Sterling Ranch hearings span days

Posted 10/29/10

The line formed early on the second night of public hearings for the controversial Sterling Ranch development. Nearly 500 residents from throughout …

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Sterling Ranch hearings span days


The line formed early on the second night of public hearings for the controversial Sterling Ranch development. Nearly 500 residents from throughout Douglas County passed through metal detectors at the Philip Miller Building Oct. 26, many of them there to object to the development that has been compared to Highlands Ranch.

With more than five hours of public comment on the agenda, planning commissioners promised the hearings would continue until every person has a chance at the microphone.

“We will extend these meetings as long as we need to, to get through the questions and have this public testimony concluded,” said Scott Kirkwood, planning commission chair. “Let’s get testimony started.”

Public comment began around 9:30 p.m., about the time commissioners intended to close the hearing for the night. Before the meeting began three hours earlier, more than 110 people signed up to tell commissioners what they think of the proposed development.

Most of those in attendance showed their objection to the proposal with simple white stickers that sent commissioners the message to say no to Sterling Ranch.

Sterling Ranch has been in the works for more than 10 years, when the family-run development team of Harold and Diane Smethills and Jack Hoagland began plans to develop 3,400 acres of undeveloped land in the Chatfield Valley, south of Chatfield Reservoir, into a community of more than 12,000 homes. The plan calls for seven schools, a sports village, commercial centers and clustered housing.

The development team came prepared for the public hearing with a team of about 25 attorneys, water experts and engineers to help answer questions from commissioners. Commissioners who asked about water and transportation garnered applause from the crowd, which listened attentively to testimony.

“I don’t think I really have a clear understanding of where your water is coming from,” said Planning Commissioner Jan Dixon.

Sterling Ranch is asking for an exception, permitted as an appeal through the county’s regulations, to the county’s longstanding requirement that developers own their water supply before moving forward with the project. The proposal reflects, at full build-out of the project, residential water demand will exceed 3,400-acre feet per year. The development team has acquired 230-acre feet of renewable water for Sterling Ranch from the South Platte, with options to expand that supply to 350-acre feet, said Harold Smethills.

“If we bought all of the water in advance of the project, the interest on that water we would purchase and not use for 20 years would cost our residents a fortune,” Smethills said. “In the end, it’s the residents who pay for the water. Our goal is to provide the lowest cost, most reliable water to our residents.”

Smethills expects more water will come from the Water, Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) project, a multi-agency effort to make use of excess water from metro water providers. He has an option to purchase 4,000-acre feet of renewable water from the Lost Creek Basin, a renewable source in Weld County. A last resort would be to go underground for water in drought years, he said. Smethills, who calls Sterling Ranch a leader in water conservation, wants the county to review the water supply before approval of each plat, or phase, of the project.

“Our water planning goes to bringing water to bear at the time of each plat so there is a firm supply and water standards are looked at,” Smethills said. “That is consistent with other jurisdictions and is accepted by the state water engineer. We can always stay abreast of water conservation.”

The complicated water plan is among those issues at the heart of objections over Sterling Ranch. Residents also decry overcrowding, the impact on local roads and the project’s design.

Tom Mansfield spoke on behalf of the president of the Chatfield Community Association, Dennis Larratt. The association is a referral agency for the development and has long voiced its concerns about Sterling Ranch.

“The density (of Sterling Ranch) is not consistent with the goals to maintain the unique character of the Chatfield Basin,” Mansfield said. “We would be in favor of Sterling Ranch if it was consistent with the one- to five-acre lots surrounding it. We think the development should be coherent with adjoining territory and not such a high density.”

Mansfield was the lone voice of objection during the first hour of public hearing. Remaining testimony came from representatives for soccer and baseball organizations that look forward to the sports village, community organizations that have worked with Sterling Ranch and residents lauding the developer’s property rights.

The public hearing for Sterling Ranch will continue at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 1 at the commissioner’s hearing room, 100 Third Street in Castle Rock.


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