewood Planning Commission.

Kentner said many residents have brought concerns to the Lakewood City Council over the years about developers opting out of dedicating parkland.


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"It started with a group of residents up off of Colfax, near where the old Sears building is,” Kentner said. "If you go up there, you'll see the concrete jungle that we have been developing up there."

But she said the apartments planned near Belmar Park were “the tipping point” for residents.

Kentner and fellow planning commissioner Rhonda Peters are launching a petition to "close the loophole" by removing Lakewood’s fee-in-lieu ordinance and replacing it with rules for how developers must set aside space for a park or open space.

Since 2017, Lakewood residents have submitted three citizen-initiated items with enough valid signatures to be considered.

Petitioners started collecting signatures last week, but a volunteer noticed a problem with the text Lakewood’s city clerk approved.

“The city clerk invalidated the whole petition form and all of the signatures that we gathered that first day,” Kentner said.

A Lakewood spokesperson confirmed to Denver7 that the city clerk “acknowledged a mistake and deemed the petition invalid.” The petitioners submitted changes to the city, and on March 28, the city clerk provided the petitioners with a valid version to circulate.

“With all of these delays, the city clerk reset the clock,” Kentner said.

The petitioners have until September 24 to collect at least 6,000 signatures from Lakewood voters. If they do, Lakewood City Council could choose to implement the change or put it on the ballot for voters to decide.

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But some city council members, such as Paula Nystrom, who was elected in January, hope the issue will be resolved before that. The city council plans to study the fee-in-lieu ordinance in mid-April.

Nystrom, who ran for office largely because of community concerns over development’s impact on the environment, said she applauds the efforts citizens are taking to voice their concerns. She said the Lakewood Planning Commission has already taken public feedback as it considers ways to create a more “engaging, robust process” for resident involvement in development plans.

“We need to be doing the right things for the citizens of Lakewood,” Nystrom said. "If we can all work together — the citizens, the council, the commission — I think it will go a long way to maintain the beauty that is Lakewood,” she said.

Nystrom said as developers push for high-density housing, like the apartments planned on the edge of Belmar Park, it’s Lakewood’s responsibility to prevent plans that include cutting down mature trees, disrupting wildlife habitats or avoiding obligations to carve out park space.

Lakewood's spokesperson said the city "deeply values parkland and is proud to have more than 100 parks and over 7,400 acres of open space, amounting to one-quarter of the area of the city. We also recognize the importance of addressing housing needs as the cost of housing has continued to escalate."

"We are currently reviewing the petition and assessing its potential effects on the park dedication regulations, and City Council will work with the community to hear residents’ thoughts on this citizen-initiated item to determine the best course of action," the spokesperson said.

While Kentner and the other petition supporters hope that Lakewood City Council will make these changes on their own, they’re prepared to see the petition through if necessary.

Lakewood voters can sign the petition in person outside of the Belmar Library on days posted on the petition website.

Lakewood residents petition to protect parks by removing development 'loophole'

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