The Sprawful Truth

Overwhelmed by growth, the town of Superior struggles to transform a subdivision into a community.

Buy Now, Pay Later
You can feel the urgency in the Rock Creek Ranch sales offices of Richmond American Homes. You can see it in the eyes of the young couples who arrive there in weather foul and fair, brochures in hand and toddlers in tow, their nerves jangled from dueling with the tailgaters on the Boulder-Denver turnpike. You can hear it in their voices as they state their requirements, ask directions and trudge toward the model homes to pick the abode of their dreams.

The time to buy is now, says the smiling sales agent, whose shiny embossed card identifies him as a "community manager." In a few weeks, he explains, the price of every house in the Hillcrest at Rock Creek Classic Collection--the Chardonnay, the Burgundy, the Cabernet, the Zinfandel, even the lowly Merlot--will increase by $10,000. Buy now and save.

Buy now, because just look at this map. See all these houses here, in what we call Phase One? Sold. The last one was snapped up months ago. See these, in Phase Two? Most of them are still under construction, but look at how many are already under contract. Sold. Sold. Sold. Available. Sold.

The couples clutch their maps and head for the dwindling pool of available lots like sooners striking out for the territories, desperate to stake their claim. Better buy now, they tell each other, or else.

Buy now, because interest rates are lower than Aunt Emma's arches, and that means more house for the dough. Use Richmond's mortgage company and save another $8,500.

Buy now, because this is the golden land. This is the land of good schools, rising property values and convenient (or at least tolerable) commutes. This is the land of vaulted ceilings, curved staircases and vinyl casement windows, with stunning views of the Flatirons and a sea of $300,000 houses just like yours. This is the land of genuine wood privacy fences and gas fireplaces and General Electric self-cleaning ovens and polished brass coach lights on the three-car garages.

Buy now, because with the right kind of financing, you, too, could slip into a four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath Glenwood Model #4, sticker price $402,995 (add $2,000 for Exterior C), featuring Arched Entryways; a Center Food Preparation Island in the Gourmet Kitchen; a Family Room with Dramatic Window and Media Center; a Jack 'n' Jill Bath for the kiddies; and a Luxurious Master Suite that isn't so much a bedroom as a Master Retreat, with Optional Coffee Bar and 3-way Fireplace and Large Walk-in Closet the size of some people's condos.

Buy now, because in the golden land, there is no urban decay, no traffic-snarled strip malls, no street people or crack houses or bad neighbors--just lane after winding lane of brand-new Glenwoods and Cabernets, occupied by families with 2.2 kids and ruled by a fat book of restrictive covenants that keep everybody in line.

Buy now, because they aren't making any more land, and soon all of this will be snapped up, used up, screwed up.

Gone.

An Intention Gone Haywire
Driving north toward Boulder on U.S. 36, you come across the southern edge of Rock Creek Ranch abruptly, at the crest of a hill a mile south of the Superior exit. If you haven't kept up with the rapacious pace of development in the metropolitan area over the past few years, the encounter can be unsettling, one of those my-god-what-have-they-done epiphanies.

Colorado is full of such nasty surprises, of course, but there's something about that first glimpse of Rock Creek that affronts the eye even more than, say, the sprawl of Louisville on the other side of the road. The master-planned uniformity of the thing--row after row of identical apartments ("exceptional move-in specials") and townhomes ("semi-custom from the $160s"), flanked by hundreds of homogeneous, characterless single-family houses, all vomited across what was once one of the most dramatic scenes of mountain and meadow to be found along the Front Range--suggests something unnatural, alien, thoroughly Californian.

The view from inside Rock Creek, though, is quite different. To understand the allure of the place, you need to take McCaslin Boulevard past the modest enclave of Superior, referred to as "Old Town" or "Original Superior" by the hordes of newcomers. Then begin the descent down the development's main drag, Rock Creek Parkway, a wide expanse studded with parks, ponds and open space. Although the houses tend to be huddled together, most are quite large, without a hint of claustrophobia. It's possible to locate a few "starter" homes priced under $200,000--and a few monsters, too, valued up to $700,000--but most of the development features units in the $250,000-to-$400,000 range, with anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet, making Rock Creek one of the better housing bargains in pricey Boulder County.

Rock Creek has benefited from the same forces driving exurban development all along the Front Range: an influx of upscale refugees from California and elsewhere, white flight from the inner city, baby boomers in search of better schools for their kids, a restless hunger for something fresher and less congested than the suburbs of twenty years ago. But it's also a product of the peculiar real-estate dynamics of Boulder County, where low-growth policies in the city proper and a burgeoning job market have sent home prices soaring--and buyers scurrying for affordable alternatives. In fact, a survey done a couple of years ago by Superior officials indicates that many Rock Creek residents aren't newcomers at all; 30 percent of them came from the city of Boulder, and another 20 percent from elsewhere in the county.

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