by John Kiljan
These are the notes of an interview held September 8th and it is one in a series of interviews with candidates for the Arvada City Council. The Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community offered each of the candidates an opportunity to review a list of local CLRC issues and concerns and to comment on them in an informal discussion. The candidates were also invited to talk about any other subjects they thought were important. The interviewer was CLRC member T.O. Owens, with follow-up questions and this write up by John Kiljan. The CLRC does not endorse candidates for elected office.
Ascenzo Di Giacomo is a 1977 graduate of Arvada West High School. He studied Environmental Design at the University of Colorado, and has a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Montana State University. His background also includes studying urban planning and city design while in western Europe. He has worked in the architecture and planning field for 27 years, with much of that time spent in historic resort towns in western states. Three years ago he returned to Colorado after 5 years of working in Park City, Utah, and now lives in Arvada near 64th and Ward Road. He is a single dad and lives with his teenage daughter who attends RalstonValley High School. His interests include outdoor activities and conservation efforts. Mr Di Giacamo is the owner of ASCENZO design studio on Ralston Road.
On central Ralston Road pedestrian safety: It became obvious to me during the IRG/Walmart discussions that this part of Ralston Road/58th east of Arvada Plaza needs improvements as much as any other arterial in the area. It’s a small road that has to handle pretty high traffic volumes, and there are a lot of right-of-way issues. So any widening and improvements on that roadway are going to be very difficult to do.
But the road’s needed improvements are a part of a larger problem. Personally, I believe we need to revisit, not only the plans for Arvada Plaza, but the plans for all of the Ralston Fields study area. I am seeing a lot of studies out there, but nobody seems to be able to properly disseminate that information and summarize it in a way that says, “Here is what our action plan is.” We need to determine what our priorities for this area will be. We should be a little more creative as a City Council and suggest getting everyone together in a big room and go over the specific issues involved. Then we need to take that action-plan to the greater community and say this is what we want to do and ask for feedback.
I’m the kind of person that likes to consider out-of-the-box solutions to complex issues like this. As an example, we could look at the possibility of a three-lane road with two through lanes on Ralston Road and a center turn lane instead of the four through lanes and a center lane that we have now. The center lane could be for turns or for traffic calming islands.
Citizens are concerned about the safety of their children. So we could lower the speed limit to 30 mph or even 25 mph and limit the truck traffic on the road. We do want successful businesses on that part of Ralston Road between Arvada Plaza and Olde Town; but we also want to make it as functional as we can and encourage safe bike and pedestrian use at the same time. This is the kind of thing they do in smaller towns.
I know what some may be thinking, “This guy is crazy, if we do that, traffic won’t want to go down that road. So how are businesses going to thrive there?” My answer would be, if it becomes more pedestrian friendly and we create some pocket parking spots along the entire route, that would help those businesses, it would change the scale and character of the experience on Ralston Road.
If we do reduce the speed limit, you send a message to all drivers that this is a pedestrian zone as well. Twenty or 30 years ago, when the automobile was king, the current configuration may have made sense, but today there’s a different mindset with people regarding pedestrians and cyclists.
On the redevelopment of the north side of the Triangle: This is a complex issue and I think we have to discuss both the north side and south side at the same time. This is a big issue for me and it’s a fiscal issue as much as a planning issue. We need to see if there’s going to be enough funding coming from the south side where the Walmart is to be built and which is expected to generate the revenue needed to develop the north side.
My understanding is that can only be done if Walmart generates the 50 million a year in sales they told AURA they would generate from day one. If we find we don’t have enough money coming in from the south to buy out the owners on the north side, then AURA doesn’t have any resources and won’t be able to do anything on the north side.
So to me it’s actually about what AURA’s vision, plan and goals are. What are they actually planning to do there? What’s going to be Plan A, B or C? What’s going to be their timeline for going in and acquiring the land or getting an option on it so that they can do what they want to do? We have to get the funding mechanism working at the same time we look at what our citizens want for the area.
Right now it looks like AURA is putting the chickens before the eggs. They are already putting out a concept plan without really knowing how it’s going to be funded, and without any goals for what they actually want to put there. So all we have are some concept plans. To me, that’s doing it backwards.
Personally, I don’t think that Walmart can generate the $1.5 million a year in revenue for the City that’s being projected. But let’s assume they do and AURA will have X number of dollars to work with, because, based on the approved ordinance, the City’s portion of the sales tax is going to Walmart for the next 12 to 15 years anyway. We should look at the idea of using that future revenue stream to bond for the money needed now to purchase those properties on the north side. Now, there is definitely an option for the developer itself to buy the north side property, and that options should be left on the table.
Another thing we could do is to consider rebating the expected Walmart revenues to the existing north side property owners on the north side and tie those rebates into improvement agreements. In other words, we’d be giving them the same break that was given to Walmart and to IRG in the south side ODP. We’d be giving them that money based upon a new improvement agreement and bringing the community what they want for the area.
But first we need to be more specific about what we want to see there. I would consider as much mixed-use zoning as we can get. By mixed use I mean an integration of uses and a diversity of uses. It can be business, commercial, retail, residential, or residential built over retail on the second or third floor. It can be separate residential as long as it’s consistent with the scale and height of the rest of the area. Mixed-use projects hark back to a more traditional neighborhood feel and increases pedestrian use.
I do not favor big parking lots sitting on streets with pocket trees. To me, that’s not about community. That’s not the scale and character of the town we want to be. We have an amazing opportunity to do some good here, to do something that creates some residences and small businesses and something that explores all the options for a property of that size.
On the design of the new Ralston Central Park: Citizens are saying the city has been remiss in getting approved final design plans out to the public. They have been looking at early concept plans for the park for some time now and the parking and building improvements have been under construction for a month or two now. This is why citizens are questioning the city’s information stream to them.
If they are pouring curb and gutter, putting in drainage and grading the property, there have to be final construction plans. I can’t think of any good reason why the City would withhold public review of the final plans. A final development plan would have to be approved by the City Council because it’s no different than any other City project.
I’m a question-oriented guy. I’m a problem solver. And what I’m seeing as the fundamental question here is, “Who actually has the authority to approve the final design and what role does the Council play?” I don’t know the answer to that question right now, but I intend to find out. I don’t think it should be blamed on just the parks department. The Council is the overriding body in the City. They should be able to go to the City Manager and say, “We need to see these plans at our meeting next week.”
On parking in Olde Town and spillover into adjacent neighborhoods: This is a fundamental issue and solutions need to be developed for the whole area. When I talk to the businesses in Olde Town, this issue tops their list. They are even concerned that existing parking regulations are going to be enforced. Strict enforcement could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing. There needs to be an overall plan for Olde Town that addresses employee parking, and that’s going to be a tough issue to deal with.
When you start overlaying an urban environment (which is what Olde Town is becoming) onto “sleepy,” quiet residential neighborhoods that have been there forever, you are going to have people that are going to be upset. To deal with the problem we need to look at how other metro-area neighborhoods, such as the Highlands/Tennyson area, have dealt with this issue. But you know what? At some point folks may have to make a decision in their life. Do they want to continue to live in an area that is becoming more urban, or will they choose to move elsewhere? If they don’t like strange cars parked in front of their homes they can decide to get actively involved in City government and help craft the solutions that will deal with these kinds of problems.
What I think needs to be done for all of Olde Town and the neighborhoods just to the west is to use a “zone overlay” to develop an interim parking management plan for the area. That plan would have to consider things like parking meters, new signage, and parking limits on the closest residential streets. It may also include such unpopular things as having the City issue residential parking permits. It will cost money to do these things, so the solutions might have to be phased in. Then we will be able to see how they work before expanding them. What we don’t want is to see the City government becoming so paralyzed by trying to find the perfect solution, that it is not able to do anything.
On neighborhood associations: They are very important. One of my campaign monikers is, “Community, Integrity and Vision.” I think all of those things come into play in neighborhood associations. This has been a pivotal and amazing year for citizen involvement in Arvada. With a three-year history, the CLRC is the first neighborhood association on the block, so to speak, to reach out to citizens and get public feedback. But because of the Walmart proposal for the Arvada Plaza and the Park Place Olde Town proposal, three new groups have been spawned. Those are Save Arvada Now, Stop Arvada Walmart, and Citizens for a Better Arvada and their members are becoming active by attending public hearings, visiting city hall and continuing a vibrant conversation on Facebook.
I think that is great. Although some groups may seem like they only concentrate on specific goals or they are not going beyond their own neighborhood issues, collectively they have really started a new era where citizens get more involved in shaping their community. Hopefully their members will increase and they will all remain effective at monitoring their city government and ultimately shaping the future of their city.
Additionally, three other things come to mind regarding community. I was involved in a political campaign effort last fall and walked many neighborhoods and knocked on a lot of doors for a local congressman. I also talked to hundreds of Arvada residents when circulating the petition to deny IRG/Walmart the PIF funding mechanism that was given to them for “extraordinary” development costs by the city. The one thing I learned was that people don’t know their neighbors beyond five to ten houses from theirs. While walking for this campaign, I found out that I didn’t even know my own neighbors. I spent hours walking around my neighborhood and I’m thinking, “Wow this fun!” I’ve known this guy lived here for 20 years and I’ve never even met him. And they are actually good, real people. They’ll answer the door and they’ll talk to you.
So I’m wondering how we do that across the city to try to get families to get to know each other. Let’s brainstorm some ideas such as giving various neighborhoods a name and establish neighborhood coordinators. Let’s set up a barbeque or events to encourage people to meet their neighbors, and let’s find a way to give them a little seed money to do that. The more we know each other, the better off we’re going to be as community. And the more respect we’re going to have for each other, the more respect we’ll have for town government, because, collectively, our voices will be heard.
On growing traffic on Independence Street: To me, this is a big, big deal. It almost trumps the traffic and safety problems on Ralston Road. Knowing that in less than two years we are going to have a 138,000 square foot Walmart there, and knowing that a successful Walmart is going to be bringing in more traffic, then Independence Street to the south is going to turn into a traffic problem. My primary concern is at the intersections of 57th Avenue, Grandview Ave, and at 52nd Ave for traffic going on to Costco and to I-70 and to the Target center. This problem was not addressed in the Walmart plan and the increased traffic on these roads is going to upset a lot of citizens.
I made this clear to the Council at the July 15th Walmart meeting. I read the traffic study. I listened at the Planning Commission and Council meetings. They gave me no comfort that that issue has been addressed. I’m frustrated by the fact that they approve projects without fully solving these pressing issues.
On lost local recreation and a new neighborhood recreation center: I am assuming you mean on the north side of 58th where the Safeway was. This is another complex issue because it potentially ties itself into the Arvada Plaza-Triangle area, to AURA’s plans and to the long-range goals of the APEX recreation district. Does it make sense to take a commercial and tax-generating portion away from the Triangle and put a public facility, such as a recreation facility, there? Personally, I don’t see how a facility of this type meshes with the studies of the north parcel. It’s going to be difficult to do with the existing ODP plan. The only way we can do it is if AURA buys the property and then deeds it back to the City.
I think putting a recreation center where the old water treatment plant east of KFC at Garrison may not be a great idea because the geography may not work there. My first thoughts on the issue are that it may not be a great idea to put any recreation facility in the Arvada Plaza-Triangle area — unless it becomes a central destination/focal point for a mixed-use project on the north side. I have a problem with a small neighborhood recreational facility that is limited in size because it may be short sighted in serving the long-term needs of the community. Perhaps if we can double the $3.1 seed money that has been discussed for a recreation center and find the right place for it, then that would give us more options.
A primary recreation facility may better serve the needs of eastern and northern residents if it were located closer to Wadsworth Blvd. We need to consider other properties along with the Arvada Center property in which to locate this facility. There are some properties along that corridor that could be considered for purchase by the city.
On zoning in and around Olde Town: I definitely think we need to protect the historic character and the scale of the neighborhoods adjacent to Olde Town, as I said earlier. This issue is the fallout of transitioning Olde Town into a more urban area. That’s where the opposition is on the Park Place Olde Town development, and that’s where the opposition is on the west side of Olde Town. I’m not one to say, “Okay let’s throw open the adjacent residential streets out there for infill and have a development free for all.” We need to be thoughtful in understanding what the overall picture will look like, and perhaps put restrictions on the style, character and footprint of what’s to be built there.
My concerns are echoed by what’s happened in the Highlands/Tennyson Street neighborhood in Denver. Recent infill residential development built by speculative builders is changing the character of that historic neighborhood for the worse. This could happen to Olde Town if we do not establish guidelines that are respectful of the historic fabric of Olde Town.
I used to visit my grandmother in north Denver when I was a child. I was able to walk to neighborhood stores and bakeries and anywhere else I needed to go to. It was great. It really pains me now to go there and see some historic brick buildings replaced with non-descript contemporary stucco boxes. These houses are slowly changing the character of the neighborhood with these infill projects. If Denver would have proposed guidelines that would have restricted the scale and footprint of this new construction, it would have helped maintain the feel and character of these old neighborhoods.
These Highlands projects are not unlike what is proposed for Park Place in the middle of the historic Olde Town neighborhood. What kind of architectural character are we looking for in Olde Town? And even though there may not be an abundance of buildings with strong historical significance on streets such as Yarrow, we still have to respect the local historic neighborhoods. We can’t do that by replacing them with contemporary stucco boxes.
On sustaining older neighborhoods: Honestly, I believe the free market is going to drive what happens to our older neighborhoods. That’s what’s happening to older residential neighborhoods located next to urban developments across the country. I’m not saying that’s all good or all bad. It’s a combination of both. The only way those residential areas are going to get upgraded is if current or new owners invest in improvements such as remodels, additions and landscaping on their properties. As property values increase, owners will be encouraged to make these improvements to their homes as their neighbors have done. The neighborhoods along eastern Ralston Road will become desirable for owners and land speculators due to their proximity to the new Gold Line. If we don’t define what we want in those neighborhoods, both local and out-of-state speculators will.
Development is like a fast moving train with a lot of cars. It carries a lot of momentum, and that momentum increases when government greases the wheels. We, as a community, have to be cognizant of that and put in place progressive regulations and establish timelines, based on sound planning principles, thoughtful citizen input and our own planning studies.
These proven planning principles are designed to hold on to the things we feel are important to us — things like maintaining the scale and character of our older neighborhoods across the city, allowing people in all income brackets to be able to thrive, increasing recreational and cultural opportunities at the same time we are building our community into a safe and enjoyable place to live.
* * *
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
For more information on Ascenzo Di Giacomo visit his website at
or feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at 720-633-4948.
Mr Di Giacomo also has a Facebook campaign page at “Di Giacomo for Arvada”.
Mr Di Giacomo’s opponent for the open At-Large Council district seat is incumbent Don Allard.
The Arvada Chamber of Commerce held a forum with both of the candidates running for the At-Large City Council seat on August 30th. You can view that discussion by going to this YouTube link:
And then on September 26th the Chamber held a second forum at City Hall. You may view that discussion at this link:
or for better audio and video go to
starting at the 33 minute mark.
You can read all of our neighborhood association posts and Council election interviews by going to www.RalstonCommunity.org , and you can join us with 800 other followers on Facebook at “CLRC Arvada”.
John Kiljan, CLRC Notes: 303-423-9875 or email@example.com
October 12, 2013
All rights reserved