The Sprawful Truth

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

Last spring Imbierowicz and a few of her neighbors organized a group called Superior Citizens for Responsible Development, in an effort to mitigate the development of three parcels of grassland at the northern border of Rock Creek, including the one behind Imbierowicz's house. Predictably, the group met stiff opposition from those pushing for development, who regarded them as self-serving and hypocritical. Now that these newcomers have got theirs, the deal brokers lamented, they're concerned about their view and their open space?

"These people who are telling us what we can and can't do with our own land--that kind of talk belongs in the barnyard," said one of the landowners seeking annexation at a public meeting last March. "You've got to remember, when they built Rock Creek here, they ruined that land, too."

Imbierowicz didn't think her newcomer status deprived her of the right to take an interest in what was happening in her backyard. And the town board wasn't entirely unsympathetic to the group's position. In their haste to attract development outside Rock Creek, they'd made some mistakes early on that everyone now had to live with, including a ghastly cluster of townhomes on a windy ridge above the town. ("Today we'd be hard-pressed to do that," concedes Williams. "But if the property is zoned for development, you're in a legal position of approving things that, under other circumstances, you might not.")

The Superior Citizens for Responsible Development consulted with wildlife officials and environmental groups. They presented the town board with evidence that the land in question provided key winter habitat for ferruginous hawks, and they argued that it could be a crucial buffer between Rock Creek and other developments. Ultimately, they managed to obtain vital concessions in the annexation agreement, including a requirement that the developer of the 77-acre site would leave up to 25 acres untouched, including the existing ponds, trees and wetlands.

"It's something to start with," Imbierowicz says. She considers the victory, along with the election of the new town board, as a sign of growing concern about environmental issues in Superior, even though her group remains a small one.

"Most of the people who live in this community are working and have children," she notes. "They're more concerned with the schools than issues like open space. They can't spend the energy."

Yet even Imbierowicz admits to some ambivalence about the evils of further development. On the one hand, she doesn't want to see the surrounding countryside swallowed in office parks, shopettes and more houses; on the other, the hot real-estate market in southern Boulder County means that when she and her husband recently refinanced their house, they had no trouble getting the property appraised at a much higher value than what they paid for it a year ago.

"It's fascinating what's happening here," she says. "Original Superior is much like the farming community we lived in in Vermont. If this happened there, it would be terrifying to those farmers. So I can relate to their concerns. At the same time, I appreciate the fact that our property is gaining value."

The SChlock of the New
While the Superior Town Hall is being renovated, the town board has moved its twice-monthly public meetings to the cafeteria in the elementary school in Rock Creek. The benefits of the setting are twofold.

First, as a result of last spring's elections, the six-member board now consists entirely of Rock Creek residents. Meeting at the school means they have a shorter distance to travel to hear from their constituents, whose driving time is also reduced. Judging from the number of SUVs crowding the school parking lot, this should result in substantial savings for the nation's fuel reserves.

Second, all in attendance are greeted by a sign on the wall that is supposed to guide the lunchtime behavior of schoolchildren but could also serve as a short list of the rules of good government:

1. Walk
2. Talk quietly at table
3. Use good manners
4. Clean up after yourself

Since taking office, the new board has had its manners and its clean-up abilities severely tested. The trustees are feeling rising pressure from various quarters for more of everything--more retail, more offices, more open space, more roads, more houses. At the same time, the board is facing tough decisions about how best to cope with the existing development, how to meet the demand for bigger schools and more recycling facilities and better traffic control.

Charting the future of the golden land can be a murky business, but once in a great while the choices slip into clear focus. At tonight's meeting, the trustees are presented with two radically different proposals for development that offer a glimpse at the gulf between the town's two cultures--Rock Creek and Old Town--as well as divergent visions of what Superior's future might be.

The first pitch comes from a Denver developer who has an option on two-thirds of a parcel on the fringe of Rock Creek, one that's been designated for a mix of commercial and residential use. The developer is interested only in the residential part. Spiffy diagrams show how a 106-acre stretch of rolling hills could be divided into three neighborhoods boasting a total of 178 single-family homes, all priced in the $350,000 to $500,000 range. (The high price is largely a function of density; originally, the plan had been to develop triple the number of homes in the same area.) The project would involve two major intersections that don't exist yet, plenty of cul-de-sacs and, of course, lots of open space, most of it consisting of the drainage areas between the hillsides.

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