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A Little Piece of Denver

Developers lure Denver municipal workers to the sticks.

Grant Ranch, a new subdivision sprouting up on the far edge of southwest Denver, has a very specific group of people in mind as potential homebuyers.

"If you work for the City and County of Denver, this will hit you right where you live," begin advertisements the developer published in local newspapers recently. "Imagine a new home in the city that feels nothing like the city."

Many municipal workers apparently have had no problem imagining such a thing. "The response has been tremendous, absolutely terrific," raves a salesman for Richmond Homes, one of the companies building in the development. Gaylen Hunt, vice president of D.R. Horton, another Grant Ranch homebuilder, says that nearly half of the homes his sales staff has pre-sold have been to city and county workers looking to live as far away as possible from Denver while remaining within city limits.

The precise sales pitch is made possible, of course, by the city's requirement that all of its employees live within the boundaries of the city and county of Denver. City officials say the live-where-you-work clause is good for Denver residents because it makes bureaucrats more conscientious about their jobs. In addition, making Denver's 14,000 employees live inside the boundaries helps ensure that their taxes and disposable income stay close by.

The residency requirement has been around since 1978, when it was passed in the wake of the Poundstone Amendment, which prevented Denver from annexing surrounding land to increase its tax base. But the fact that the law has been on the books for nearly two decades has hardly meant universal acceptance by Denver's workers.

Several years ago Denver General Hospital supervisors canned dozens of nurses after learning that the supervisor who'd hired them wasn't enforcing the residency rule. City employees still try to skirt the law occasionally, though, and Denver must spend time and money trying to catch them. Denver Health and Hospitals, for one, spends tens of thousands of dollars each year on private detectives hired to track down municipal workers suspected of violating the residency rule.

Thanks to continued pressure from disgruntled city workers, the residency requirement has kept politicians busy as well. In 1988 Governor Roy Romer actually signed legislation outlawing residency requirements in the state of Colorado. But the City of Denver successfully sued the state, and the legislation was junked. Six years ago a group of mostly nurses and policemen placed an initiative on the local ballot that would have eliminated the requirement, but it, too, was defeated.

Such setbacks have led some Denver employees seeking a less urban neighborhood to search for new ways to live within the law while staying as far from downtown Denver as possible. Grant Ranch fits the bill perfectly. In fact, it is barely Denver at all.

The 493-acre development sits on the northeast corner of West Bowles Avenue and South Wadsworth Boulevard, directly across the street from Southwest Plaza Mall. A governmental boundary map shows the land looking a bit like a flag with three horizontal stripes. The top stripe--the northern third of Grant Ranch--is Lakewood. The bottom stripe, on the south, is unincorporated Jefferson County. Slipped in between the two is a bar of land that falls inside Denver's boundaries. As a result, just over half of the 1,400-odd homes being built in Grant Ranch are available to Denver's city and county employees.

That's been plenty for workers looking to bail out of city life while still holding on to their jobs. Norm Steward, vice president of Simeon Residential Properties, Grant Ranch's San Francisco-based developer, says he first got the idea to woo municipal workers when he met with his sales staff last November.

The salesmen told Steward that they were being bombarded with requests for information about Grant Ranch by Denver city workers. Apparently, he says, word of the new suburban-like city-dwelling opportunity began spreading among Denver employees, particularly those in the police and fire departments, when Simeon began going through the various licensing and planning reviews required by the city.

That news gave Steward an inspiration. "I came up with the idea for a targeted advertising campaign when I heard that we were effectively addressing the city's residency requirement just by default," he says.

The first thing he did, Steward says, was call up Denver's Career Service Authority and ask if the city had an employee newsletter in which he could place an advertisement or advertorial. "They said, 'We do, and you can't,'" he recalls. (A city spokesman says the publication, the Spotlight, doesn't accept any advertising.)

So, about three weeks ago, Simeon began running its ads in the Rocky Mountain News. City and county workers have been enthusiastic.

"So far we've sold about 62 houses in Grant Ranch," says Hunt, D.R. Horton's vice president. "And at least 25 of those have been to Denver city and county employees. A lot of them are firemen or policemen."

"A new home in Denver County. A dream?" Simeon's ads ask. "Then welcome to Grant Ranch. Where dreams come true.

 
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