Penley Dam rejected by planning commission

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Nearly a dozen hours of public hearings ended with a resounding rejection for the developers hoping to build a private reservoir near the foothills of Douglas County.

The Penley Water Company LLC, representing Midwest Heritage Inn of Oklahoma City, was turned away Jan. 11 by Douglas County planning commissioners who said “no” to the request to build a dam overlooking a private subdivision.

Commissioners cited public safety and potential hazards among the reasons for their unanimous vote against Penley Reservoir. Their decision came after three nights and 11 hours of public hearings, where nearly 90 people spoke out against the proposal.

Penley Water Company is seeking county permission to build a reservoir just north of Colorado 67, adjacent to the Indian Creek Ranch subdivision. The applicant submitted a proposal with two options, one of which is a 22,500 acre-foot water storage reservoir on nearly 430 acres.

Neighboring residents joined forces to attend the planning commission hearings and deliver the message that such a proposal could hurt their property values, destroy natural habitat and create an unnecessary safety hazard.

The proposed dam site is on a site that requires detailed geotechnical and geological investigations to address potential hazard mitigation issues, according to the planning department staff report. The Douglas County planning staff recommended approval of either option, with conditions.

Commissioners instead recommended denial of the special-use request. Their recommendation for denial will go to the county commissioners, who have final say on the project.

“This applicant in their own presentation outlines the danger it presents to how many residents and in what fashion,” said Barrett Miller, planning commissioner, District 3. “While I truly believe catastrophic failure is unlikely, there is no certainty it will not happen. Even if we could somehow ensure no loss of human life, the loss of a home, a person’s worldly possessions and family treasures should not be sacrificed for the goals of other people.”

Penley Reservoir is the brainchild of Ventana Capital, which originally envisioned a development of more than 35, 5-acre lots surrounding a nonrecreational reservoir. The reservoir is proposed as a water storage solution for area water authorities. The developer came to the county with two options, a smaller, 14,000 acre-foot reservoir covering 292 acres or the larger reservoir covering about 430 acres.

While Ventana’s umbrella corporation, the Penley Water Company, moves forward with a proposal for the reservoir, no plan has been submitted for a proposed subdivision near the site. The Penley Dam is situated to overlook houses in Indian Creek Ranch, another subdivision of 5-acre lots.

The county has had a long history with Penley Ranch, including a failed attempt to purchase the property. In 2004 the county received a grant of $2.1 million to purchase the ranch through the county’s open space and natural resources division. The effort was unsuccessful and the county relinquished the grant money.

The Penley Reservoir use by special review public hearing moves to the next step at the Douglas Board of County Commissioners. The county commissioners hearings begin at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7 in the commissioners hearing room in the Philip S. Miller building at 100 Third St. in Castle Rock. The hearings were rescheduled from the commissioners’ standard afternoon meetings to evening meetings to accommodate the high number of requests from residents for an evening hearing.

Additional hearings are tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 and Feb. 24. All project documents are available to view on the county’s website http://apps.douglas.co.us/apps/planning/whatsNew.do.

“While I truly believe catastrophic failure is unlikely, there is no certainty it will not happen.”

Barrett Miller, Douglas County planning commissioner, District 3, on her decision to vote against the Penley Reservoir project.

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