Ring Around the Sprawler

An ultimatum from the feds may lead to a line in the sand for Denver developers.

What's still not clear, Parr adds, is how--and whether--such a boundary can be enforced. In places like Portland, the state legislature made the boundary the law, but Colorado's more conservative lawmakers are unlikely to give teeth to such a measure. For that reason, says Parr, Denver-area cities will probably have to police a borderline themselves, agreeing on a voluntary system of economic incentives to keep the boundary in force.

Getting dozens of cities and six counties to agree to put aside their competition for new development long enough to restrict growth won't be easy. But one goal of the current planning effort does seem within reach: the creation of an open-space buffer around metro Denver. Not only would such a buffer establish a rough boundary for growth, it would theoretically make residents more willing to accept higher-density housing. And because hundreds of millions of dollars in state lottery funds will be available in coming years for open-space purchases, Denver has a unique opportunity to create a regional open-space system that could be one of the largest in the country.

DRCOG has already received a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, the state agency that distributes lottery funds, to begin planning a network of regional parks. And it's an idea likely to prove popular with residents who see Denver fast becoming the Los Angeles of the plains.

Stoecker, for instance, says Longmont residents badly want an open-space buffer around their town to preserve its identity and prevent the town from becoming just another faceless suburb. "The only way a community can continue to be freestanding is with some kind of buffer," she says. "We have a very compact community, and we'd like to keep it that way.

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