The Sprawful Truth

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

Clearing the site for the Superior Marketplace involved removing an entire prairie-dog colony, which reportedly now resides somewhere near Dacono. Mindful of the fate of their neighbors who fought condemnation proceedings, other residents of Old Town have expressed fears that SURA could go after more land and ship them to Dacono, too. But Bruce Williams says their fears are unfounded.

"I don't blame people for being nervous about their property, but there's never been an intention to do that," the town manager says. "There are really two different lifestyles in Superior, and we don't want to lose the ambience of the original town."

Sawyer-Ratliff says the new town board has proven to be much more responsive to locals' concerns about runaway growth. The fact that they now have a "cash cow" in Superior Marketplace, she suggests, has given them more leverage to say no to other developers. But town officials may have found their backbone at a very late stage of the game. Old Town now finds itself squeezed by development on three sides: Rock Creek to the south, the Superior Marketplace to the east, and an 180-unit residential project being erected by Kaufman & Broad to the north.

The real question now, Sawyer-Ratliff says, is not how to head off more development--there's little private land left around Superior that could be annexed--but how to preserve what's left of the placid community that existed before Rock Creek came along. The new tax revenues could be directed to any number of "improvements" in Old Town, but residents aren't sure how much more change they can stand.

"What we don't want," she says, "is for this community to be turned into Rock Creek."

Sprawl Is the Next Guy
Paul and Karen Imbierowicz moved to Colorado from rural Vermont a little more than a year ago. Their housing requirements were simple: a place big enough for them and their two small children, with good schools, not too far from Paul's high-technology job in Westminster.

"We chose Boulder County because we didn't want to get stuck with a house we couldn't sell," says Karen, "and we understood that it had one of the best school systems. But most of the places--we were shocked at how small the lots were. You looked right into someone's kitchen from your back window. We looked everywhere in the county except Rock Creek, and then we found out we could get a nice house here."

The Imbierowiczes found a lot to like in Rock Creek. Behind their property was a pond and grasslands visited by hawks, bald eagles and prairie dogs. The bike trails winding through the development connected to other trails on county open-space lands. Thanks to the lack of retail business, the streets as well as the trails were practically deserted during weekdays, when most adults were at work or volunteering at Superior Elementary School.

"I walk four or five miles during the day, and I don't see anyone," says Karen. "It is nice in a way. People want that experience of a quiet place to live, and it seems safe for kids."

True, Rock Creek wasn't perfect. The lack of any street life--on a weekday afternoon, the place resembles a test site for neutron bombs--may have encouraged a rash of daytime house burglaries last fall. If there was anything like a community gathering spot, it was the well-appointed elementary school, built on land donated by Richmond, which opened two years ago and quickly became so overcrowded that dozens of students are now bused to another school in Boulder. (A second elementary school and a middle school are planned for the southern part of the subdivision.)

But Rock Creek wasn't rural Vermont, either, and that was the point. When Karen Imbierowicz did meet other parents on her walks, they tended to be software designers or management consultants or engineers who worked in Boulder and helped to send unmanned probes to Mars. "I get to hang out with rocket-scientist stay-at-home moms instead of farmers' wives," she says.

Still, it wasn't long before Imbierowicz began to take a closer look at the properties designated for "proposed commercial development" in Rock Creek's master plan. The undeveloped land behind her house was one of the areas slated for a possible office park, and she didn't think town officials were being tough enough in negotiations with developers to preserve wildlife habitat and create buffer zones between new projects and the existing housing stock.

Richmond executives and town officials alike boast of all the open space in Rock Creek, but the claim can be interpreted a number of ways. Much of the undeveloped land within the subdivision consists of ditches and other topographical features that aren't easily developed, and the natural areas left at its borders are largely a product of the county's lock-them-in strategy. When officials trot out the maps and start delineating the town's "greenbelt," they tend to describe it in terms that suggest a well-engineered but dispensable amenity, like a fancy bus stop or park bench.

"We love all the open space," insists town manager Williams, tracing the green splotches on the map in his office. "Our requirement out here is 25 percent open space, but we approach 40 percent. Most of it is usable, and down here, where a lot of it is unusable, we're going to leave this natural. We're going to have a nature trail through here, be able to do animal life and plant life and a soft trail. We're going to make the best of it."

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