Opposition builds to Christian university

Posted 12/16/09

Critics are lining up against the idea of building an expanded Colorado Christian University campus on what is currently Highlands Ranch open space. …

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Opposition builds to Christian university


Critics are lining up against the idea of building an expanded Colorado Christian University campus on what is currently Highlands Ranch open space.

In the few weeks since university president Bill Armstrong announced the preliminary proposal to buy the property, a group called Save Highlands Ranch Open Space has been formed and is collecting signatures in opposition to the plan.

The campus would be modelled on the sprawling and tree-lined Pepperdine University in southern California, according to Armstrong, a former U.S. senator from Colorado.

Under the CCU proposal, the university would vacate its 30-acre campus in Lakewood and purchase a 100-acre parcel of open space that was recently acquired by the Highlands Ranch Community Association as part of a long-term land deal.

The Highlands Ranch parcel, adjacent to Monarch Boulevard, is south of Rock Canyon High School. It has been valued at between $10,000 and $12,000 an acre.

Leaders of the opposition group say the HRCA’s board of directors should consider far more than the value of the property when it votes on the proposed sale to an outside interest.

“This is Highlands Ranch property. We love it,” organizer Nikki Schubert said. “We want it to stay open and they want to sell it off to a private university. It’s not in keeping with what people were told about this property.”

The land in question has only recently been returned to the community association per a deal reached in 1988. As Highlands Ranch was building out, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, Shea Properties and the HRCA set aside 8,200 acres as open space.

Only 1,200 acres of that land, including the proposed site for CCU, have been zoned for limited development that includes such uses as schools and parks.

Shea, which developed Highlands Ranch two decades ago, was required to eventually convey the open-space land back to the HRCA, which it did in May. The developer would still receive 50 percent of any proceeds from selling the land and has said it would donate its share to CCU if the sale goes through.

Although some speculate that Shea would build the new campus, CCU spokesman Ron Benton says the money from Shea would be a gift to the university with no strings attached.

“It’s not a quid pro quo at all,” he said.

Shea did not return calls seeking comment.

Opponents of the proposed land deal argue that any development on the land should be for a “community purpose.” They point to a 2002 survey that said 65 percent of Highlands Ranch residents want to keep the land in question as open space.

Rick Dinsmore, an HRCA board member who will eventually vote on the proposal, believes the residents of Highlands Ranch have spoken on the matter and specifically rejected the idea of a college campus occupying the land.

According to the seven-year-old survey, 20 percent of residents would either “like” or “strongly like” a college campus on the open space. Fifty-seven percent “disliked” or “strongly disliked” the idea.

According to Dinsmore, there is virtually no community support for a bustling university occupying roughly one-twelfth of the open space that has been zoned for development in Highlands Ranch.

“I have not received one e-mail supporting CCU and we’re receiving an inordinate amount of e-mail,” he said. “I’m swamped with information that says leave that as open space and I’ve got to respect that.”

Opposition to CCU locating on the property runs the gamut — from concerns about wildlife habitat and property values to the fact that CCU, as a religious institution, would not pay property taxes on its 100 acres. Some also fear that the arrival of CCU would open the floodgates to more unwanted development.

The university’s tax-exempt status in unincorporated Highlands Ranch would mean Douglas County taxpayers would be responsible for what opponents say is the inevitable expansion of two-lane Monarch Boulevard into four lanes if the university of 1,500 students moves in.

“Monarch is already jam-packed during rush hour,” Schubert said. “We also believe the road expansion would create adverse wildlife issues in this critical ecosystem. Just up the street, literally, are these beautiful ranges of open space and we value them.”

Benton disputes such concerns and emphasizes the positive role that the university would play in Highlands Ranch as a community resource. He questions whether Monarch Boulevard would need to be expanded for the institution.

“That’s a red herring that a number of people are throwing out there. There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen” he said.

Benton says the community should wait for an official traffic study before jumping to conclusions. He stresses that traffic leaving and entering the campus would be more limited than many critics realize because 70 percent of CCU’s students would live in on-campus housing.

As for CCU’s tax-exempt status, Benton downplays the significance and says the university’s presence would be a boon to local retail.

“The middle school and the high school right down the street are tax-exempt. That’s normal,” he said. “We’re falling into a category that was set not by ourselves, but by the federal government years ago. Furthermore, a number of people moving into the community would be paying taxes.”

The public would also be invited to share use of the campus’ sports fields and attend its cultural and musical events, Benton added.

The Highlands Ranch property is one of two locations under consideration by CCU. The school could also renovate its current location, according to Benton. He would not disclose the second potential new site.

A series of public forums on the Highlands Ranch proposal has been scheduled. The next two forums, on Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, will take place at 7 p.m. at the Recreation Center at Southridge, 4800 MacArthur Ranch Road.

The university has asked for a decision to be made on its proposal by late January, but Dinsmore thinks that is unlikely to happen.

“It’s clearly going to be an uphill battle for CCU and Shea,” he said. “They’re really going to have to pull out the stops.”


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