The Sprawful Truth

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

The board's response is polite but hardly enthusiastic. "This town already has a lot of rooftops and very little commercial," observes trustee Jonathan Oster, an attorney who recently moved to Superior from Florida.

James MacInnis, an electrician who was the only trustee to vote against the Superior Marketplace, is even less taken with the design. "You have long expanses of unbroken houses," he notes. "There's virtually no open space in neighborhood number two. Also, there's no effort made to create a child-friendly, tot-lot kind of thing, where the moms and dads can get their kids to play together. It helps to create a sense of community."

"I'd like to avoid the prominence of garages," adds Andrew Muckle, a physician who works in Denver.

"We need more usable open space," asserts Mark Hamilton, a software engineer who's serving as mayor pro tem in the absence of Mayor Spence.

The developer's planners thank the board for the suggestions, then pack their tents and slip away into the night. Doubtless they will be back, with more sharp-looking drawings, having learned a thing or two about the Superior town board. Watching one soulless housing tract after another spread across the landscape has made the trustees skeptical of even the toniest half-million-dollar "addition" to their lopsidedly residential mix. Last July the board even stood up to Richmond Homes, denying a rezoning request that would have allowed Colorado's largest homebuilder to squeeze 55 homes into a parcel designated for commercial use.

The refusal represented a turning point in Superior's dealings with the developer. "To understand Superior, you have to understand that Richmond controlled everything for so long," says Rita Dozal. "I don't think the people managing the town would agree with that, but I've watched it for five years. We had a board that was controlled by Richmond, and all Richmond cared about was building more houses. There really wasn't town leadership until recently."

But learning to say no is only half the equation. The board is desperate for what its members like to call "community-based projects," and tonight it has a striking opportunity to consider something quite different from a 178-unit upscale retreat. Next up on the agenda is Cynda Arsenault, who finds herself in the unlikely position of proposing a major new development in Old Town rather than arguing against it.

"It feels real strange to be here with the shoe on the other foot," she says. "I don't like change."

Arsenault and her husband are planning to purchase property across the street from their home in order to create a five-unit cooperative housing project centered on their nineteen-year-old daughter, Erin, who has cerebral palsy. Erin and her caregivers would occupy one house, while friends and supporters would occupy other houses on the same property and share common areas. The project would involve renovating one large house on the lot and replacing three existing structures with four new houses while preserving 45 out of 47 mature trees, including a century-old apple tree from the original homestead.

The board is clearly captivated, for obvious reasons. The Arsenaults want to build four homes, not four hundred--each with their own "small-town feeling," Cynda says. The prospective buyers are already known to the couple, rather than being faceless transplants shopping for the best price-per-square-foot they can find. And all those trees, the likes of which Rock Creek won't see for decades, if ever. Even more astonishing, the plan Arsenault presents doesn't include a single garage.

Boardmember Muckle can't believe it. Are they sure, he asks, they can get by without any garage space?

"Most of the houses in Old Town don't have garages," Arsenault replies.
There are still many details to be settled regarding what Arsenault calls the Erin Project, including questions about the property's position in the floodplain. Still, several trustees say they're encouraged that someone wants to build something with "character" in their beleaguered town. The fact that the proposal comes from people who already live there makes it that much sweeter.

There is a hunger for character of one kind or another in Superior; you can find traces of the yearning even in Rock Creek. Two years ago residents there managed to persuade their homeowners' association to back off some of the most tyrannical aspects of the covenants that dictated, for example, whether you could hang anything from your back deck or keep a snooping inspector from entering your house at will.

"The covenants are restrictive," admits Rita Dozal, "but many of us moved here because we didn't want to live in a neighborhood where there were pickup trucks and motor homes parked on the street and big satellite dishes and weird buildings that house animals or whatever."

At the same time, Dozal adds, residents want some flexibility to stray from the standard Richmond home. "After you've been in five or six of them," she notes, "you see the same curved staircase, the same oak floor, the same white cupboards. Everything is identical to what your neighbor has. Maybe they flipped the floor plan or made a slight change, but it all looks pretty much the same."

Dozal, who lived in Broomfield and Boulder previously, decided she would one day live in Rock Creek after seeing the project's original showcase models at the 1991 Parade of Homes. Two years later she and her husband moved back to Colorado from Arizona, and Dozal realized that it would be easier to commute from Rock Creek to her job in downtown Denver than from the southeast or southwest suburbs. They moved into the Waterford neighborhood, one of the oldest and most spacious within Rock Creek, with several custom homes built by companies other than Richmond.

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