EDITORIAL: Aurora should vote ‘I guess so’ on 1A; Denver voters should give it the ‘hell, no’

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Never does an election go by in Colorado where there isn’t some weird or odious proposition sneaking onto the ballot that claims to be something that never really makes sense.

Colorado residents regularly have to wade through personhood, tax schemes or self-serving measures that aren’t at all what they seem.

This year, it’s Proposition 1A, the election gateway to Denver’s so-called aerotropolis at DIA.

To “get” 1A and why it’s pretty much a non-issue for most of Aurora and why it’s really a bad deal for Denver and Adams County residents, you have know a little Denver International Airport history. And you have to understand that heralded Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole is spinning in his grave right now.

First the history. Denver once had Stapleton airport snuggling homes in Denver and Aurora. It was convenient, but it was noisy and undersized. One camp in Denver wanted to expand it onto nearby former military arsenal land, which was badly polluted. Another camp wanted the state or a regional government to build a new airport, someplace out east where it wouldn’t cause so many problems. Denver wanted to be the sole player in running that airport. Amole hated that idea. He liked a central airport and figured DIA was a boondoggle. Denver won. But victory came at a price. Adams County and Denver voters approved a pact allowing Denver to annex airport land, including a long, thin “flagpole” annexation — which is now Peña Boulevard — to make it happen. But, in exchange, Denver could run all the airport-related industries it wanted on and near the airport, but it could not develop other non-airport industries. That was the prize Adams County, Commerce City and Aurora won for playing along with Denver’s grand plan. That was 1988.

What Denver wants now, and what 1A does, is allow Denver to renege on that agreement, because it wants to build an “aerotropolis” on its land outside the gates of DIA. Aerotropolis is a buzzword for building a city around an airport. This is where Amole spins in his grave, because DIA was created to get the airport away from development, as was the fashion in 1988. Reportedly, Denver has a commitment from Panasonic to lead the way in creating a trendy, new, enviro-friendly, high-tech business campus out there. But if 1A doesn’t pass, the deal is essentially illegal.

What Adams County, Commerce City, Brighton and Aurora have agreed to give up if 1A passes is the exclusive, signed, sealed and delivered right from 1988 to build their own aerotropolis or anything else if they want.

What Denver has agreed to do in providing bait to Adams County is to pay for all the infrastructure costs in getting this project going, limit the types of industries it can lure, limit the project’s scope, frequently ask for permission from Adams County et al., and require Denver taxpayers to hand over half of collected tax revenues, and several million extra dollars, to Adams County as a bribe. The cash is to be shared among Adams County and affected municipalities.

Why Denver residents would agree to pay for the exorbitant costs of development, in addition to certain big incentives to get something like Panasonic to come here, and then give away half of the tax revenues —  upwards of $300 million — is perplexing at best and should raise a wide-open field of red flags for Denver lawmakers and voters. Either Denver made a really lousy deal, or they have no intention of making good on some or all of the payments to Adams County. Spin again, Mr. Amole.

For Aurora, it’s not a terrible agreement. If Denver pulls this off, Aurora gets money for free, courtesy of Denver taxpayers, and it could, in theory, create some excitement in what is now nothing but a handful of chain restaurants, car parking lots and business hotels along Peña Boulevard. The project, in theory, could accelerate Aurora’s plans to also develop around the airport.

For Adams County taxpayers, it’s a lost opportunity for a struggling government that perpetually makes strong arguments why Aurora should secede from it. If so many lucrative and desirable businesses are just itching to open up pricey shops at airports miles and miles away from anything but dirt and a few homes, why doesn’t Adams County develop this and allow its own taxpayers to reap all the tax benefits themselves?

So roll your eyes and hold your nose, Aurora, and vote “yeah, why not” on 1A. The only Aurora residents who get to vote on the question live north of Colfax. Arapahoe County was never a party to the airport deal. If you have friends and relatives you like in Denver, tell them they’re crazy to approve such a thing, even in a city that just can’t say no to a ballot question. And if you know someone living in Adams County, wish them luck.