Douglas County commissioners OK Sterling Ranch again

Plans call for breaking ground on development later this year

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The Sterling Ranch planned development has been unanimously approved for the second time in three years by the Douglas County commissioners.

With the July 10 approval, the project — which calls for a 12,000-home community located on 3,400 acres northeast of Roxborough State Park and south of the Chatfield Community Association — hopes to break ground by the end of 2013.

“After six-plus years of hearings, I’m thrilled,” said Harold Smethills, Sterling Ranch managing director. “Everybody’s been heard and the commissioners made their decision. So now it’s onward to building homes, and we’re ready to go.”

The development, which will remain 37 percent open space, has plans for 30 miles of trails, multiple parks and wildlife corridors, a multi-field athletic complex, a hospital, fire services, schools, and a town center patterned after Littleton’s historic downtown.

“This development sets an example for future developments to come down the road,” said Sterling Ranch attorney Gil McNeish, citing mitigation plans, open space preservation and water conservation techniques, such as rainwater harvesting, that are all part of the development’s master plan.

About a dozen opponents, who were either Chatfield or Roxborough residents, spoke out against the project at the 4½-hour hearing. Most spoke against the detriment the project would have on their rural way of life, and expressed concerns over the development having enough water secured to move forward.

“I think that the Board of County Commissioners has a fiduciary duty to the citizens of Douglas County and not the developers,” said Dennis Larratt, speaking on behalf of the Chatfield Community Association. “Yet in this case it looks like the board is considering the requests of developers over the vocal concerns of many concerned and existing citizens.”

Attorney David Foster, who was also representing Sterling Ranch, said it was important to remember that a number of people had come before the board previously to voice their support of the project. Those people were asked not to testify on July 10, he said, as this hearing dealt with specific legal issues, primarily in terms of the development’s appeal on whether water supply standards were being met.

The county initially approved the project in 2011, but in 2012, 18th Judicial District Judge Paul King overturned that ruling, stating that in accordance with state law the project did not have sufficient water secured to move forward.

The county then appealed the district court ruling, stating that King had misinterpreted the law and that all that was necessary was that the development proves it has enough water to go ahead with the initial phase of the project. With the appeal still pending, the passage of Colorado Senate Bill 258 this May gave clarification to that law, agreeing with Sterling Ranch’s interpretation.

Because of that, the developers requested a hearing with the commissioners, asking them to take a second look at their application. Due to the passage of SB-258, Sterling Ranch did not even bring into play on July 10 the fact that its water provider, Dominion Water and Sanitation District, had since King’s ruling secured enough water to satisfy the entire project, as part of the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership’s agreement with Denver and Aurora Water.

Still, the opposition was left upset, and Larratt pointed out that their battle may not be over and that the Chatfield group may contest other issues in addition to water in court.

“There are more reasons not to approve this project,” he said. “In the … appeal put forth before, there were many different elements of arguments. The district court chose to determine on only one item. All of those other elements are still live and can be brought back. Be prepared that those are still valid.

Smethills said he fully expects another challenge from the Chatfield group, but that is up to his attorneys to handle. In the meantime, he said, they are ready to finally move forward and he feels that day has arrived.

“Today was all about new information,” said Douglas County Commissioner Jill Repella. “The board of county commissioners heard the application and made a ruling in May 2011. ... The only new information I heard today is the new (regulation) and the clarification on the statute, which is consistent with the interpretation the Board of County Commissioners made on the original approval.”

“A lot of information was brought back that we actually heard at the previous hearing,” said Commissioner Jack Hilbert. “Rehashing that information that we had already made a decision on isn’t going to garner us any new information because that already has been vetted. I was looking for that new information but it wasn’t there.”

The development expects, once it reaches build-out, to have an annual economic windfall of $400 million.