Foes of the Uplands development proposal said a city decision not to accept 14 emails before the final Dec. 15 Westminster City Council meeting silenced their group.
“To what benefit of the public good is trying to limit the public input into such a weighty decision by the council?” said Karen Ray, a leader of the Save the Farm group.
The Westminster’s City Council hosted three public meeting with testimony leading up to their Dec. 15 decision to approve rezoning of the land.
“The City accepted written and recorded testimony up to the posted agenda deadline of noon on December 13, 2021. Written and recorded testimony submitted after the noon December 13, 2021 deadline was not included in the record,” said Andy Le, a spokesperson for the city.
Only in-person testimony beyond that date was heard, Le said. After the public comment was closed, the City received 14 emails, according to Le.
Councilors heard from 65 total speakers and 96 voicemails before issuing their decision. Additionally, the city received 68 emails of testimony prior to the Dec. 13.
Ray said she and others submitted testimony after the Dec. 13 that was not included in the public record. Although the city posted the deadline as Dec. 13, she points to a comment made by Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott signaling the testimony would be heard.
“The motion was to extend the meeting to finish the public hearing once the voicemails are all listened to and we would close the public hearing,” DeMott said in his motion.
“...to explain, when the public hearing closes that means emails or any communications after that they are not considered because the public hearing is closed,” DeMott said. “Once it is closed, it’s closed so we won’t consider anything sent to us about this topic.”
Ray said she and others interpreted this to mean that testimony such as emails would be accepted until the public hearing was closed, which was on Dec. 15.
Ray said not including their emails and comments made it impossible to counter comments made by Eric Kornacki, the executive director of the Uplands Community Collective.
Kornacki quoted a column by Andy Bosselman in the Denver Post about Denver’s housing history in his comments.
“Today, wealthy white homeowners have a disproportionate say in the city’s future, these neighborhood defenders use their influence to zealously preserve one of the KKK’s original tools of segregation, zoning bans all types of housing except single-family homes,” he said.
Save the Farm members wrote emails in response to this comment.
“Tonight we watched the Uplands developer slander local residents calling them racists and supporters of the KKK,” Save the Farm member Karl Merida wrote. “Additionally the developer claimed that a member of save the farm harassed someone in the parking lot. This is totally outrageous. Uplands will literally say ANYTHING to close the deal. It is inconceivable that the city would do business with such an unethical developer.”
Ray said Merida intended that letter be included in the public record. There were other topics, as well, she said.
“Other letters were sent by members of the public that addressed other areas of concern, non-conformance with city standards, and harm that would be done by approving the motions on the Uplands proposal for rezoning, Preliminary Development Plan, and Master Official Development Plan,” Ray said in an email to the the City and city councilors, sent before the second reading of the Uplands project on Jan. 10.
But Le said the second reading just gives the council a second chance to review items they already voted on.
“With regard to the why we have a second reading, it’s part of the city’s charter,” Le said. “In this instance, for a land-use hearing, testimony and other evidence is introduced during the hearing. These comprise the record. After the close of public testimony, no additional verbal or written public testimony may be included in the record. City Council then deliberates and votes.”
“Where an item is approved via ordinance, votes occur on first and second reading. Ahead of the second reading, a public notice is put in a newspaper to ensure the public is aware,” Le said.
The second reading vote on Jan. 10 was the same as the Dec. 15 vote – 5-2 in favor of the zoning change.