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Wheat Ridge 2017: Developments rise and hail falls

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It was a year of change for Wheat Ridge, with several old friends of the city departing, and new developments on the horizon.

Here, in no particular order, is a roundup of the stories that graced the Wheat Ridge Transcript’s pages this year.

Liquor store scuffles

Wheat Ridge liquor giant Applejack Wine & Spirits ended up at the center of a freedom of information lawsuit this year. A Boulder competitor asked the city of Wheat Ridge for some public information about Applejacks, and got more than they bargained for, when the city accidentally revealed more information than it should have. The excess information was described in court filings as “ highly sensitive personal and commercial information.”

The ensuing legal wrangling between Applejacks, the competitor and the city was named one of the top 10 public information stories of the year by the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, which was kind enough to help the Transcript cover the story.

Applejack initially won a temporary restraining order, requiring the competitor to give all of the documents to the court and “make no use” of the information contained within them. The parties eventually agreed to a confidential settlement, the details of which are perhaps ironically all redacted from the public record.

District dissatisfaction

Several stories in this year’s paper point to a larger issue that will certainly continue to develop in 2018: The Wheat Ridge community’s growing frustration with the Jefferson County School District.

There was the inclusion of Pennington Elementary in Wheat Ridge on the list of five schools up for potential closure announced in January of 2017. The Pennington neighborhood had to hold its breath until Feb. 9, 2017, when the board voted 4-1 to remove it from the list of potential closures.

Then there was the ongoing concern about the shifting of sixth graders to middle schools. Though other portions of the district have already moved to such a model, community concern still seems high for some parents that will now see their children moved up to Everitt Middle School a year earlier than they thought.

The biggest question mark concerning the community’s relationship with the district office is the future funding of Wheat Ridge High School’s vaunted Gifted and Talented (GT) program, after the district announced that it would no longer fund it directly, to the sum of $150,000. Moving forward, the school is expected to pay for the Gifted and Talented program out of its own operating budget, meaning less money for other programs and students.

The Farmers’ longtime Principal Griff Wirth and Assistant Principal Ken Trager, and Athletic Director Nick DeSimone all retired at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, making the school’s future relationship with the district all the more uncertain.

Passing of dear friends

Former Mayor Hank Stites died on Jan. 31 at the age of 90 from stroke complications.

According to his son Mike Stites, even after the initial stroke on Jan. 6 forced Hank into the hospital, he was still joking around with the nurses about the time the city named a park after him, thinking he had already died.

That park — Stites Park at 29th Avenue and Newland Street — served as a fitting location for the Wheat Ridge community to say farewell to Frank Stites during a Feb. 4 celebration-of-life ceremony.

Stites was elected mayor of Wheat Ridge five times. He also served on the city’s parks and water board. Stites also served on the Board of Directors for Lakeside National Bank, was president of the Rocky Mountain Tire Dealers Association, president of the Wheat Ridge Lions Club and a charter member of the Wheat Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

“The city’s lost a great guy,” former Wheat Ridge Mayor Joyce Jay said after the ceremony. “Active to the end.”

Another longtime Wheat Ridge luminary that passed away in 2017 was newsman John Tracy.

Tracy, 73, died Aug. 1 after being hospitalized for the past two weeks for a variety of health problems.

He entered the newspaper industry in 1973 at the age of 30, with Sentinel newspapers, which published the Transcript at the time. Later, Tracy and business partner Bill Armstrong started their own newspapers with separate editions covering Lakewood, Green Mountain, Applewood and Wheat Ridge.The two sold them in 1980. He was also one of the originators of the Applewood Business Association.

In his time Tracy received much recognition and a litany of awards from various community organizations, including the Golden Rotary Club and the Golden Chamber of Commerce. He was one of the West Chamber’s original lifetime members, and two years ago, he was added to the organization’s hall of fame.

Heck of a hailstorm

The hailstorm that swept through much of the Denver metro area about 3 p.m. on May 8 caused widespread damage, particularly in Jefferson County. The National Weather Service reports nearly three inches of hail fell near Lutheran Hospital in Wheat Ridge during the brief storm.

The Colorado Mills mall shut down in the aftermath of the hailstorm, as roof damage and shattered skylights, followed by considerable rain in the days that followed, forced the closure of the mall for half a year. To this day, store and interior repairs continue there.

Damage was widespread across the Denver metro area, but seemed especially concentrated near Wheat Ridge. City Manager Patrick Goff said that virtually every car in the Wheat Ridge City Hall parking lot was damaged.

But even after the initial storm, there was a secondary storm of roofing and building repair permits that the city had to weather. The sheer number of permit and roof inspection requests overwhelmed city services. Goff said he can understand the frustration, but the city has a responsibility to maintain the quality and thoroughness of the permitting process for the public’s sake.

The sheer number of roofs in need of repair help explain the backlog: A total of 6,655 roofing inspections were done since the hail storm, when the city dealt with only 231 in all of 2016. City staffers were still doing more than 50 roof inspections a week, into December, according to the city treasurer’s reports.

Ongoing growth

Development and redevelopment continued at a swift clip for the city in 2017.

Ten months after announcing a private-public partnership to renovate the dilapidated Fruitdale School, officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house.

“We’re celebrating 134 years of Fruitdale history today,” Jim Hartman, the developer, said at the ceremony Thursday, Oct. 19.

The Fruitdale Lofts is the rebirth of a graffiti-riddled, blighted former school and historic structure to 16 apartment units with low-water-usage and edible landscaping, solar power and deed-restricted rent prices to revitalize the historically relevant structure.

The land for the school was donated in 1883, where a one-room cabin was built for students in an agriculture-rich area. In 1901, a new school building was erected and named Fruitdale No. 32 — a name that is still written in stone above the door. That building burned to the ground in 1926. The current structure was designed by famed architect Temple H. Buell, whose other works can be seen in the Cherry Creek mall and the Paramount Theatre in Denver.

Another high-profile redevelopment kicked off in 2017 — The Corners mixed-use development, at Wadsworth and 38th Avenue.

The path to redevelopment at The Corners was certainly was not a straight one , but at the groundbreaking, representatives from the development company Quadrant Properties, LLC, and from Wheat Ridge City Hall were happy to reach the groundbreaking milestone.

“It’s a celebration of getting rid of a lot of blight. It’s a celebration of 15 acres being turned into something useful, attractive and valuable for now and many years to come,” Mayor Joyce Jay said at the event.

Jay added that 10 of those acres of that had always been undeveloped.

That space will now be developed into a 35,000 square foot Lucky’s Market, up to 45,000 square feet of additional shopping opportunities, 230 market-rate apartments, and a public plaza. Lucky’s and much of the commercial properties are scheduled to open in the spring of 2018, with the apartments hitting the market that winter. The developer said he anticipates the public plaza and greenspace to be among the last components of the project to open, likely in 2019.

There was also some new news from the long-languishing Clear Creek Crossing development, southwest of the Hwy. 58 and I-70 junction. Initially purchased by Cabelas in 2005, the land has stayed vacant until recent months, when earth movers have begun prepping the site for what is intended to be a mixed use area including “a wide range of uses, including retail, hotel, multifamily residential and employment,” according to the developer’s website.

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