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By J. Patrick O’Leary

Some residents might feel 2017 passed by in a blur, and that it was just another 12 months of same old, same old. Yet the face and direction of Wheat Ridge has changed significantly, for better or worse. Here is a roundup of the changes that took place.

Community Mourns the Loss of Hank Stites

Community leader Frank “Hank” Stites passed away on Jan. 31, following a stroke. More than 200 family members, friends and acquaintances, including congressman Ed Perlmutter and then-mayor Joyce Jay, attended his memorial service at Stites Park on Feb. 4. Stites served as mayor of Wheat Ridge for 10 years, and served on many community boards of directors. He was instrumental in founding the Carnation Festival.

Clear Creek Crossing Moves Ahead Without a Walmart

Last December developer Evergreen Development Company purchased the vacant parcel located between 32nd Avenue, Highway 58, and west of I-70, better known as the Cabela’s site, and rolled out its plans for a mixed-use project.

Evergreen purchased the site from Cabela’s, which in 2007 received approval from the City of Wheat Ridge to build a massive retail store on the parcel. Evergreen submitted a new zone change application for consideration of a Planned Mixed Use Development to allow retail, restaurants, hotels, multi-family residential and employment uses, according to the city.

Although the Evergreen was in talks with Walmart to relocate its Applewood store to the site as the anchor tenant, no agreement was reached.

Fruitdale School Saved, Reopens as Mixed-Income Apartments

The grand opening and open house for the repurposed and redeveloped Fruitdale Lofts, 10803 W. 44th Ave., took place on Oct. 19, concluding a nine-year effort to preserve the historic school.

The finished project was the fourth – and final – proposal for redevelopment since 2008 for the Temple Buell-designed Fruitdale School, built in 1927 and added to in the 1950s, which has sat vacant since being decommissioned by Jeffco schools in 2007. The Wheat Ridge Housing Authority saved the school from demolition by purchasing it in April 2011, and had been soliciting proposals for redevelopment since.

The $5.5 million project was a public-private partnership between developer Hartman Ely Investments, the city, and the housing authority, and includes 16 rental apartments ranging from 550 to just over 1,000 square feet and including one-, two-, and three-bedroom floorplans in the main school building as well as the caretaker’s cottage. Five of the apartments are income-restricted units.

School Board Regime Change Firmly in Place

On Nov. 7 voters ended a tumultuous era at the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education by voting to keep Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell on the board. The three incumbents ousted three outspoken conservative members in a 2015 recall election. In January, the board voted unanimously not to renew the contract of Superintendent Don McMinimee, hired by 3-2 vote by the previous board; McMinimee’s contract was set to expire in June. The board voted to hire Jason Glass as superintendent in May; Glass was previously superintendent of Eagle County’s School District.

RTD’s G-Line Still Not Open as Another Year Passes

The Regional Transportation District’s G Line – a new eight-stop, 11-mile-long commuter rail line between Wheat Ridge and Union Station – is complete but no new opening date has been announced. Formerly known as the Gold Line, it was originally scheduled to open in fall of 2016.  

The holdup? The G Line has the same at-grade crossing technology as the University of Colorado A Line, and RTD contractor Denver Transit Partners has to meet Federal Railroad Administration requirements regarding the at-grade crossings on the University of Colorado A Line in order for the testing on the G Line to resume.

Lucky’s, Not Walmart, at Corners Development

The Corners at Wheat Ridge development will have a Lucky’s Market natural foods grocery as its anchor tenant, it was announced in April.

The new 35,000-square-foot grocery will complement 30,000 square feet of other retail shops and restaurants, a pocket park, and 230 market-rate apartment units to be built on the site of the former Go Ford dealership on the northwest corner of West 38th Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard.

The at-times controversial development had its council-approved tax-increment financing (TIF) package challenged by a citizen ballot initiative in fall of 2015. It lost its initial anchor tenant – Walmart – last summer, shortly after a Jefferson County District Court ruled the ballot initiative could not undo the approved TIF.

Baseball Strikes Out at Anderson Park

Despite impassioned testimony by Wheat Ridge’s baseball community and an attempt to delay the vote till November, Wheat Ridge City Council on Oct. 23 voted 4-3 to approve a Anderson Park Master Plan recommended by the Parks and Recreation Commission, which replaces the existing baseball diamond with a multipurpose field.

Oh, and We Got Some Hail

The City of Wheat Ridge’s largest hailstorm on record pummeled property on May 8. In the first nine weeks following, city staff (including six additional inspectors) performed 3,360 inspections. In one month, 2,256 online roofing permit and inspection applications were submitted. The storm takes the cake in the top 10 most costly hailstorms in Colorado with an estimated total of $1.4 billion, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.