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Jen Shocker, whose Ashleigh Place home backs up to Highlands Ranch Mansion property, has unobstructed views of the mountains, the iconic windmill and the ranch. At night, she can hear the horses. She likes to walk with her 5-year-old son on a trail that weaves through the property.
“With so much development everywhere else,” she said, “this is our island of history that we want to protect.”
Shocker is among the Highlands Ranch residents who are worried about Xcel Energy’s newly proposed natural gas regulator station that would be built near several schools and the historic mansion on land owned by Shea Properties. Residents cite concerns about property values, safety and obstructed views of the ranch property.
The request comes on the heels of a withdrawn proposal to build the regulator station on a different piece of property, near an elementary school, in Highlands Ranch earlier this year.
The energy company now plans to build a 20-foot by 20-foot regulator station about 750 feet southeast of the Highlands Ranch Mansion, which sits on a grassy hilltop north of East Wildcat Reserve Parkway. Adjacent above-ground piping — which will be surrounded by barbed wire — will be 24 feet by 24 feet to allow periodic inspections to clean and check the pipeline.
Xcel officials say the natural gas regulator station is designed at higher specifications than normal to ensure safety and that its aesthetics will blend in with the nearby ranch structures.
“The bottom line is that it’s in an area that is not accessible by the public and it won’t be something that people come across,” said Tom Henley, Xcel’s area manager, community and local government affairs. “And it’s on private property.”
The proposed station would deliver natural gas to residential and business customers in northwest Douglas County, including Sterling Ranch — a large community under construction south of Chatfield Reservoir — and the Roxborough Water and Sanitation District, Henley said.
Opposition to new proposal
Linda and Don Andrews live in Stratford Court — a neighborhood off Venneford Road east of the mansion — and worry about their home value decreasing. They purchased their lot in 1993, after being on a waiting list for a year and a half and paying a lot premium of more than $25,000, Linda said. Their backyard faces the mansion property and has views of the ranch buildings, windmill and pastureland.
“I’m 60 years old — I don’t plan on moving, but I think its going to impact the value of my home substantially,” Linda said of the regulator station and above-ground piping. “I sit on my deck and enjoy my view every day and I think that’s going to go away.”
Xcel officials emphasize the aesthetics of the natural gas regulator station will match the current ranch structures with the same siding and roof color, according to Henley.
The Highlands Ranch Metro District, which owns the Mansion, also had input in the projects’s design. The building is set at one of the lowest points on the property to limit visual impact, said Carrie Ward, the Metro District’s director of parks, recreation and open space.
“Between its location, size and material, it will look like one of the ranch buildings,” Ward said. “I don’t think it will stick out like a sore thumb at all.”
Xcel’s plans also call for approximately three miles of underground 12-inch pipeline that will run from the regulator station into the Backcountry Wilderness Area — south of East Wildcat Reserve Parkway — near several homes and three schools: Summit View Elementary, Mountain Ridge Middle and Mountain Vista High School.
Jeremy Andersen, a parent of two Mountain Vista students and a Mountain Ridge student, said he’s most concerned with his children’s safety.
“Especially if there is a high-volume natural gas line 100 yards from the school parking lot,” he said. “We want to get all three of our kids through high school — it’s a great place at Mountain Vista — we just want to make sure it’s a safe place.”
In past discussions, Xcel said the regulator system is considered safe because it will have a closed pipe so gas will stay inside and a constant monitor that will sound an alarm if anything goes wrong. Xcel will also conduct a periodic leak test. The structures are located throughout the metro area, even in some backyards, Xcel officials said.
Xcel expects construction to begin in November and to be complete in May of next year.
Shea Properties, which owns the land the natural gas regulator station will be built on, and the Highlands Ranch Community Assocation, which owns part of the land the pipeline runs through in the Back Country Wilderness Area, are in the process of granting an easement for the proposed structure.
The Board of Douglas County Commissioners does not have a review or approval role for this project, according to Steve Koster, the county’s assistant director of planning services.The Douglas County Planning Commission will review a location and extent application, under a Colorado state law that requires the planning commission to review plans for public facilities or utilities by governments or public utility companies — such as a road, park, open space or utility — prior to construction, according to the county.
If the planning commission were to deny the application, Xcel could appeal to the Public Utilities Commission, Koster said.
The planning commission hearing for the project is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Phillip S. Miller Building, Commissioners Hearing Room, 100 Third St., Castle Rock.
In early March, Xcel planned to install a 12-inch connection below ground to an existing underground pipeline in the open space behind Saddle Ranch Elementary School, 805 W. English Sparrow Trail, near Wildcat Reserve Parkway and South Broadway. The structure itself would have been 50 feet by 65 feet and less than 100 feet from Saddle Ranch’s playground.
The addition would have delivered natural gas to residents in Sterling Ranch, a large community under construction south of Chatfield Reservoir in northern Douglas County.
Following opposition from residents, Xcel officials held a community meeting at Eastridge Recreation Center on March 10 to elaborate on the project and gather input. Residents who live near the proposed site and have children at Saddle Ranch worried about safety, noise and a negative effect on property values. Xcel withdrew its original proposal on May 3.
The following meetings will address plans for Xcel Energy’s proposed natural gas regulator station in Highlands Ranch:
• HRCA Development Review Meeting, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at Eastridge Recreation Center, 9568 S. University Blvd.
• Backcountry Wilderness Area Community Open House, 6 p.m. Oct. 6 at Westridge Recreation Center, 9650 Foothills Canyon Blvd.
• HRCA Board and Delegate meeting, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Eastridge Recreation Center, 9568 S. University Blvd.
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