YEAR IN REVIEW: Planned growth, unplanned weather in Commerce City in 2013

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By The Staff

COMMERCE CITY — Things don’t always go as they’re planned, but often the pieces of the puzzle fall right into their proper spot.

In many ways, the puzzle pieces of Commerce City’s future were neatly placed as the picture of what’s to come became clearer over the past 12 months.

As is our custom at MetroWest Newspapers, we’ve picked out some of the top stories from the past year to review and reflect as we look forward to what 2014 has in store for the community.

Revitalizing the old Adams City site

The year got underway with final approval for plans to renovate and reconstruct the property currently housing the former Adams City High School building on East 68th Ave.

Phase 1 then got underway with abetment of all buildings, and demolition of all buildings with the exception of the cafeteria, theater and media center.

The cafeteria was slated for renovation into a Professional Learning Center for Adams 14 teachers and administrators. As an additional source of revenue, the Professional Learning Center will be available to other aligned organizations to rent for meetings and conferences, when not in use by the District.

The former theater and media center were to remain intact, creating an opportunity to be leased to Commerce City community groups looking to enhance cultural experiences in the City.

Overall, implementation of Phase 1 of the project is set to cost $7.4 million through the next two years.

New top cop

Among many changes at City Hall in 2013 was the swearing in of Police Chief Troy Smith, who had been appointed in late 2012 and officially joined the department near the start of the year.

As part of taking on the position, Chief Smith wasted little time making changes to the organizational chart at CCPD, appointing two new deputy chiefs in August: Frances Gomez, who now serves as the department’s deputy chief for operations, and Lowell Richardson as deputy chief for support services. Both Gomez and Richardson began their new roles on Sept. 17.

Andrew Amador tabbed for Ward 1 twice

Andrew Amador was picked to serve as the Ward 1 councilman twice in 2013: Once by council appointment and again by Ward 1 voters.

Council voted 6-2 to select Amador on Jan. 28 to fill the vacancy created with the resignation of Dominick Moreno.

“I don’t have an agenda to accomplish but rather want to help make sure the citizens of Commerce City have a voice representing them,” Amador said at the time of his appointment. “Dominic Moreno was a great advocate for the citizens and I plan to do the same.”

Amador then stood for election to the seat in the Nov. 5 vote, facing a strong challenge at the polls from longtime Ward 1 resident Gene Leffel. Amador succeeded in securing the remainder of the term, winning 50.32 percent of the vote compared to Leffel’s 49.68 percent, one of the closest council races across the state this year with only eight votes difference between winner and runner-up.

Rentech closes

Rentech, Inc., announced the closure of its Commerce City research and development plant in March, a move that resulted in the loss of about 65 jobs at the plant, which was “mothballed” in hopes to selling to another company interested in pursuing biorefinery operations.

Stormwater controversy

A group formed in opposition to the stormwater fee program instituted by Adams County for unincorporated property owners, pushing the issue as far as a lawsuit against the county.

The fee program has been criticized by some as being a violation of the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights by, in effect, being a tax that was not approved by votes. Others claimed the county had erred in calculating the amount of property that would be subject to the stormwater fee, prompting a rash of appeal forms that resulted in the county hiring temporary workers to process the workload.

In response to the outcry, the board of county commissioners created a citizen task force to examine the program; their recommendations were presented to the board in recent weeks.

As it stands, a lawsuit is slated to go to trial in 2014 challenging the legality of the stormwater fee program.

Massive Front Range floods hit city

It wasn’t the wall of water that devastated Boulder and other Front Range communities, but the massive rainfall in September spurred widespread flooding across the city, resulting in dozens of road closures and many homes being evacuated.

Most worrisome on Thursday, Sept. 12, was the broken dam at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, which spilled water into the Irondale neighborhood. City officials with assistance from South Adams Fire and Northglenn Ambulance worked to shuttle people from their homes to a makeshift shelter at Adams City High School.

If not for an embankment between the refuge and the nearby railroad tracks, the mass of water — estimated about 20 feet deep — would have gushed forth rather than merely cresting over and into the neighborhood.

FEMA officials were on hand for days and weeks to follow as residents and business owners began the process of salvaging flooded properties and filing for disaster assistance.

Dog-shooting case spurs lawsuit

The owner of a dog shot and killed by a Commerce City police officer in 2012 filed a lawsuit against the city and the officers involved in the shooting.

Lawyers for The Animal Law Center announced Nov. 14 that they had filed a civil suit on behalf of Gary Branson, the owner of Chloe the pit bull. Chloe was shot and killed Nov. 24, 2012, by Officer Robert Price, who was named in the suit along with officers Arica Bores and Christopher Castillo.

Price was found not guilty on animal cruelty charges by an Adams County jury Oct. 2 in a criminal probe of the shooting.

“It’s very important that we pursue justice for Chloe and Gary,” said Jennifer Edwards, attorney and founder of The Animal Law Center. “Last month’s not guilty verdict for Officer Price on animal cruelty charges was a shock, especially given that video evidence of the incident shows Chloe trying to flee and not acting aggressively toward officers. We have to correct this travesty.”

The case has been filed in Colorado Federal District Court.

Issue 2K approved

The campaign for a 1-percent sales and use tax increase to fund parks, recreation and infrastructure projects in the city was a success in the Nov. 5 general election.

Ballot Issue 2K garnered 4,023 votes — or 54.6 percent — in favor of the tax increase, compared to 3,336 votes against, or 45.3 percent.

The projects to be funded by the passage of 2K include:

• A new recreation center with an indoor pool at Second Creek Community Park;

• Widening of Tower Road from 80th to 103rd avenues;

• New additions to the existing recreation center, including a new therapy pool;

• A seasonal outdoor pool in the southern part of the city;

• Three new neighborhood parks in Fronterra, Turnberry and Villages at Buffalo Run East.The increase also will provide a dedicated revenue source to construct, operate and maintain road, park and recreation projects in the future.