By Makenzie O’Keefe & Kelly Werthmann

LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS4)– A fire destroyed a vacant building in a shopping center early Wednesday morning near West Bellevue Avenue and South Federal Boulevard in Littleton.

Littleton Fire Rescue said the fire started at 2:50 a.m. in the abandoned Columbine shopping center.

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When firefighters arrived on scene, the building was fully engulfed in flames.

Crews with South Metro Fire Rescue assisted. Littleton Fire Rescue said together they had over 25 firefighters working to knock out the flames.

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Firefighters were able to get the fire under control and contain it, after a defensive approach from all angles.

Littleton Fire said the cold temperatures made it a more difficult fight, because water used to douse the fire was freezing over on the pavement.

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The cause of the fire was determined to be human-caused. No injuries were reported.

“It’s not just an eyesore, it’s a health hazard,” Stephanie Cochran, who lives across the street from the abandoned property, said. “What kind of toxic substances are going to happen if there’s another fire or if it gets knocked down? How safe are the people in the immediate neighborhood.”

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The property at 5151 S. Federal is the only “Urban Renewal” designated property in the City of Littleton. That designation means it has been declared blighted in the past.

“The property owner has been interested in redevelopment and has been working on ways to do that,” Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman told CBS4. “He kind of got caught in the city moving it into an urban renewal project, so a lot of politics and a lot of slowdown.”

Property records list the owner as South Federal Partners LLC. The ultimate owner however is Kairos Investment Management of Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. That private company is headed by Carl Chang, the brother and former coach of professional tennis player Michael Chang, the youngest ever winner of the French Open in 1989 at age 17.

Brinkman added the property owner also applied for a demolition permit, which has to go through the state.

“He was supposed to have been successful with that,” Brinkman said, not sure of the actual demolition approval status.

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The City Planning Department in Littleton says they’ve had conversations with Kairos about the fencing and homeless people taking up residence there after concerns from neighbors.

“I know people have complained about the increased crime,” Cochran said.

When it comes to security around the vacant property and concerns about squatters, Brinkman told CBS4 the owner has been “very vigilant” with having security and fencing around the area.

“It’s frustrating,” said Cochran. “I feel like the owner of the property has self-blighted the property, waiting for the city to hand over tax money so that they can rebuild.”

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“You can only do so much,” Brinkman said. “It’s a large property.”

They’ve been told Kairos is working as fast as they can to file plans to demolish the commercial buildings there which have been vacant now for years. But they have not received them yet.

One of the last residents was a charter school that moved about five years ago. Kairos has vast real estate holdings according to their website, including 11 properties in Colorado.

Brinkman said Columbine Square is an important piece of property for the city and the city will work with the property’s owner to help them through the redevelopment process.

“I’m for growth, but I would like it to be thoughtful growth,” Cochran added. “The idea of pounding 350 apartments there with no setback from the street, that affects my property.”

The last sale of the property was in 1990 for $1.336 million. It was appraised last year at $3.175 million. The City Planning Department has been told Kairos has an intention of developing the site, but with what they do not know.

Makenzie O’Keefe joined the CBS4 team as a reporter in 2017. Read her bio, follow her on Twitter at @makenziepokeefe or email her your story ideas.

Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.

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