Longmont opportunity zone interest building as city leaders prep St. Vrain corridor, sugar factory as targets

Longmont opportunity zone interest building as city leaders prep St. Vrain corridor, sugar factory as targets

Floodplain redraw could help investors avoid insurance costs; tax cut boosts feasibility of sugar site

By Sam LounsberryStaff Writer

POSTED:   03/30/2019 10:00:00 AM MDT

 

A bulldozer moves dirt March 19 in the St. Vrain River as part of the Resilient St. Vrain project. Floodplain mapping will need to be updated in accordance
A bulldozer moves dirt March 19 in the St. Vrain River as part of the Resilient St. Vrain project. Floodplain mapping will need to be updated in accordance with the changes to the river made by the Resilient St. Vrain post-flood channel work.That project and the adjoining federal opportunity zones that line the river are leading officials to envision more uniform growth along the river. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)

Longmont officials are envisioning a redeveloped sugar factory and more uniform growth along the St. Vrain River, both made more realistic thanks to new federal tax incentives and a major city floodplain mitigation project.

City leaders hope to leverage two adjoining federal opportunity zones covering a large southern portion of Longmont as lures for what will be a costly repurposing of the sugar factory property in southeast Longmont, and, more broadly, for attracting new affordable and “work force” housing and commercial space to the St. Vrain’s course through the city.

(Mary Hilleren / Staff graphic designer)

The opportunity zone program was created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It allows investors to put capital gains into development projects within designated census tracts, chosen for their relatively depressed economic status. The taxes on those initially invested capital gains, as well as gains made since on the real estate projects within the zones, get deferred after five years of keeping an interest in such properties, and the tax cut grows if the interest is held for seven years and grows again after 10 years.

Together, the zones stretch east-west from Hover to Lashley streets, extending further east south of Third Avenue to include the sugar factory and north-south from the north bank of the St. Vrain to Ninth Avenue.
Modern gateway more possible

For the site of the former and now fire-damaged Great Western sugar factory, the opportunity zone may ease the financial burden of either incorporating the long-standing structure into a new building or tearing it down. It could also help mitigate any costs associated with the potential need to remedy any soil or other contamination on the site caused by decades of industrial activity.

“I think the community at large would really like to see that sugar mill area turn into something that is a positive and welcoming modern gateway into our community,” Longmont Economic Development Partnership CEO Jessica Erickson said.

Sugar factory owner Dick Thomas in a brief interview said the opportunity zone provisions are just one of several financial vehicles being analyzed in talks to redevelop the land — he is engaged with several groups that have expressed interest in bringing modern mixed commercial and residential structures to the property. He said the range between $60 million and $100 million has been identified as an initial cost estimate for such a project.

Thomas hopes to assimilate what remains of the brick factory building into a redeveloped parcel.

“We’re not going to tear it down. Most of what’s there will remain,” he said, declining to further elaborate on redevelopment talks or to identify the investors with whom he is negotiating.

Redrawn floodplain negating insurance costs

Before the opportunity zone can most effectively aid financing development in several key areas along the river, the $120 million-plus Resilient St. Vrain project, which is rejigging the stream’s channel and floodplain through the city, needs to make more progress, and the resulting smaller floodplain will have to receive federal approval so development limitations in the areas purged of risk can be lifted.

The abandoned Sugar Factory in Longmont could benefit from its location in one of two federal opportunity zones in the city. Tax incentives associated with

The abandoned Sugar Factory in Longmont could benefit from its location in one of two federal opportunity zones in the city. Tax incentives associated with those zones could mitigate the cost of incorporating the building into new development or tearing it down to make way for new development. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

“We were very intentional about focusing on areas of strong opportunity and that already had plans in place and broad public support to move development forward, but had some issues in attracting capital,” Erickson said. “The floodplain issues were part of that.”

Preliminary approval of redrawn floodplain maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — which dictate which property owners have to buy flood insurance — is expected in July this year. Those new maps won’t take effect until three months after that when an appeal period expires, according to Longmont Floodplain Manager Monica Bortolini. If a legitimate appeal to the preliminary floodplain maps has to be evaluated, the timing of when the final maps would be issued is unknown, she said.

Carlos Torres lays down 2x4s to build another wall at the construction site of South Main Station in January. The mixed-use development at First Avenue and

Carlos Torres lays down 2x4s to build another wall at the construction site of South Main Station in January. The mixed-use development at First Avenue and Main Street lies within one of the two federal opportunity zones in the city. Its developers have applied for the funding for which the location makes it eligible. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)

“The part of the opportunity zone that is subject to flooding in the near term is generally south of the rail tracks,” Longmont Redevelopment Program Manager Tony Chacon said. “The drainage improvements to be concluded this year will effectively pull some of the properties immediately adjacent to the creek out of the floodplain, and the remaining areas will see a reduction in the depth of the 100-year flooding condition.”

Of course, flood concerns throughout the rest of the opportunity zones are not impacting development proposals with plans to use the tax cut, according to city leaders.

Even those properties within the current floodplain can be engineered to work around the development regulations in the risky area, Chacon noted.

He added the requirement to purchase flood insurance — especially temporarily, as might be the case for land along the St. Vrain lifted from the floodplain by the Resilient St. Vrain work — can be the most pesky hurdle for developers examining building options for a property in a floodplain.

“In regards to these issues, our engineering and planning staff are working collectively and diligently to facilitate new development in the flood-prone areas,” Chacon said. “While I am sure some prospective developers may deem the floodplain an issue, I don’t see the floodplain issue being a significant deterrent to opportunity zone interest, as, in fact, the city is receiving continued developer inquiry and conversations.”

College downtown?

But talks with developers who could actually use the opportunity zone program beneficially remain secretive and prospective, including those involving attempts to sway Front Range Community College to establish a visible presence in downtown Longmont.

“I can tell you that no one has committed to any particular project yet or even entered into any level of detailed discussion or negotiation,” Chacon said. “We may have something to better share in a few months. I can say the general interest is in vertical mixed-use or residential development, primarily rental.”

Councilman Tim Waters is a part of a group of city and economic development leaders studying the potential offered by the opportunity zone for the St. Vrain River corridor, as well as the regulations that help keep the stream a gem of riparian habitat and natural beauty. An example of such a rule would be the like the 150-foot development setback from the river’s bank for which only city council can approve a variance.

“What exists along the river in San Antonio, that’s just not going to be the case” for the St. Vrain, Waters said. “We’re going to maintain our greenways, we’re going to maintain our riparian areas, our wildlife areas.”

The soon-to-be-finished Dickens Farm Nature Area park along the river south of Boston Avenue between Main and Martin streets will ensure an open space element remains along the St. Vrain River in central Longmont, and the green space could be a highlight for any new multifamily housing developments in the area to market to prospective tenants.

But Waters is also aware of discussions about Front Range Community College potentially moving from its southwest Longmont campus, or adding to its property portfolio in the city, in order to open up shop — possibly with another institutional partner that would offer additional higher education paths — closer to downtown.

“Front Range Community College is happy to be in Longmont, and we like our current location. We’re certainly always open to discussions of other possible partnership options in the community, and greatly appreciate the city’s interest in working with us to create an even better campus,” the school’s president, Andy Dorsey, stated through a spokeswoman. “We have had a very preliminary conversation with the city about this concept, but it’s way too early to suggest that we’ll be moving.”

Councilman: Academic assets would spur economic activity

Waters mentioned the city’s land holdings include a site just north of the river, southwest of South Main and Boston Avenue, that formerly hosted a mobile home park that was destroyed in the 2013 flood. It, along with several other city-owned parcels near the river south of downtown, could be packaged into a land assembly effort for a development project the city would be inclined to support, such as a Front Range or other higher education space that may be able to take advantage of the area’s opportunity zone status.

“We’re keenly interested in a more robust presence of higher education options here along with Front Range so that our kids could go as far as they want in terms of their educational pursuits without ever having to leave home or Longmont to do that,” Waters said, contending more local educational opportunity would lead to an unprecedented business climate for the city.

He believes if the opportunity zone attracts additional academic assets within Longmont, they could satisfy a need for a better educated work force that certain employers in the area have made known. Fostering greater talent locally, Waters explained, will allow businesses to recruit more from within the city instead of luring skilled labor from outside Boulder County and Colorado, atrend that has helped drive recent population growth in the state.

“We have the potential to create an economic engine that transcends the kind of economic development we have seen here before in Longmont,” Waters said.

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com andtwitter.com/samlounz.

Stonework is installed on on the new South Pratt Parkway bridge as part of the Resilient St. Vrain project March 19. Floodplain mapping will need to be

Stonework is installed on on the new South Pratt Parkway bridge as part of the Resilient St. Vrain project March 19. Floodplain mapping will need to be updated in accordance with the changes to the river made by the Resilient St. Vrain post-flood channel work. That project and the adjoining federal opportunity zones that line the river are leading officials to envision more uniform growth along the river. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)
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Clean Up, Green Up Longmont!

Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek is organizing a group to participate in Longmont’s annual Clean Up, Green Up celebration! This year, the Clean Up, Green Up kickoff is Saturday, April 6th at 7:30am at 7 S. Sunset Street in Longmont. As part of the kickoff, the City of Longmont will be providing volunteers with free coffee, juice, and donuts!

Due to the reseeding going on along the St. Vrain, Stand will be cleaning along Lefthand Creek. If interested in helping out, please email standwithstvraincreek@gmail.com.

All volunteers should wear weather-appropriate clothes and sturdy shoes as well as bring their own work gloves.

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REMINDER: Wildlife Management Plan Public Meeting/Open House

Let your voice be heard! Longmont is updating its Wildlife Management Plan and is holding the first of several public meetings THIS Thursday, March 7th from 6 to 8pm at 7 S. Sunset Street.

We need YOU to come out in support of our wildlife and habitat protection. We literally cannot protect Longmont’s wildlife without you! The meeting will be discussing Longmont’s 150 foot riparian setback that is established in the Longmont Land Development Code. This buffer, which prevents new building within 150 feet of St. Vrain Creek, is crucial to protect species that live, breed, and commute in and along the river corridor as well as to keep our river clean and protect against future floods.

Comments on the Wildlife Management Plan will be used to inform the second phase of the Land Development Code update (dealing with regulations regarding streams, wetlands, riparian areas, and wildlife) as well as standards for development along the river corridor.

If you are absolutely unable to attend the meeting, please send your comments to Dan Wolford via email: dan.wolford@longmont.colorado.gov or via phone: 303-774-4691 and plan to attend the second meeting on Thursday, April 4th.

thumbnail of Combined WMPU Flyer

 

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URGENT: Advisory Panel on Development of the St. Vrain River Corridor

Please attend this second meeting of an advisory panel to continue discussion of future development of the St. Vrain river corridor so that the process is as transparent as possible. The meeting is scheduled for Friday, February 15th from 8:30am to 11:30am at the Longmont Museum. 

The agenda is below:

Agenda

8:30 Opening remarks (Council Member Waters)
 Reminder of why we are here – create a transformational vision for the St. Vrain Corridor
 Where we left off last time
 For today’s meeting – look at your ideas in a visual representation, provide feedback and create narratives on specific sections
 For the process – second of three meetings (first was brainstorming), second is the graphic representation of the brainstorming session and narrative writing, third meeting is action planning (online platform congruent)

9:00 Present Visual Representation of Brainstorming from 1/11/19
Daniel Tal, DHM Designs
 What elements do you love?
 What do we need to know to be successful?

10:15 Where we are going (small group narrative writing)
At your tables, consider what you have heard today, and discuss what is possible for the future. Write a brief narrative statement on the assigned graphic corridor.
Consider:
 What are the greatest possibilities as we continue river restoration and envision future development along the river corridor?
 How do we preserve the natural beauty and important environmental qualities of the river?
 How do we attract a stronger presence of higher education in Longmont along the river corridor?
 What opportunities do we not want to miss given the Opportunity Zone in which part of this corridor sits?

11:00 Share narrative of ideas and next steps
Meeting #3 – Action planning – what is it going to take from Longmont to realize it? What does the
Council need to do to open the gates? What would it take for you to commit to making this happen?
Parallel Community Involvement Process – take graphic to community for comment (Cinco de Mayo,
Rhythm on the River, online engagement)

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The Remarkable Riparian Zone: What’s Happening With Our St. Vrain Greenway? Presentation

On Wednesday, February 27th, Longmont Political Revolution is sponsoring a presentation at the Longmont Public Library featuring Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek and Front Range Nesting Bald Eagle Studies.

Stand’s half of the presentation, titled “The Remarkable Riparian Zone: What’s Happening With Our St. Vrain Greenway?” will explain why a functioning riparian zone is crucial to a healthy river system and how it can help mitigate future floods. It will also detail some of the goings-on regarding the St. Vrain river corridor, including current construction.

Join us from 6:30-8:30pm in the A/B meeting room at the Longmont library (409 4th Ave, Longmont, CO 80501).

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Your Accomplishments

Last year a member of Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek made us aware that the Osprey nest platform on N 75th Street was threatened by a new housing development. Construction equipment rolled by directly beneath the nest platform even after the birds had returned from migration, no doubt the cause of the nest’s failure last year.

Thanks to your efforts in contacting Boulder County’s commissioners and Longmont officials, the nest platform is being moved to a more suitable site!

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Action Item: Wildlife Management Plan Update Public Meeting

Longmont’s Natural Resources Department is holding its first public meeting open house regarding the update to the City’s Wildlife Management Plan (WMP). The WMP was first adopted in 2006 and it’s due for an update.

This first meeting will focus on Land Development Code changes with regard to the new prairie dog policy, the work being done with the Resilient St. Vrain flood mitigation project, and riparian setbacks. Other meetings will follow.

We ask that you please attend this meeting if you are able. This meeting will help inform updates to the Land Development Code regarding the 150-foot riparian setback and how Longmont deals with wildlife in general.

The meeting will be held at the Sunset Campus (7 S. Sunset Street, Longmont, CO) on Thursday, March 7 from 6-8pm. Snacks will be provided.

If you need translation services or other special accommodations, contact 303-651-8416 or service-works@longmontcolorado.gov

For any questions, contact Dan Wolford at 303-774-4691 or dan.wolford@longmontcolorado.gov

thumbnail of WMPU First Meeting Flyer

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Advisory Panel Meeting to Discuss Future Development of St. Vrain River Corridor

A second meeting of an advisory panel to continue discussion of future development of the St. Vrain river corridor to meet goals B3 and B4 of the Longmont City Council’s workplan has been scheduled for Friday, February 15th from 8:30am to 11:30am at the Longmont Museum. The session is open to the public as observers and we are asking Longmont residents to attend if their schedule allows so that the process is as transparent as possible.

The Longmont City Council developed a workplan (available here) in 2018 to direct their actions and help them meet their goals for the city. Section B of the workplan contains the City Council’s goals for “Longmont’s places”:

In 20 years, Longmont will have a developed Main Street from Pike Road to Highway 66 and a river corridor that stretches from the sugar mill to the fairgrounds as a vibrant economic, residential, cultural and entertainment epicenter that is sustainable and respects the natural environment. This area will:
 Goal B1: Have a diverse housing stock with higher densities and access to high quality public transportation, food and jobs
 Goal B2: Protect and respect our natural public amenities as part of the development process
 Goal B3: Become a nationally recognized geographic center of science, technology, engineering, education, arts, and entrepreneurism
 Goal B4: Bring together private industry, local government, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education as well as the St. Vrain Valley School District to ensure the highest quality, best prepared workforce in the western United States

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January 11 2019 first session of advisory panel notes.

On Friday, January 11th, City Council convened the first meeting of the advisory panel. The notes to the left were compiled from that meeting (click on picture to to see the full notes).

Although the first meeting was also open to the public, it wasn’t publicized very well. Therefore, Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek is seeking to publicize the second meeting to a wider audience. The agenda for the second meeting is below (click on the picture to view the full agenda).

 

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Agenda for the February 15th advisory panel meeting.

Additional supporting documentation for the panel meeting is below:

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St. Vrain Blueprint study area map.

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Timeline Determined for “Second Phase” of Land Development Code Amendments

On Tuesday, February 22nd, Longmont City Council settled on a timeline for the “second phase” of amendments to the Land Development Code (LDC). These amendments encompass not only that portion of the LDC dealing with riparian setbacks and wildlife protection, but also the timeframe for completing supporting tools/documents such as a sustainability system for evaluating development and that portion of the Wildlife Management Plan that deals with development along riparian corridors/near open space areas.

This timeframe indicates August 1, 2019 as the due date for such amendments. The timeframe was based off of a timeframe developed by City Staff (see below).

Timeline for second phase LDC amendments as proposed by City Staff. Except for the RSVP and Main Street Corridor, these pieces of the LDC have a deadline of 8/1/2019.

To view the full discussion of the Longmont Development Code amendment priority and timeline discussion, watch the following video, which has been cued up to the start of that discussion:

https://youtu.be/4wTjEhe5HiE

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