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Lakewood may dust off the wrecking ball as plan forms to target blight (Local Tips & Reviews)

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Maddie Nichols looks for trash to collect near a burned-out car in the parking lot of the vacant Holiday Shops shopping center at W. 10th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard on Friday, March 31, 2023, in Lakewood. Nichols has lived in the neighborhood since 1969 and is concerned about the area. (Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post)

A pair of filthy mattresses strewn near a stack of tires. A car, stripped of its mechanics, up on blocks. A grimy yet heartfelt Father’s Day card jammed into the chain link of a security fence, surrounded by shards of glass.

This and more can be experienced in the pothole-gouged parking lot of Holiday Shops on the eastern fringe of Lakewood. A shopping center that once bustled with a grocer, a pharmacy and even a square dance supply store is now a former shell of itself, slathered in graffiti and bearing a sign for menudo sabroso in the window of a restaurant that will never serve another meal.

It’s actually been this way, more or less, for a decade or more.

“It makes me very sad — I’m very distraught that it has sat there like that for so long,” 81-year-old Two Creeks neighbor Maddie Nichols said of the empty strip mall at the corner of W. 10th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard that dates back to 1966. “We want it down.”

Lakewood does too. On Monday, its elected leaders will engage in a full-throated discussion on the best course of action to take to get rid of the numerous boarded-up and decrepit commercial properties that are sprinkled throughout Colorado’s fifth-largest city and hope for something better to rise in their place.

Dubbed the stressed properties program, it would include a phase to assess where the target properties are in Lakewood and outline penalties for ones that continue to sit vacant; a second phase to empower the city to buy up certain parcels for a do-over; and a third prong to establish a revolving loan fund to help property owners cover the cost of scraping old buildings.

The program, if adopted by Lakewood’s city council, would roll out in phases throughout 2023. Because Monday’s meeting is a study session, no vote will be taken.

“They are definitely an eyesore and they attract crime and homelessness — some people are breaking into these places,” said Lakewood Councilwoman Sharon Vincent, who represents the northeast portion of the city. “You drive down Colfax and you see blighted properties.”

And plenty of them, from west of Kipling Street all the way down to the city line at Sheridan Boulevard. Imperial Autos is boarded up and empty at Colfax and Harlan Street. The city closed the Blue Sky Motel for code violations in late 2021 and caught fire the following year. It sits behind a fence at Colfax and Jay Street.

Even in the strip mall that plays host to Casa Bonita, the iconic Mexican restaurant that promises a long-anticipated reopening next month after being closed for three years, there are large empty buildings at the east end. A former Arby’s restaurant is boarded up and stripped of its signage.

“Our existing codes are limited to life and safety issues — we don’t necessarily have the ability to enforce for general disrepair and unattractiveness of buildings,” said Travis Parker, Lakewood’s planning director. “This is the first and largest attempt as a city to address this issue.”

When it comes to purchasing properties “that the free market can’t handle,” as a council memo puts it, Lakewood would use money from its Economic Development Fund, which is funded by the city’s occupancy tax at hotels and motels. The city would have to buy from a willing seller — “without the threat of condemnation” — and any resulting housing development would have to contain at least 20% affordable units.

As of the end of 2021, the Economic Development Fund had an audited balance of around $9.5 million.

The alternative to buying distressed properties would be the city’s revolving loan fund, which would help property owners demolish structures, do environmental remediation, remove pavement and grade the site. The loan would have to be paid back upon sale or occupancy of the property.

“It’s for people who don’t want to sell the property to us but want to sell it and redevelop it,” Parker said. “It will help move along faster the redevelopment of these distressed properties.”

And languishing properties are a big problem for Lakewood, said Tom Quinn, executive director of the Alameda Corridor Business Improvement District. A forlorn gas station at West Alameda Avenue and Harlan Street, he said, has sat empty for at least five years.

“It has gradually fallen into disrepair and the situation worsened markedly in 2021,” Quinn said. “By March 2022 there was graffiti on most of the exterior walls, broken windows and trash piling up. Some unhoused people built a camp on the property in the summer of 2022.”

The city finally made the owner clear the site and install fences and cameras, he said.

“Abandoned and blighted properties harm the local economy and pose a significant public safety risk,” Quinn said.

Lakewood’s economic development director, Robert Smith, said abandoned buildings are “magnets for crime.” People break in and steal the copper piping and HVAC systems, and illegally dump trash.

The city, he said, will be piloting the revolving loan fund concept at Holiday Shops in the Two Creeks neighborhood. Even though the city hasn’t approved the distressed buildings program yet, Lakewood is working with the new owner of the defunct strip mall and may provide it with a $1 million loan to scrape the site.

The ultimate plan is to build a mixed-use project there, with retail on the ground floor and residences above. The council will vote on the loan April 10.

Nichols, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1969 when the strip mall was just 3 years old, said demolition day can’t come soon enough.

“We’re planning to have a party when it comes down,” she said.

This story was first published Saturday, April 1, by The Denver Post, a BusinessDen news partner.

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