As the bus full of candidates for Centennial's first city council meanders along the jagged eastern boundary of the city, many of the would-be elected officials inside are starting to feel nauseated.
Who can blame them? The vagaries of politics and the mysterious ways of suburban real estate developers have left the city -- Colorado's newest -- with borders that would be the envy of an old-style Chicago ward boss. Venture a few blocks one way and you're in Aurora; head a short distance the other way and you're in the obscure city of Foxfield.
Brian Vogt, the affable president of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and one of Centennial's founding fathers, is leading the tour. He seems to know every cul-de-sac and neighborhood in the city, and he can recite arcane tidbits of local trivia with paternal affection. "Four Lakes is interesting because there are no lakes," he says about one subdivision. But Vogt can also point out the tantalizing commercial properties just beyond the city's boundaries, and the candidates eye these sources of future annexations and tax revenues with lust in their hearts.
Many Arapahoe County landmarks carrying the Centennial name -- including Centennial Airport and the Centennial Promenade shopping center -- are actually outside the city's boundaries. Vogt makes it clear, though, that the city plans to annex some of them, including the shopping center, site of the Rock Bottom Brewery, where many late-night confabs were held during the two-year struggle to create Centennial. The brewery even served up "CentenniAle" to celebrate the new city after it was officially born on September 12.
The incorporation, which voters overwhelmingly approved, ended a bitter battle that began in 1998 when Greenwood Village tried to annex many of the commercial properties in southern Arapahoe County while excluding the neighborhoods that surround them. Centennial's supporters believed the attempted annexations were a ploy to collect sales-tax revenue without providing any services to the people living nearby, and so they launched the campaign for cityhood. Hundreds of people got involved, and standing-room-only crowds filled the court hearings and legislative roll calls that followed.
Early on, many thought that Greenwood Village had the upper hand legally and financially and that Centennial's troops would be overwhelmed. "There was a lot of passion," says Sue Rosser, who devoted countless hours to the cause. "We were fighting for our lives." Centennial's backers won out, though, and the first city elections will be held February 6.
Many of those active in the French Resistance of World War II were said to miss the camaraderie and sense of purpose they had found during those years, and Centennial's freedom fighters may be experiencing a similar letdown, albeit a little less dramatic, now that they are preoccupied with things such as taxes and municipal codes.
"September 12 was an amazing day," Rosser says wistfully. "It was a day of liberation and birth, but I don't think we'll see that with this election."
More than two dozen people have filed the necessary paperwork to run for the four city council spots, as well as those of mayor, treasurer and clerk.
After the bus -- which was commissioned by the South Metro Chamber to give candidates an introduction to the entire town -- stops briefly at a fire station where legs are stretched and stomachs settled, the tour continues along the city's northern boundary. An ominous quiet descends as the candidates look out over Arapahoe County's version of the Berlin Wall: Orchard Road. This is where Centennial faces Greenwood Village, and just as the Berlin Wall wound in a serpentine fashion through the German capital, the boundary between these rivals jumps back and forth south of the Denver Tech Center.
Before Centennial's incorporation, Greenwood Village annexed every bit of commercial property it could. The result is a curious checkerboard of municipal conquests. Here is an unremarkable-looking office building inside Centennial, part of the tax base. Next door is an almost identical building seized by Greenwood Village. Here is a car wash that joined Centennial; next to it is an empty lot that was annexed by the Evil Empire.
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"It is an odd boundary. The map is like a patchwork quilt. It shows how aggressive Greenwood Village was in annexing commercial property, which added tremendously to their tax base," says Becky Lennon, who is one of seven people running for city council in Centennial's Ward 2. "It's a challenge for the new city council to create a community out of this strip along Arapahoe Road."
Several residents have been finding out just how hard that will be: Packages sent to their homes via Federal Express and United Parcel Service have frequently been returned to their senders, as the two companies had apparently never heard of the new city of 100,000 people.
"We've had three different mailing addresses -- Aurora, Littleton and Englewood. It's a large area to try to bring together," Lennon says, adding that whoever is elected to council will at least know what not to do.
"I think we can get some ideas about how we want to run our city from Greenwood Village," she says. "I hope we have a more open government."