Denver Council Member Tied To Latest Energy Proposal

In Denver’s Ruby Hill Park, structures can only be built so high, and that’s the law.

Like many areas in the city, the park has what’s called a “view plane” ordinance to thwart large developments from blocking the view.

But now Xcel Energy is trying for a second time to get past the regulation in an effort to construct taller transmission towers near the park, and a Councilman supporting the plan can be connected to the company’s lobbying firm.Council member Charlie Brown (Dist. 6) has submitted plans for a measure that would allow Xcel Energy to be exempt from the view plane rule and update five transmission towers that the business says are crucial to the functionality of service in the city.

Xcel Energy is represented by CRL Associates, Inc, a government relations firm in the Denver area. Campaign finance records (PDF) reveal that one of Brown’s communications companies received over $76,000 from a political committee run by former-CRL Associates president Greg Kolomitz in 2003.

From September through November of that year, Brown Communications collected the cash for printing costs, while Greg Kolomitz was the treasurer of a local group called Citizens For Denver Public Schools. Kolomitz was later the campaign director for Bill Ritter’s successful run for governor.

In May, the City’s Planning Board denied Xcel’s request for a variance from the view plane limitations after the company’s upgrade had already been approved by state Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Councilwoman Kathleen Mackenzie and neighborhood residents voiced opposition to the towers, which were set to be built in the representative’s south-central district.

“What we’re in support of with Councilman Charlie Brown is essentially mending the view plane ordinance, which will allow anything that was built prior to the  view plane being established to continue to be maintained and improved if needed,” says Tom Henley with Xcel Energy.

According the Henley, the upgrade will focus on five poles that would need to range from 7 to 26 feet to comply with federal energy regulations. Xcel wants to start the work by July and estimates that more than 50,000 energy customers in six council districts will be affected.

Councilman Charlie Brown was not available for comment by press time, and the proposal was heard in a City Council meeting with the Mayor this morning.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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