About BillM

Bill Menezes has lived in Northwest Denver's City Council District 1 for 13 years.

Lawsuit: Susan Shepherd Misled Public on Zoning Change for A Campaign Contributor

The last place a struggling political candidate wants to be is in court, on the wrong end of a lawsuit from voters. But that’s exactly where Susan Shepherd, the rookie City Council representative for Northwest Denver’s District 1, has landed.

Susan Shepherd

Source: 9news

Shepherd was singled out in a lawsuit that three local homeowners and the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association filed March 16 in Denver District Court against the entire City Council. The suit seeks to overturn the Council’s controversial vote to allow significantly larger-than-originally-promised buildings in one portion of the St. Anthony redevelopment project by Sloan’s Lake, in Shepherd’s district. Shepherd has received campaign donations from at least nine developers involved in projects at St. Anthony or on nearby West Colfax Ave., including NAVA Real Estate Development, which benefits directly from the upzoning at the heart of the lawsuit.

The crux of the lawsuit is that the City Council improperly considered and voted on the upzoning, ignoring an earlier city-sanctioned development plan and violating in various ways the legal requirement that Council must function as an impartial, quasi-judicial body in considering such requests. The complaint specifically cites Shepherd’s actions during the Council’s Feb. 17 hearing and vote on the matter as a key piece of evidence for its claim:  

“At said hearing, Councilwoman Shepherd made the claim that the proposed rezoning conformed to the West Colfax Plan, and read aloud a relevant portion of the Guiding Principles–which were incorporated into such plan—to make her point. Such principles require the tallest buildings to be “toward West Colfax”. When Shepherd read from the Guiding Principles, she omitted the words “toward West Colfax” from her recital. Furthermore, at said hearing, the Community Planning and Development (CPD) staff made no reference whatever to the significant words “toward West Colfax.” [author’s emphasis]

This is a big deal because while the St. Anthony redevelopment is widely popular, hundreds of residents have rebelled against an ongoing push by its developers to allow huge buildings closer to Sloan’s Lake than originally planned. There, the 12-story buildings that developers want — instead of the five-story structures the zoning previously allowed — would block views and cast shadows on the popular park. Residents want them further south of the lake, nearer to West Colfax Ave., as they say the area redevelopment plan specifically intended. Shepherd voted in favor of the upzoning that would allow those high-rises to cluster by the lakefront, despite the request of 500 nearby residents that she vote “no.”

The suit also alleges that instead of approaching the zoning hearing in the impartial, “quasi-judicial” manner city law requires Council to take for such hearings, Shepherd had determined in advance how she planned to vote:

“Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, within whose District lies the subject property, immediately after the quasi-judicial hearing, read from a prepared statement approving the rezoning. In her statement, which was purportedly read from the Urban Form, Guiding Principle of the St. Anthony Task Force Report and Recommendation regarding building height and density, but specifically omitted the operative language, and two most important words, “towards Colfax”. Upon information and belief, Plaintiffs believe Shepherd failed to conduct herself as a neutral quasi-judicial decision-maker, having already spoken in favor of the zoning change at the November 12, 2014 Planning Board hearing on the C-MX-12 zoning map amendment, and having engaged in extensive ex parte contacts with the property owner and its representatives while the rezoning application was pending, and having already decided to vote in favor of the rezoning before the February 17, 2015 City Council hearing.” [author’s emphasis]

It gets worse: The zoning change in question primarily benefits one of Shepherd’s campaign funders, NAVA Real Estate Development. Shepherd  was in hot water already with District 1 voters over her ties with developers with whom she has sided in numerous cases vs. aggrieved constituents. Now, her growing opposition can point to another in a series of occasions in which Susan Shepherd appeared to favor a campaign donor over local residents.

0 Shares

Susan Shepherd’s Re-Election Problem: It’s Worse Than You Thought

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

 

A Feb. 24 fundraising email from Susan Shepherd, the embattled rookie City Council member for Denver’s District 1, blames widespread opposition to her re-election on “disgruntled folks in our community who don’t believe in smart development and growing our communities.”

 

Talk to District 1 voters though and they paint a starkly different picture: Opposition to Shepherd has galvanized because of her outsized advocacy for property developers who have clashed at times with local residents, compounded by what many see as an unseemly Shepherd grab for campaign dollars from those same developers.

In what rapidly is becoming the most closely watched 2015 Council race, residents of the Northwest Denver district point out how developer interests in District 1 projects dovetail with their spending on Shepherd. Opponents also describe Shepherd’s open opposition to local residents — through Council votes and in numerous public statements — on occasions when they have faced off against her developer benefactors over sometimes contentious property ventures in neighborhoods such as Sloan’s Lake, West Highland and Berkeley.

To be fair, a District 1 Council member must work closely with property-related businesses. The Northwest Denver district is home to booming redevelopment on West Colfax Ave. and at the old St. Anthony hospital site by Sloan’s Lake. It’s a hotbed of residential scrapeoffs. And not suprisingly Shepherd’s strongest opponent, Jefferson Park architect Rafael Espinoza, has worked directly with developers both professionally and as a community advocate. As a result he likely will attract some of their campaign support.

But what typically stuns residents who review Shepherd’s campaign finance reports of the past two years (here, here and here) is the magnitude of developer largesse. More than a third — nearly $15,000 — of Shepherd’s TOTAL campaign donations from 2013 to January 2015 came from businesses and people whose current or planned District 1 projects she has advocated in Council votes, public statements and meetings with residents. And that was even before her planned Feb. 26 kickoff event where envelopes were ready again to be stuffed with checks and cash.

Payments through January included: A $500 payment from a construction company CEO in Houston, Texas, who is building a large apartment building at 38th Ave. and Lowell Blvd. in West Highland. Another $1,000 came from the Austin, Texas-based restaurant chain that Shepherd helped to get tax increment financing for a project on West Colfax. There was $1,000 from EnviroFinance, the lead redeveloper at St. Anthony; more than $2,000 from a property manager with restaurants speckling District 1; and more than $2,500 from entities related to Red Peak Properties, which in 2014 lost a heated battle vs. West Highland residents to plop three five-story apartment blocks next to the 100-year-old Victorian houses near 32nd Ave. and Lowell Blvd. A more detailed donations list is here.

To paraphrase the late Sen. Everett Dirksen: $2,000 here, $2,000 there…pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Compounding the ill will that the appearance of a major conflict of interest has created: Shepherd’s typically prickly demeanor when engaging large, organized groups of local residents that have sought her help in mitigating traffic problems and other impacts from various local projects. Some 500 residents petitioned against an upzoning to increase the allowable building size on some blocks in the St. Anthony project to 12 stories from the 5 stories originally promised. Shepherd voted "yes" on the upzoning, as requested by NAVA Real Estate Development. NAVA co-owner Brian Levitt is a Shepherd campaign funder.

Residents also cite Shepherd’s behavior during the multiyear battle with Red Peak, which among other things saw her promote as “compromises” design elements the developer already had in its original plans predating the rise of community opposition. More recently, residents reported that Shepherd glowered from the sidelines at a Feb. 17 community meeting staged by Houston-based Trammell Crow Residential — whose CEO Kenneth Valach gave Shepherd $500 — to promote a planned apartment project for Shepherd donor Gene Lucero.

In contrast with her smiling photo ops such as marching in the Martin Luther King Day Marade, many District 1 residents characterize Shepherd’s personal interactions with them as “disdainful” or “unhelpful,” and point to her lack of any significant initiatives on CIty Council. During this month’s near-record snowfall in Denver, Shepherd showed astonishing tone deafness when she posted a Facebook entry admonishing residents — in a district with numerous elderly residents — to clear their sidewalks because “the snow won’t remove itself.”

Clearly the rookie councilwoman faces an uphill battle to retain the seat she won by just a 5% margin in a 2011 runoff election.

 

0 Shares