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The Birth of a Notion

Giving birth to a new town is exciting, but running one can be far more challenging than city fathers and mothers ever imagined.

Just ask the folks of Foxfield, a 1.3-square-mile town at the corner of Parker and Arapahoe roads. Foxfield is only four years old, created after 700 residents of the area decided to incorporate because they feared being annexed by Aurora and losing their rural lifestyle.

But big-city problems have arrived on their doorstep anyway.
Foxfield was once ranching country on the far outskirts of Denver. People were attracted to the area because they could buy a few acres of land with enough room for horses and other animals. Many of the ranch-style homes in the area were built in the 1970s, when Arapahoe east of Parker was just a gravel road.

By the early Nineties, though, as they watched suburbs sprawl all around them, the area's inhabitants decided to take defensive action. They incorporated in 1994, vowing to keep Foxfield--the name comes from five families of foxes that reside inside the town limits--the rural enclave it had always been.

But the town trustees soon discovered that while they control what happens inside Foxfield, they can't stop what happens across the street. A large shopping center on the northeast side of the Arapahoe and Parker intersection, known as Arapahoe Crossing, has brought huge crowds to a Chinese-themed multiplex that looks like a plastic pagoda. Directly across Arapahoe from Foxfield, a 2,000-home development is under way. Arapahoe east of Parker soon will be expanded from two lanes, and the state transportation department plans to rip up the Arapahoe and Parker intersection to put in a flyover.

"The way the interchange is designed now, it will take fifteen acres of Foxfield land off the northwest corner of our town," says Mayor DeDe Sherman, who moved to the area twenty years ago. And that's not all: The new interchange will wipe out Foxfield's tiny commercial strip at Arapahoe and Parker. Since the town derives a quarter of its $140,000 annual budget from a 2 percent sales tax it collects from the shops there--a gas station, a small liquor store, a pizzeria--it must find a new site for some sort of retail center in order to make its budget.

The Foxfield trustees have hired a city planner to work with the state in designing the interchange, hoping to lessen the impact on the town. Now the community is trying to come to an agreement on where the new retail center should be built.

"We had a meeting with 85 people and presented alternatives for new commercial," says Sherman. "It's a major step for this town. It's not easy, since everyone is looking out for themselves."

Foxfield is not just lacking in retail, it's short on water. Like much of eastern Arapahoe County and Douglas County, Foxfield residents depend on wells for their water supply. But the spread of subdivisions through the area means there are now thousands of household straws poking into the aquifer, and dropping water levels have become a concern. Some Foxfield residents have already had to drill expensive new wells after their old wells went dry.

While most residents won't be running out of water in the immediate future, the long-term prospects are more disturbing. "We're looking at renewable water resources," says Sherman. "We don't want someone fifty years from now to have a problem."

Although an Aurora water pipe runs through Foxfield, Aurora has refused to hook the town up to its system. Sherman says the town is talking to other local water districts that may be willing to serve Foxfield.

The town contracts with Arapahoe County for most services but does its own planning and zoning work. Despite the problems Foxfield has faced--including the resignation of the town's first mayor after he got into a spat with the trustees--and continues to face (residents are currently debating whether to pave Foxfield's dirt roads), most residents are still glad they voted to incorporate.

"The town is convinced we made the right move by incorporating," Sherman says. "If we hadn't, the state would have put the interchange wherever they wanted. We wouldn't have had a say. This way we have an opportunity to mitigate the impact.

"We've been seriously impacted by the development around here," she continues. "It's hard for people who've lived here a long time to accept that."

Earl Bohannan serves as Foxfield's unofficial historian. He came to the area in the 1970s, when that part of Arapahoe County was still largely undeveloped.

"When I moved in, there was stock grazing behind me," recalls Bohannan. "There was only one house across the road from me. You could look out west and hardly see any lights at all."

Now the town sits in the middle of the booming southeast suburbs. Aurora has annexed land north and south of Foxfield; Parker is just a few miles farther south. And if the new town of Centennial is created, it will surround Foxfield on three sides.

--Steers

 
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