We sat down for a cup of coffee and some conversation with the Mayor of Littleton, Debbie Brinkman.
Her coffee spot of choice? Dirt Coffee Bar, a local Littleton coffee shop with a focus on employing and empowering individuals with autism. A sunny day, outdoor seating, and a great cup of iced coffee made for great conversation with Mayor Brinkman.
Check out the full interview below:
Thank you for meeting with us today. Let's start by having you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came into your role as Mayor of Littleton.
I've been in Littleton for 17 years and when I moved here I thought I had found the perfect place. Within about four years of moving here, the neighborhood that I moved into was next to a large 25-acre field and there was a request for a Walmart to rezone in there. I just could not handle thinking I was going to lose my neighborhood, so I ended up fighting that Walmart for about a year and a half, and we ended up winning.
It took an army – I mean, the entire community rallied, and those who were opposed to it really came together and I ended up leading the group. We had hundreds of people that supported the fight, but we were fighting Walmart, right? So, they've got money and time. It took a year and a half and we had to go through a referendum, get signatures, and get it on the ballot, but in the end, we did win.
Shortly after that, there was a council election, so I thought it might be a really good opportunity. Part of the challenge with Walmart was watching the way that city leadership was handling some issues and concerts, and I thought, "If you really don't like what's going on, it's one thing to fight it, but it's another thing to get in and change it."
Did you have a background in any sort of council position?
No, nothing. I came up from advertising and marketing and worked for a number of ad agencies in Denver. Then, I started my own business after about 25 years and worked in professional organizing, and did that for 12 years. The whole council thing, there are no real classes to go through. One day you're watching The Voice and the next day you're sitting behind the dais making policy decisions. That's kind of local government.
What are some of the things that drew you to the Littleton community?
Well, I had lived in central Denver but wanted a little more room. I also knew my dollar would go a little bit further in the suburbs, so I moved out and wasn't intentionally looking for Littleton, but I found a home in a location that I really, really loved. This is now the longest I've ever lived in one place. I moved here in 2002 and even I was shocked the other day when I realized how many years I've lived here.
There are some changes on the horizon for the Littleton area. What can you tell us about the progress being made with the C-470 expansion and how that will affect the people living here?
Yes, the C-470 Expansion is just a massive, massive transportation project. It really spans a number of counties and municipalities, so it only touches Littleton in some parts. I think the biggest effect that it will have on the Littleton community is getting some of the traffic off of our streets and back onto C-470 once it's completed. We've really noticed what happens when a major thoroughfare [is under construction] and traffic starts to slow down and the effect that has on our local streets. So, when it's done, we'll hopefully see some relief there.
I think the other thing is that the project is really an indication of growth in the region and reflects how we're dealing with transportation issues, mobility, and getting people moved around. These kinds of projects are huge, they cost a fortune to do, and obviously, take a lot of time. It's been pretty disruptive with closures of trails for biking and walking. We're going into, I believe, year three with it, so I think once it's all said and done, it will be great and hopefully, we'll see some of the benefits of moving that traffic back onto the interstate.
We're also curious about the new development being built at Broadway and Dry Creek Road -- the Littleton Village. What can you tell us about that project?
Well, Littleton Village has been an interesting project. It's been a piece of property that we really struggled to get redeveloped. We rezoned it for 900 residential units and 250,000 square feet of retail/commercial. Most of the residential units have gone in and they've got townhomes and single-family homes. They're trying to get some retail out there and it's been a real challenge. We're seeing some restaurants go in there, so hopefully, those things will start to materialize [...] but it has been a challenging development over there. A lot of the challenge has been just trying to get stuff to come up out of the ground, so hopefully once the residential is finished being built out, then there will be more opportunity.
Your bio on the Littleton Government website includes your work supporting open space, water flows in the South Platte River, and trail safety. What makes these issues specifically important to you and the City of Littleton?
Well, Littleton is really blessed in that we have one of the largest suburban parks in the country. We have nearly 900 acres at South Platte Park, and it's a preserve and a wildlife sanctuary. We have five lakes in there, one of which is protected primarily because of the wildlife that uses the park. We have over 250 migratory birds that come in and out of the park all year; herds of white-tail deer, mule deer, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, muskrats, and a number of other mammals. We've got the Mary Carter Greenway, which is a bike trail used by over 700,000 people every year and continues to see more and more use. We have spots where people can enjoy fishing in the river too, so it's really important when you have something like that to really try and protect it because there's so much encroachment on it. [...] It's a lot of work, but it's really important because you have to do this work now so that the next generation – the people that are going to come in 10 or 20 years – will still be able to enjoy it.
What are some of the biggest challenges the City of Littleton faces?
I think most of the challenges we face are the same ones the other communities are facing in the metropolitan area. Largely, it's dealing with growth, dealing with transportation issues, and dealing with housing issues. [...] We're dealing with recruiting good and smart businesses. We're dealing with making sure our schools stay healthy and vibrant. I think that one of the really positive things about being in Littleton and being in the southern region is that we all work collaboratively with other communities. So, when you're going to work on a problem like homelessness, what we've done is we've reached out to Englewood and Sheridan – we call ourselves the "Tri-Cities" – and working with them, we put together a commission where the three communities can work together on that. Working together on those issues is really what's helping us to get a lot more done than working alone.
As Mayor, what are some of your primary focus areas for the city itself? What areas keep you the busiest?
Oh, I think the primary focus is whatever pops up on the email that day, right? One of the primary focuses we've been working on as a council for the last year and a half is a rewrite of our comp plan. That's kept us pretty busy. It's a 1981 comp plan, so we've done some updates along the way. The last one was in 1991, so it's really important that we get this thing done. Putting together a transportation plan, dropping some master plans on areas, our river for example. Those are the huge projects that we really keep as a priority, so as other little things come up that can take you off track, we can stay vigilant as a council and as a staff to stay focused.
Lastly, we have some rapid-fire questions for you:
Favorite restaurant in Littleton?
How early do you wake up in the morning?
Six o'clock. I have a dog ... he's up at 5:30.
How long have you lived in Littleton?
Any "guilty pleasure" TV shows?
Yes (laughs) ... Sons of Anarchy.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I would just add that, with summer coming, Littleton has some really, really fun events. One of them is the Littleton Twilight Criterium, a timed bike race where cyclists ride on a looped path through the neighborhoods and down Main Street. At first, it was just our local bike shop that wanted to do it, but now we have national coverage and people fly in from all over to ride in the race. We have a whole big party with all kinds of food trucks. There are live bands, a BMX race, and a beer garden.
We also have a number of street festivals all summer long where people can come down and just enjoy the shops and the music and the outdoors. Hudson Gardens also just came out with their concert lineup for the summer. There's always something to get involved in and there's always a shop to bop into.
Thank you to Mayor Brinkman for taking the time to speak with us!