The president of Jefferson Center Associates, a coalition of about fifty people who own land near Rocky Flats, Lacy has spearheaded the push for development around the plant for nearly ten years. His plans appear to clash with the Mountain Backdrop project, an ambitious five-county plan to preserve Front Range scenery from Pikes Peak to the Wyoming border. They also draw fire from critics who say efforts to clean up Rocky Flats could actually increase the threat of contamination to nearby communities, given the combustible nature of much of the 14.2 tons of plutonium stored there and the strong winds that routinely scour the site.

But despite those concerns and a background that includes a 1991 arrest for shoplifting as well as a history of confrontation with both local governments and neighborhood groups, Lacy has the rocklike support of planning officials in Arvada and Jefferson County. He's in the driver's seat to deliver the first large-scale development near the plant. That's what Marj Rust and other residents are afraid of.

"It's fortunate in a way," says Jefferson Center Associates planning director Bruce Nickerson of the miles of vacant land around Rocky Flats. "If it hadn't been for Rocky Flats, this area might have ended up as 35-acre ranchettes." Instead, says Nickerson, the undeveloped turf presents an opportunity for "smart growth planning."
Jefferson Center Associates was formed in the mid-1980s when longtime area rancher and developer Charles McKay approached Lacy and other property owners near Rocky Flats to advise them of his family's long-range plans for the 2,000 acres of land and extensive mineral rights it held in the area. "Howard said, `That's what I'm trying to do. Let's team up,'" McKay recalls. An enthusiastic Lacy took the reins, he adds, ramrodding the effort to organize landowners into a cohesive group and draw up a plan for area development.

Serious planning got under way in 1987, says Nickerson. By the summer of 1989, JCA had signed an intergovernmental agreement with Jefferson County and Arvada that endorsed the group's plan as the official blueprint for a 18,000-acre area stretching from Standley Lake into the hills south and west of Rocky Flats.

Under the Lacy plan, says Nickerson, the area would grow into an array of one- to five-story office buildings and "clean" light industry "nestled into the landscape." Exteriors would feature unobtrusive earth tones and natural materials. At two or three major intersections, buildings could be built to a height of 100 feet. The spacing of those high-rise clusters, Nickerson says, would allow ample views of the mountains from major arterials. "It's well-planned, quality development," he says.

On the cover of a promotional brochure for Jefferson Center paid for by the City of Arvada, the Northwest Chamber of Commerce and Jefferson Center Associates is a photograph of three conifer trees grouped on a swell of rangeland that rises to the foot of the Flatirons. The scene looks very much like the Jefferson Center logo and suggests the happy prospect of stepping from the door of an office building to behold a natural setting stretching away to the mountains.

There are two problems with that impression: The trees and grassland in the picture are not now part of Jefferson Center and, even if they were, project plans would allow a 100-foot building to be built just behind the trees, blocking the mountain view.

It is that kind of discrepancy between presentation and reality that bothers people. "Lacy has envisioned a big development over which he wants to have control," says one landowner, who declines to be identified. "He's done it in a very cunning and smart way to gain land-use control over other people's property. We're going to fight that."

Critics say the intergovernmental agreement signed by Lacy, Arvada and Jefferson County essentially elevates Lacy and his cohorts to the level of elected officials. Under that agreement, any changes in the plan must be approved by the city, the county and Jefferson Center Associates.

But giving JCA a say in land-use determinations was unfair and unnecessary, says Gloria Barrick, a resident of the small town of Plainview, which falls within the grasp of the proposed Jefferson Center project.

"We don't need another layer of government imposed on us," says Barrick. "And this is government without representation. We don't live in Arvada. We didn't vote for those people, and we didn't vote Howard Lacy into any office."

Like other well-laid plans, however, Jefferson Center has run into its share of hitches. The defeat of W-470 in late 1989 shot down a planned complex of high-rises up to 150 feet tall near the southwest corner of the buffer zone. And under pressure from Jefferson County, JCA gave up plans for residential development of 900 acres of land near the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon. The county would rather see it reserved for open space.

Before that dispute was resolved last month, Lacy threatened to sue the county. And he remains testy about the issue. "We can't be installing infrastructure and all of sudden hear an area is not going to be the way it was planned," he complains.

Lacy also has butted heads with the City of Westminster and a group of residents in the Blue Mountain subdivision, a ninety-home community set in a valley behind the hogback and near the mouth of Coal Creek Canyon. That fight, only recently settled, was over alleged financial irregularities with a pipeline Westminster installed earlier this year to ship Coal Creek water to Standley Lake. Financed by DOE, the pipeline was intended to shield what had been an open ditch from potential Rocky Flats contamination.

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