Amid concerns about a proposed high-density development at Wah Keeney Park, we have recently been advised to take a broader look at the pattern of development in greater Evergreen. Evergreen is arrayed herringbone-style along the axis of Hwy 74; although some subdivisions have more than one point of ingress/egress, most nonetheless rely on it at both ends. Highway 74 is the conduit for evacuation from this entire area, and the intersection with I-70 at El Rancho is a recognized bottleneck.

We have been advised to “confine” high-density development to Bergen Park and El Rancho. Those activity centers within the County’s Evergreen Area Plan are notably located between central Evergreen and I-70, the principal evacuation route for the central foothills. Dislocating density to these areas does not help central Evergreen in the event of a major wildfire but hinders it.

Importantly, at El Rancho — the farthest extent of the Evergreen water supply that relies on Bear Creek, eight miles away — there currently is insufficient water capacity to provide firefighting capability for existing development, much less for the high-density and high-impact uses recently approved (a second hotel, not yet built) or being proposed (even more retail and a third hotel to serve I-70). These decisions and proposals affect everyone in greater Evergreen who uses these resources.

Shunting density away from central Evergreen is not the answer to this problem. Rather, shunning high-density development is the answer for greater Evergreenin general. Low density, dispersed development provides for the contiguous natural landscape that supports the vegetation and wildlife that people who actually livehere value, limits impacts to natural resources, and promotes efficient navigation of area roadways by all users.

Is Evergreen a mountain residential community? A suburb? An interstate exit? High density is a culture shift. The choice is not about being exclusionary; it is about preservation and through that an effort toward sustainability. Without making that choice, we face becoming something unrecognizable to our forebears, and planners of even two or three decades ago.

Jefferson County is currently revising its planning guidelines, in which density, fire safety and sustainability are important topics. If planners are inclined to listen to the people who invest themselves here, and not just to the developers who rent Evergreen P.O. boxes, it is our opportunity to defend what is increasingly becoming a threatened way of, and quality of, life.

Kathryn Mauz, Evergreen & El Rancho