Incumbent at-large Littleton City Councilmember Doug Clark speaks at a candidate forum as fellow candidates Kyle Schlachter, Karina Elrod and Carol Brzeczek listen. The race between the two new hopefuls, on left, and veteran “Sunshine Boys” could help signal the city’s direction. The top two vote-getters will be seated on council. Photo by Peter Jones
BY PETER JONES
A sense of small-town community has been a cornerstone of Littleton since the late 1800s when Richard Little founded the onetime farming town. Ongoing efforts to keep growth and density in check in the historic—now inwardly growing—city was at the center of a recent forum for this year’s slate of City Council candidates.
Nine contenders for four positions ventured to contrast themselves on Sept. 28 at Buck Recreation Center. In addition to potentially voting in new representatives or one incumbent in Districts 1 and 3, voters will also select two at-large candidates. The top vote-getter in that race will receive a four-year term, with the second-place hopeful serving for two years.
The race for two seats that represent the entire city could signal a significant directional preference in Littleton as two veteran affiliates of the often-contrarian Sunshine Boys alliance are challenged by a pair of political newcomers.
Sunshine, known for its skepticism of the city government’s accountability and advocacy for limited growth, are represented by incumbent Doug Clark and activist Carol Brzeczek, the co-author of three successful ballot initiatives that critics say tied the council’s hands in areas of zoning, urban renewal and privately-held executive sessions.
Competing for the same two positions are Kyle Schlachter and Karina Elrod, both first-time candidates who have paid their dues on volunteer city boards.
Although no one on the nine-member panel advocated unchecked development—with nearly all repeating refrains of “small-town feel” throughout more than 90 minutes—the distinctions were arguably clear between Sunshine and its competition.
“I think the question is more about quality than it is quantity,” Elrod said. “So, can we impact the quality and type of development that we want, rather than have a conversation about more and more and more?”
Elrod also inferred a new normal for the growing 125-plus-year-old city.
“The reality is Littleton is not so hidden anymore,” she said. “I think that’s a good thing. I really do. I think there are opportunities that come with that.”
While Clark said he accepted the inevitability of some new development in Littleton, he countered the idea that “quantity” should be downplayed in the discussion.
“There’s obviously an effect on quality of life [with poor-quality development],” he said. “But pure quantity affects the traffic, the congestion, the amount of use of parks and open space and all sorts of things.”
Brzeczek was skeptical of Littleton’s ability to endure the demands of further growth.
“If we continue to grow at 1 percent a year, we will double in size in 70 years,” she surmised. “We’re landlocked. … It’s going to have to be high density. We will lose [our small-town character] if we have to accommodate all this new growth.”
Schlachter said it would be up to the city to supervise its growth smartly to avoid those worse-case scenarios of unchecked havoc.
“It’s going to happen,” he said of new development. “We need to figure out how we manage that … so [Littleton gets] growth and change that we want to see in this community.”
Schlachter, a millennial, said the city’s Comprehensive Plan was starting to get a little rough around the edges in the face of such change.
“The Comprehensive Plan is older than I am,” he said. “I think I’ve aged well, but at the same time I’ve changed. I’ve adapted.”
Clark agreed there should be skepticism about city documents, though the city staff’s prepared papers for the council were more his concern.
“I guess my motto is trust, but verify,” he said.
The recent withdrawal of incumbent Bill Hopping from the District 1 race will effectively put representation of the area into the hands of one of two political newcomers. Patrick Driscoll is a veteran of the mortgage and construction industries. Kama Suddath is non-practicing attorney turned nurse.
Both candidates echoed similar themes of maintaining Littleton’s small-town character while not necessarily turning the city’s back on progress.
“Change is going to happen. I’ve already accepted that,” Driscoll said. “I want to be a part of that solution. It’s a difficult topic—pro-growth or a small community. I want both. … If we’re losing opportunities to the neighbors to the north and south, that disturbs me. I don’t want to be a flyover.”
Suddath described herself as a “realist” on the issue.
“We’re going to grow. It’s inevitable and it happens,” she said. “We need as a city and a community to grow in a way where we still love walking Downtown Littleton.”
When it came to the city’s budget shortfall, both said it was time to cut the purse strings.
“I don’t think retail marijuana is the answer for our community,” Driscoll said. “I don’t think raising taxes is the answer for our community, at least [only] as a last resort. Cutting expenditures is the right play.”
Suddath agreed, emphasizing that the city’s priorities should be safety and roads.
“There’s going to be some things that we’re going to have to cut if that’s what’s required,” she said. “And we also need to work on increasing revenue. We have to be realistic.”
Littleton District 3 challenger Steve Esses argues for change on City Council as incumbent Phil Cernanec and fellow challenger Carol Fey wait their turn.
District 3 incumbent Phil Cernanec is facing two challengers—both of whom emphasize the need for new blood.
The former mayor emphasized his experience, distinguishing himself from opponents who seemed to spar with the status quo, with Cernanec frequently translating such kitchen-table subjects as smart neighborhoods into a direct public-policy perspective.
“It starts with some of the conversations I’ve had on the doorstep, which is, what’s the Littleton of your dreams?” Cernanec said. “… Be in a position to aggregate that and convert it into documents and provisions that we can all live with.”
When the conversation turned to the traffic that often comes with growth, Cernanec again stressed experience, saying he had already been making efforts toward solutions that go beyond expensive traffic engineering.
“I’ve been working with businesses as far as staggered start times,” he said. “We will also have some opportunity with Littleton Public Schools as they look to adjust their start times.”
Challenger Carol Fey, an author with a master’s degree in industrial technology, argued what she sees as the ineffectiveness of the current council.
“I want to stop the waste of tax money and start doing things that are important to the citizens like fixing the streets,” she said.
Fey further criticized the council for its interpretations of its own zoning ordinances and for its spending decisions.
“I got to retire 10 years early because I spend money very carefully,” she said. “That would extend to being on City Council. The city put out a report not that long ago saying they spent more on parties and party planning than they did on repairing the streets.”
Longtime resident Steve Esses criticized the council’s recent approach to new development near Historic Downtown Littleton.
“We have no parking for these people or their friends or their neighbors,” he said. “… We’re a finite area. We can’t annex a whole bunch of property next to us.”
The softball coach closed with a sports metaphor.
“I think we have the opportunity to get better players on the field now,” he said. “Better hitters, better decision makers and do our best to strengthen the team for Littleton.”
Mail-in Election Day is Nov. 7.
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