Motorists driving along Interstate 25 through Castle Pines can look to the east or west and see the same thing on either side of the road: dirt turning, heavy machinery roving about and new homes springing up.
Castle Pines is rapidly expanding. Thousands of acres annexed a decade ago sat idle and untouched until recently.
With multiple large developments underway, the affluent city is bracing to triple in population over the next 20 years, from roughly 11,000 people at present to more than 30,000, possibly by 2040.
Castle Pines — about a 10-minute drive on I-25 from Lone Tree to the north and Castle Rock to the south — is ready to take its place on the map, community leaders say.
But with growth, comes pressure to manage it well.
“Really, all we can do as elected officials and council and staff is try to influence that progression in a manner that reflects our values, and what’s complementary to our community and what is meaningful to them,” Mayor Tera Radloff said.
As part of that goal, the city recently looked to gain more local control. Voters in May approved making Castle Pines a home rule municipality. Proponents promised home rule benefits, like collecting taxes locally and creating a charter, would ensure governance aligns with local values.
The move was neither controversial nor glamorous, Radloff said, but it signaled to her that Douglas County’s newest municipality is on the right trajectory.
“Most cities, I think, find their ground within seven or eight years,” Radloff said. “So, we are actually kind of behind, but we have made so much progress, I think, since this particular council has been seated and with Michael (Penny) as our city manager and really putting the vision of our community in place.”
A maturing city
Castle Pines is a young city, officially incorporating in 2008. Voters approved incorporation in November 2007 by a 4-to-1 margin.
That makes it the youngest incorporated municipality in the state, according to the Colorado Municipal League.
As of 2016 city reports, the majority of housing and infrastructure in Castle Pines was built within the past 25 years. The city comprises more than 3,657 housing units, with nearly half built after 2000.
More housing is on the way.
In the nearer future, city staff expected a 450% increase in new home construction for 2019, from 62 permits last year to 342 this year, although winter weather delayed some projects and staff now expect to see closer to 200 permits this year.
Castle Pines will need to ensure The Canyons project, on the newly developing east side of I-25, is seen as part of Castle Pines and not a community of its own, City Manager Michael Penny said.
He’s so focused on creating that unified perception, he has asked staff to refer to the area not as “The Canyons” but as the “east part of the city.”
It will be crucial for Castle Pines to create an identity that sets it apart in the south metro area, Penny said.
Part of that means leveraging the city’s affluent workforce to attract employers unique to Castle Pines, while improving retention of existing businesses.
It also means looking into creating a community gathering space. That could be a main street akin to Littleton’s historic downtown, Penny said. City leaders want to give people more reason to shop and dine where they live.
The idea of developing a downtown is, so far, just an idea, Penny said. The area surrounding the city’s town hall, located within the local library and housing a staff of seven full-time employees, is built out and not owned by the town.
“It’s a matter of when and how, but no, there’s no plans, there’s no approved documents, there’s no money, it’s just an acknowledgement that Castle Pines is lacking that gathering place,” Penny said.
In the meantime, Penny and Radloff say the focus is on managing current growth well.
“We want to make sure that the people 20 years from now don’t wonder what we were thinking,” Penny said.
The newest neighborhoods
The 2009 annexation of The Canyons property doubled Castle Pines’ land size, adding 3,343 acres on the east side of I-25. Part of that property is a construction zone as The Canyons by Shea Homes takes shape.
The 3,343-acre property was owned by the Alpert family, and cattle grazed there for roughly a century. Shea Homes — widely known for its work in Highlands Ranch — purchased more than a third of the land in 2015, with plans to build 2,000 homes and other community facilities.
About 30 percent of the Shea property will remain open space, with 15 miles of trails and 12 acres set aside for public schools. Shovels hit the ground in 2017. Residents are expected to start moving in by the end of the year.
Shea Homes Colorado Vice President Jeff Kappes said The Canyons location was long “on our radar” because of its proximity to major work places like the Denver Tech Center and its position in the northern half of Douglas County.
Homes in The Canyons range in price from the $400,000s to more than $1 million. Shea expects that combination will attract residents from single professionals to families to retirees.
“We’re expecting buyers pretty much across the board,” Kappes said.
The Canyon’s website at first glance could seem more like one belonging to a spa retreat rather than a housing development. As the website says, The Canyons aims to offer “resort-style amenities,” like its own coffee house, pools and outdoor stage.
Kappes said Shea Homes understands what makes master-planned communities work. Recreational amenities, whether it’s a clubhouse, trails, or fitness centers, are in high demand, he said, particularly among empty nesters.
“We’ve done a lot of surveying over the years in our communities and we know how incredibly vital outdoor recreational opportunities are,” he said.
Zoning allows for 2.1 million square feet of commercial space near the community’s entrance at I-25. Kappes said that project is under the Alpert family’s management, and he could not speak to those plans.
Lee Alpert could not be reached for comment. Penny said with no infrastructure in the area, commercial development is likely years off, but the city hopes for a mixed-use project. The landowner has also requested approval for an additional 1,500 housing units, Penny said. If approved, that combined with Shea’s project could near double the city’s population.
The Canyons is not the only sizable housing project underway in Castle Pines.
Nestled west of I-25 at the southern edge of Castle Pines, a series of homebuilders are fast at work on projects totaling approximately 1,000 units. Penny said two additional parcels may be rezoned to allow for another 400 to 500 residential units.
Like The Canyons, land in the Lagae Road area was annexed roughly a decade ago with the zoning for residential now underway.
Job growth for growing city
The city hopes to eventually create a community where people not only live but work.
As of the city’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan, there were 1,049 jobs in the city but only 152 were held by local residents.
Local business owner Lisa Storey has watched businesses and job opportunities come and go in Castle Pines. She began her catering company, Roux World Kitchen, in 2002 as a pizzeria and lived in the city from 1999 to 2014. She now lives in Castle Rock but still works in Castle Pines.
“When we first moved out here, the only thing here was a Sinclair gas station, and that was it,” she said. “We couldn’t get a pizza delivered to our house.”
That sparked the idea for her shop. She envisioned a restaurant where customers walked in the door greeted by the smell of fresh pizza and the sight of chefs tossing dough.
She supported incorporating in hopes the city would boost its infrastructure and give residents a voice in how growth was managed. She says Castle Pines has so far transitioned well, but that businesses struggle to stay open.
She moved her business from a site near the city’s Safeway in 2012 for cheaper rent. She changed the company name three times. She closed the restaurant side of the business in 2015, feeling stretched too thin to do that and catering, which was more profitable.
All the while, other businesses in town shuttered, including the Safeway, the anchor tenant in a retail center at the city’s gateway off I-25. The space remains vacant.
“As a business, I’ve outlived Safeway. I’ve outlived Papa John’s pizza... Probably another half-dozen restaurants that have been here and come and gone,” Storey said. “I’ve worked really hard to adapt.”
That struggle is also why she was disappointed to see commercial development coming in with The Canyons. She’d rather see efforts focused on retaining businesses in existing city commercial space before adding more.
“I think the residents have really yet to develop a sense of community, to support the community businesses and stay local,” she said. “And then I believe the city has yet to foster and implement plans to retain current businesses it has.”
Castle Pines’ first mayor, Maureen Shul, said Storey’s perspective sounded all too familiar to that of people who helped found Castle Pines as an incorporated city.
“What she’s voicing, I have to say, is exactly what we were voicing 10 years ago, and it just remains,” Shul said. “We just can’t build them on the other side of the freeway and ignore what’s happening here.”
Shul believes the city missed an opportunity when it voted in 2010 against creating an urban renewal authority, or URA.
The URA would have helped local businesses grow and expand, she said, adding the ability to create an urban renewal authority — which municipalities do to attract redevelopment — was one reason she supported incorporating.
Penny said the city is cognizant of business owners worried about new commercial space across the highway. Staff will work to make sure that existing commercial business “is really viable into the long-term, because obviously everything that comes in over the highway is going to be new and shiny.”
The 2019 budget provided for a newly created economic development department aimed at fostering job growth and retaining local businesses. And while Storey worried more commercial could hinder existing businesses, others said it might help.
Jason Ortman, owner of Black Diamond Eyecare, said he purchased the business in 2007 excited by the growing population, seeing it as “a great opportunity.” Historically, he said, some retail has struggled in Castle Pines, but he understands more residential development often brings commercial as well.
“I think with the right mix of businesses coming into town, it allows all businesses to grow,” he said.
Penny and Radloff said the city is still examining what sort of unique industry could be brought to Castle Pines that isn’t already represented nearby. Penny has eyed the aerospace industry, one well-represented in Colorado, he said.
“We have a very highly educated community, so leveraging that as a workforce has a lot of appeal to those higher-end companies,” he said.
The city’s median household income is $157,353 and 71% hold a college or professional degree. The challenge is attracting a company when the construction of business space is still several years off, Penny said.
Amy Shanahan, executive director of the Castle Pines Chamber of Commerce, said overall, the level of residential development spurred a renewed interest in Castle Pines from retail, restaurant and service-oriented businesses.
“I would say people are really energetic and excited about all of the possibilities,” she said. “We know there is a great deal of commercial space coming and so we have a lot of interest from business owners who are looking to locate their business in Castle Pines.”
Shanahan credits some of the hype to Penny, the former Littleton city manager who networked throughout the south metro area to generate buzz about the city’s future, she said.
Once thought of as a stop off I-25 between larger communities with big box stores, she believes the perception of Castle Pines is changing.
“People didn’t know we were a city. They did not know we had a chamber,” she said. “And now we’re on the map.”
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