Rachel Parris of Colorado Preservation Inc. literally sobbed as she pleaded with the Columbine Valley Board of Trustees to save the Willowcroft residence.
“I can think of no better way to welcome people into your community than having this manor still standing to show people what was here before this happened,” she said through tears at the board’s April 16 meeting.
CPI put the home on its list of most endangered places in 2010, right alongside the state Capitol dome. Historic Littleton Inc. had gotten it listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Places in 1993.
Despite Parris’ protests and those of about a dozen residents, the board voted 6-1 to let the developer demolish the manor to make way for 41 single-story patio homes and one large estate home. Mayor Gale Christy was sympathetic, however, saying he wished they’d heard from Parris sooner.
“But one step led to another, and we’re at the point we’re at now,” he said.
The property does indeed have a storied past. It was originally the home of Joseph Bowles, one of Littleton's most prominent settlers. The main house was built in 1884 and designed by Robert Roeschlaub, also known for the Central City Opera House.
At one time, Bowles had accumulated about 2,000 acres in the area. According to the Littleton Museum’s history website, he and his neighbors were opposed to paying Littleton taxes and voted in 1889 to incorporate as the separate town of Wynetka, which lasted just about two years.
Bowles was elected Arapahoe County commissioner in 1869 and again in 1874 and was sent to the state legislature in 1880. He was the director of Denver’s City National Bank and the executive commissioner of the first state grange. He was one of the founders of the Rough and Ready Mill, now the Old Mill Brewery, and a charter member of the Weston Masonic Lodge. He was one of the first directors of the Littleton Cemetery Association, where he is buried.
Most of the neighbors who came out to protest April 16 aren’t concerned about the historic value of the property so much as things like density and traffic. Several spoke about maintaining the open feeling of the community, which generally limits development to 2.4 units per acre. The project at Willowcroft is 2.95; two adjacent neighborhoods have more than 3.
The planning board last week recommended approval of the project on the condition only 34 units are built, but staff disagreed.
Developer Garrett Baum noted there’s demand for patio homes targeted at seniors, as these will be.
“This type of product doesn’t warrant or require larger lots,” he said. “If we’re not able to do 42 lots, we have to go to a larger product, and it’s going to be a two-story product. And that’s not a threat, that’s the truth.”
“Demand does not justify density,” countered resident Brian MacAuley.
Jim Newland, the only trustee to vote nay, agreed.
“To me the plan makes sense,” he said. “But I am grappling more with the 41 homes. Why wouldn’t you go with the recommendation of the planning and zoning board?”
Staff solved another sticking point by removing a 50-foot right of way around an emergency access that could have allowed it to become a full-access road at some point, which the neighbors are very opposed to. They turned it into a pathway that will allow for passage of nothing wider than a golf cart and double as a driveway for the large home.
Trustee Mark Best said the project will be good for the town in the long run. It includes beautification of the Middlefield Road entrance to the community from Bowles Avenue, complete with monument stone and landscaping, and a dedication of land that could be used to widen Bowles in the future.
“I think what we’re going to do is attract some very nice people into this community,” he said.
The final plan, which will include some minor modifications and last-minute details, will be heard by planning in May and by the trustees in June.