BRIGHTON — Rezoning of the former Kmart Distribution Center at 18875 Bromley Lane to allow for a lithium-ion battery-production plant received approval on first reading Tuesday by the Brighton City Council.
The council voted 4-3 to allow the Mile High Logistics Center planned development on the 103.3-acre property — superseding the existing Kmart planned unit development — but only after almost 4½ hours of presentations, discussions and comments by supporters and opponents of the rezoning.
Amprius Technologies Inc. (NYSE: AMPX) of Fremont, California, seeks to lease 775,000 square feet of the 1.3-million-square-foot property, with an option to use more. The company has received approval for incentives from the city of Brighton, Adams County and the Colorado Economic Development Commission.
The company would add up to 332 jobs in the city at an average pay of $69,458, with the plant operational by 2025. Its products will be used in electric vehicles, drones, and the aerospace industry.
Opponents expressed concern about hazardous materials, potential fires and danger to water supplies. The property sits north of Bromley Lane, south of Southern Street and east of South 40th Avenue.
Tuesday’s meeting was to consider a rezoning of the property, not the Amprius project itself. The property is currently zoned for distribution and warehouse uses only. The revised zoning would allow for industrial, manufacturing technology, public and civic uses, commercial and wireless-communications facilities.
Property owner Starboard Platform Brighton JV LLC, an arm of Newport Beach, California-based Starboard Realty Partners LLC, purchased the property in September 2018 for $40.75 million. First built as a Kmart Distribution Center, the property at the time of the sale functioned as a Sears Distribution Center.
Sears filed for bankruptcy in October 2018, with Costco eventually using a portion of the property.
The Brighton Planning Commission in August recommended a denial of the rezoning, and the subject drew a large crowd for Tuesday’s City Council meeting, attracting a wide variety of supporters and opponents.
Mark Gabriel, CEO of Brighton-based United Power, said companies such as Amprius are critical in moving the nation forward in new-energy technologies.
“We’ve got significant experience with batteries,” Gabriel said. “There are several located not too far from this building, and battery technology is advancing how we manage and operate the grid, whether it’s batteries going into electric vehicles to military equipment to help power our homes, this is the future for this country. And technologies like that of Amprius are critical as we move ahead in the new-energy enterprise.
“It is really important to us in this new-energy future that we support companies like Amprius to bring technologies to our communities, to our homes, to our industries,” he added. “As a resident here in Brighton, it’s important that we create jobs, and I’m 100% convinced that bringing technologies like this into our communities is the right thing to do, both for jobs locally, in the state and really in the nation.”
State Sen. Kevin Priola, who represents District 13, including parts of Adams and Weld counties, and who has a career in real estate, noted that filling a vacant building the size of the Kmart facility can be a difficult task.
“Repurposing a warehouse that is this unique and difficult to find a tenant … you should all be very happy that this caliber of industry wants to use this building that’s been vacant and was built for a time 30-plus years ago,” he said.
Residents who spoke against the measure included Jessie Williams, who organized a petition drive against the rezoning that gathered more than 500 signatures.
“We’re concerned about this company coming in,” Williams said. “I’ve heard a lot of things tonight. Mostly it’s been people who are associated business-wise or making money or making a profit being for this company coming in and for this rezoning.
“The codes are there for a reason,” she added. “They were created for a reason, and it’s to keep the citizens safe. We are the ones that you should be looking after, not a corporation, not an investment group, not somebody who purchased a building that cannot be leased. That’s not our problem.”
Councilmember Matt Johnston said the issue was not Amprius Technologies but the wisdom of “spot zoning” a specific parcel to a use that is not compatible with surrounding uses. The Kmart facility sits near existing and planned residential neighborhoods.
“I don’t know what the hell this meeting has been about …” Johnston said, arguing that Amprius should never have been part of a discussion about rezoning.
Johnston said a deal with Amprius could fall through, and the city would be stuck with the revised zoning.
“I can’t guarantee that the deal won’t fall apart from this moment to a year from now,” he said. “I definitely cannot say that in 10 years from now, Amprius will still be leasing the property. But I could say, if we zone this, it will stay that way.
“This is about the zoning and rezoning, not about the factory itself,” he added. “If we rezone this portion of our town into industrial use, after that, it’s out of our hands.”
Councilmember Peter Padilla, who supported the rezoning, countered arguments that Amprius could locate elsewhere in Brighton.
“People say why not somewhere else in Brighton? Because the 1.4-million-square-foot warehouse isn’t somewhere else in Brighton,” he said. “Part of the reason we were competitive for this draw is that the building already existed. Otherwise, Colorado Springs or somewhere in Georgia or somewhere in Tennessee would be equally competitive if the answer is ‘zone somewhere, and we’ll build a building.’ The advantage we had here is that we had a building.”