Master plan beneficial as heavy rains hit

History helped prepare Highlands Ranch for floods

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As floodwaters devastated much of the state a few weeks back, Highlands Ranch found itself in much better shape than many. Much of that good fortune can be attributed to the community being a relatively young, planned development.

“Not to poke at other people because they have been around 100 years, but they built where they did because they needed water and they just slowly built out and didn’t take into account their development or the fact that they were in a flood plain,” said Forrest Dykstra, the Metro District’s manager of development engineering.

“It is one of the advantages of starting from scratch with a whole community; you say, ‘OK we are not going to build in a flood plain.’”

As Highlands Ranch was developed, only trail crossings and parks were built in the local flood plains, and no major structures or buildings were placed there.

“That is not going to put anybody out of a home or put them at risk for personal injury,” Dykstra said. “Nobody is going to worry about getting an ambulance or fire engine in or being able to get in or out of a neighborhood.”

Metro District Public Works Director Jeff Case said Highlands Ranch had the benefit of working with Mission Viejo, a company that had already built out an entire community in California from start to finish. In addition to that, state laws on development were changing, and reservoirs such as Chatfield and Bear Creek were being built in reaction to the 1965 flood that affected much of the south metro area.

“The 1965 flood was kind of cathartic event for the Front Range,” Case said. “People saw such a tremendous amount of destruction. I think because of that, there has been a lot more awareness from an urban planning standpoint in the last 50 years.”

The practice of regional detention has also been a huge boon for Highlands Ranch in terms of planning where and how much water will run under and off in the community. Based on the fact that the community was zoned for a particular amount of development, engineers were able to anticipate how much runoff would take place and where it would go,” Case said, adding that roads were also built to a high enough elevation so that they would not crumble during a 100-year event.

“Cities and engineering departments are much more aware of how to plan than they were 40 years ago,” Dykstra echoed. “There’s a big difference between someone coming in and developing 10 acres here or there as opposed to the 23,000 acres we started with, and looking at the whole thing at once.”