At Westminster City Council’s Dec. 15 meeting about Uplands, three speakers testified about harassment coming from the Save the Farm group. Bryan Head, a founding board member of Westminster’s …
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At Westminster City Council’s Dec. 15 meeting about Uplands, three speakers testified about harassment coming from the Save the Farm group.
Bryan Head, a founding board member of Westminster’s Chamber of Commerce, said a group member approached him after the planning commission meeting regarding Uplands.
“There are those who will demonize this development’s supporters, including those of you who vote to approve the project. In fact, after I spoke at the Planning Commission meeting a few weeks ago, a member of that group threatened to, and I quote, `make trouble for me’ if I continue to support this project,” he said.
Jackie Lombardi, a 24-year-old, third-generation Coloradoan, had similar experiences.
“I came to speak in support of the Uplands project at the Planning Commission meeting and was basically verbally harassed by members of the audience and again in the parking lot by residents who said I shouldn’t be allowed to have an opinion on this,” she said.
A Heated Project
Developer Oread Capital wanted the City Council to let them continue work on the 235-acre project, designed to convert the large open space surrounding the church into Uplands, a massive mixed-use development, with housing options ranging from single-family homes to apartments and townhomes as well as parks and commercial areas. The project would take several years to complete, ultimately having room for 2,350 dwelling units in a mix of housing types.
Save the Farm stood opposed, fighting for the treasured open space and an active farm of over 100 years, according to Karen Ray, a leader of the Save the Farm group.
“I don’t think Westminster has had over two city council meetings on an issue before,” Ray said. “It has been a highly debated topic because of what this land is.”
Public comment at both meetings came to almost exactly half for and against the proposal. Of the three-hour voicemails, the majority stood against the development.
For many residents, they champion the project for more affordable housing, investments in education and more. For others, they cite the city’s finite water supply, preservation of open space and more.
Sara O’Keefe, a spokesperson for the Uplands project, said she understands the opposition.
“People feel like they’re losing something, we understand that,” she said. “But people should be civil.”
Backlash to Supporters
Tense feelings came even before the city council’s final say on the subject.
Juliet Abdel, president of Westminster’s Chamber of Commerce, asked an officer to walk her to her car after the Planning Commission meeting on Nov. 9.
“I can tell you that there was a lot of aggression in that room,” she said. “There was a lot of hostility that was in there.”
Bryan Head, a founding board member of the Chamber of Commerce, said Save the Farm members were aggressive towards him. He said a member approached him while he left the Planning Commission meeting.
“(A member) said `we’re going to make trouble for anybody that’s supporting this project,’” he said.
He also said the supporters followed a member of the Hmong community, who was neutral but said positive comments on the project, and a pregnant realtor who’s in favor.
O’Keefe said Upland’s staff witnessed another speaker, who is a local business and property owner and spoke with a translator, be accused of not needing an interpreter and being paid by Uplands.
“It’s just behavior that I haven’t seen before,” Head said.
Head also received online messages from anonymous users urging him to support Save the Farm and a phone call from a blocked number, saying the same thing. Head also helps manage the Chamber’s social media channels and said messages came through there as well.
Dave Carpenter, a planning commissioner for Westminster, also received hostile Facebook messages about his stance on the project.
Carpenter said that before the planning commission meeting started, he leaned against the proposal. However after hearing the facts and opinions, he ultimately voted in favor. Consequently, people messaged him threatening to impeach him, imputing his character.
Head thinks personal messages and messages to the Chamber cross the line, but he said the posts on the Save the Farm Facebook group are especially harmful.
Aside from dialogue about the issue, posts include calling public comment speakers names during Facebook Live videos of the meeting. One said “(a speaker at the city council meeting) is here and I need a lobotomy to sit through her again” and “I want to die under a giant rock falling on me instead of sitting through her again.”
“Whenever you have people discouraging folks from speaking their minds or sharing their opinion, that’s not something we need in Westminster,” Head said.
Head also said that name-calling and hostile actions distract folks from the actual conversation on the topic.
“It’s easy to say ‘he called you stupid’ or ‘he called us racists’ instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue or contending with the reasoning behind someone’s conclusions. It also heightens emotions, and makes a fight out of what should be a healthy debate.” he said.
Emotions run high
Save the Farm leaders created the Facebook group as a public space for residents and community members to discuss the issue, according to group founders and Facebook moderators.
“People are welcome to comment and post as long as it’s on topic,” said Ray, one of the moderators of the group.
Ray also said since the land is a staple to many residents, emotions are running high.
“If anybody said things like they’ll make trouble, that would not have come from the organization, but if people’s emotions run high, I can’t account for every individual and their actions. What we stand for is clearly presented on our website,” she said. “If people made some kind of offhanded or silly remarks, I can’t take responsibility for them, but I can see how they could be said.”
Police presence normal
Many people noticed more police officers than usual during the city council meetings.
“PD had staffed the area pretty heavily this time around,” Abdel said.
Although, Andy Le, a spokesperson for the meeting, said it was usual.
“In order to ensure a safe and open environment, the increased security presence is normal practice for large meetings,” he said.
Head said the vitriol associated with the topic surprised him.
“I’ve been around City Council for a long time. I’ve been involved with the Westminster Chamber of Commerce and advocated for and against things over the years. This is the first time that I’ve ever had people either approach me in person or try to contact me to discourage me from advocating one way or the other,” Head said. “I just found it to be a little bit distasteful on their part and even sitting in the audience, they would make some snide comments.”
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