In keeping with promises to deliver thousands of affordable homes, the groundbreaking for what’s called the Uplands included something for almost everyone: local food from Westminster’s Valente’s Deli, craft beer from hometown brewery Kokopelli’s, music by the Westminster High School drumline, balloons, bulldozers and star power in the form of speeches from local, county and state dignitaries.
All of it unfolded under a brilliantly sunny late September sky.
The hosts of the private event did not, however, extend an invitation to neighboring homeowners, many of whom have fought the project for years. Several of them protested the Sept. 27 groundbreaking and then continued the following day, standing at the entrance of the old farm property with signs reading, “Save the Farm,” “No Uplands development” and “Who paid who?”
Historically a working farm, 2,350 homes will be built on it. Those homes will be developed in a mix of styles and price points, including single-family houses, townhomes and apartments, including rentals. The 234-acre project is a partnership that includes Oread Capital & Development, Varde Partners, Peak Development, and Dream Finders Homes.
While supporters of Uplands say many of the homes will be affordable, price points have yet to be set.
“The first homes will begin construction in 2025, so prices won’t be determined until closer to that date since there are so many factors, like the price and availability of materials,” said Sara O’Keefe, a consultant hired to help the Uplands developers with communication. “We have a tremendous amount of horizontal infrastructure to get in place before we can start building homes.”
It’s taken about a decade for the project to get to this point. Oread Capital president Jeff Handlin joked at the ceremony that he had hair when he began work on the Uplands.
“Today we stand at the threshold of something extraordinary,” he said. “The Uplands was never intended to be just another housing development. From the beginning, our vision was to create a model of sustainability and affordability, with plentiful missing middle housing. And above all, we were passionate about leading on water conservation, design innovation, and thoughtful placemaking.”
He was flanked by officials, including Gov. Jared Polis.
Polis praised Uplands’ planned mix of housing types, public parks, bike lanes and efficient water usage.
Like much of the Western U.S., Colorado suffers from an acute housing shortage, pushing up home prices and rents and also causing homelessness. Municipal and state officials have been struggling against intense local opposition to increase housing construction and ease these pressures.
“This project will be an inspiration for other parts of Colorado, and indeed across the country,” Polis said. “It’s exactly the kind of development we need more of.
“We have a major problem with lack of housing in Colorado. We simply need more units that individuals and families can afford. These homes will be accessible for first-time home buyers, seniors looking to downsize, young professionals and so many others. Not only that, but this community is being built with affordability, mobility and sustainability as the foundation.”
Polis has made creation of affordable housing a priority in the past year. In August, he issued an executive order to streamline developments that are centered around transit. In issuing that order, his office stated that nearly one in three Colorado households spend more than 30% of their income on housing and the state is expected to add an estimated 1.72 million more people by 2050.
Westminster Mayor Nancy McNally also praised developers for compromises in the planning process, including reducing some of the originally proposed density and preserving popular mountain viewpoints.
“The Uplands has listened,” she said. “They heard the community. They heard us as a council. I can’t thank you enough for caring about the community.”
Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio and Westminster Public School Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jeni Gotto also gave short speeches, citing benefits the development will bring to the region and the school district.
Meanwhile, protesting neighbors, who stayed at the entrance to the groundbreaking event for hours, view the development in a very different light. They’re disappointed to see the project moving forward, and said many questions remain.
John Palmer, a 60-year area resident whose Lowell Boulevard home is across the street from the site, opposes the development and believes multi-story housing shouldn’t be built there. “Multi-story units are not conducive to our neighborhood.” The existing housing, he adds, ”is all single-family detached homes.”
Palmer’s many concerns also include water runoff and potential flooding he believes could result from converting open land to a development with large areas of hard surface and increased traffic.
Palmer doesn’t feel heard. “Our city council … they not once listened to our community concerns or needs. It was all basically rubber stamped for the convenience of the developer.”
And he feels housing costs will not be as affordable as the developers say.
Karen Ray, a resident of the adjacent Shaw Heights neighborhood and a member of the Save the Farm citizens group, said that opponents fought the development for years.
“Most importantly the priority was around the open space,” she said. “It’s pristine, beautiful land, and it’s been a landmark in this city for over 100 years.”
She worries for the character of the neighborhood.
“It’ll completely change the dynamic of this whole area,” she said.
Full buildout of the Uplands is expected in about 15 to 20 years at the site, which is located between Federal and Lowell boulevards and 84th and 88th avenues. It was owned by The Pillar of Fire Church until it sold to Uplands developers.