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  • A headline from the 1970s shows development plans were controversial.
  • Highlands Ranch Metro District General Manager Mike Renshaw.

Capping off a year of monthly presentations to celebrate 40 years of modern-day Highlands Ranch, the Highlands Ranch Historical Society provided residents with insight into how the community functions.

During the Nov. 15 presentation, guest speakers from the Highlands Ranch Community Association (HRCA) and the Highlands Ranch Metro District talked about the past, present and future of the unincorporated community.

Mike Renshaw, general manager of the metro district, said he has only been in Highlands Ranch for 11 months but can tell that good planning from the 1980s is why success is felt today.

“Proper planning prevents poor performance,” he said. “Highland Ranch got it right.”

Going back in time, Renshaw said the idea of creating an unincorporated master-planned community, first introduced in the 1970s, was not met with open arms.

Renshaw showed pictures of newspaper headlines questioning the idea, with residents, neighboring communities and Douglas County officials expressing concern over how the community would be managed, if water supplies would be depleted and whether it was sustainable.

Moving the project forward, the site of more than 22,000 acres currently known as Highlands Ranch was sold to housing developer Shea Homes. At the time, Renshaw said the sale of the property was the biggest in state history.

The project was owned by Mission Viejo, which later sold to Shea Homes as construction continued. In the 1980s, the population was was under 3,000. Today, Highlands Ranch has nearly 100,000 residents.

How did the early planning become a successful reality? Renshaw said the answer involves the installation of system development fees, otherwise known as impact fees.

For Highlands Ranch, Renshaw said, smart use of the funds alleviated growing pains, giving the community the ability to build without added pressure.

Highlands Ranch thrives, Renshaw said, because the community falls under Douglas County jurisdiction, which maintains roadways. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office provides police services. The South Metro Fire District provides fire services, he said.

For water, Renshaw said, Highlands Ranch has a sustainable future thanks to services provided by Centennial Water.

With just under 100 employees on the metro district staff, Renshaw said the continued mission in Highlands Ranch is to provide “innovative, quality services.”

Renshaw bragged about the community’s dedication to family and services. Highlands Ranch is home to 26 parks, 70 miles of trails and 2,600 acres of open space, he said.

In looking at the community side of Highlands Ranch, Jerry Flannery, president of the HRCA, told the more than 30 people in attendance, that there is plenty to be proud of.

As part of the original planning, all Highlands Ranch homeowners are required to be members of the HRCA.

“(Highlands Ranch) was designed as an unincorporated community on purpose,” he said. “There is no need to incorporate because we already get great service from the county.”

Growing steadily over the years, HRCA currently has 110 full and part-time staff members and more than 750 volunteers.

As the community and HRCA has grown, so has the amenities and services in Highlands Ranch, Flannery said. The community has multiple recreation centers, a town center and the coveted back-country wilderness area.

As the community continues to age, Flannery was asked how HRCA deals with aging buildings, paint upgrades and improvements.

Flannery said maintaining high standards in the community is a constant challenge, while noting that customers forced to be a part of a homeowners association (HOA) is like “yin and yang.”

“Some people love being a part of it. Others hate it,” he said.

Per year, Flannery said the HRCA hands out about 30,000 notices to keep up with standards and needs.

The Historical Society filmed all of the 40th year historical presentations. To access the monthly presentations, visit the website at highlandsranchhistoricalsociety.org.