The Sprawful Truth

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

With five years' residency under her belt, Dozal is essentially a denizen of the subdivision's version of Old Town, buffeted by the growth that followed it. She's seen Phase One reach buildout and Phase Two spring up further down the hill, the houses shrinking and getting closer together as developers try to wring a few more dollars out of the land. She watched as the promised community park turned out to be much smaller than an earlier proposal that was supposed to be located where rows of apartments now stand. She took note whenever the supposedly ironclad covenants were bent to suit the convenience of the developers--say, in order to install a satellite dish for prospective apartment dwellers.

"Originally, Rock Creek looked like a community people were building for the future," she says. "But now I see it being built faster, with less care and less thought. Most of the builders, they're here to build as quickly as possible and make what profit they can. They're not thinking how it's going to look twenty years from now."

Tired of living by the developer's rules, Dozal sold her first home in Rock Creek and bought a lot from Richmond down the block, upon which she proceeded to build her own home, serving as her own general contractor. She became active in a group revising the local architectural codes and joined in the battle against Superior Marketplace. As she sees it, the squabbles over covenants pale beside pressing questions about how to make the best use of the remaining land, how to attract responsible retail development, how to preserve Old Town and what's left of the natural setting that attracted her to the area seven years ago.

"For Rock Creek, the issues aren't really about the color of your home," she says. "They're about the way we continue to develop it. There's a feeling that if we don't do it, we're falling behind. That's true, I suppose, but that doesn't mean we should make stupid decisions."

Waiting for the Trees
All of the model homes at Rock Creek have been lavishly furnished by top decorators. The intent seems to be not just to stimulate the stunted imagination of the prospective buyer--see, dummy, you can put your widescreen TV right here--but to soften the hot-off-the-assembly-line newness of the place, to achieve a cozy, lived-in atmosphere by providing a wealth of personal touches.

It works, up to a point. The cowboy hat resting on the desk in the faux-oak-paneled den suggests that the neighborhood cattle baron has just stepped out for a moment to survey his herd. The numerous photos on the walls of the family room, featuring Old World great-grandmas and weddings and baptisms, evoke an unbroken family history of propagation and triumph. The framed certificate of achievement in what is obviously a boy's bedroom promises that Junior will thrive in his new home, regardless of how he might have struggled somewhere else.

But after you visit three or four show homes, the effect can be disturbing. Whose great-grandma is that in the picture, anyway? Whose wedding? Whose certificate? It's all fake history, an appeal to a tradition that doesn't exist, designed to take your mind off the fact that what you're really buying is an empty shell like hundreds of others, with an unfinished basement and a pile of dirt out back for a yard. There is no past in the golden land, and little inclination to learn from the past mistakes of others.

But the golden land does have a future, one that's already being written by regional planners and developers responding to the accelerating pace of activity along the turnpike. It's being kneaded and shaped by Interlocken, which will bring a golf course, a spa, a luxury hotel and thousands of high-tech jobs to Superior's back door; by Flatirons Crossing, a mega-mall that will bring another 3,000 jobs and an estimated 20,000 car trips a day to the turnpike; by a dozen other major business parks, retail plazas and housing complexes rushing to fill the empty spots on the map. The result, planners say, will be that traffic volume and peak travel time on U.S. 36 will nearly double in the next two decades, hiking demands for a northwestern toll road linking 36 to E-470. That, in turn, would stimulate further development in its wake, swamping the current exurbia in an even more far-flung morass of strip malls and power centers, big-box olde townes and office campuses.

Some people don't see a future so bleak. The software engineers from Interlocken's Level 3 and Sun Microsystems office campuses could, after all, choose to live in Rock Creek, and thanks to the extensive bike trails in the area, they may not even have to drive to work. Superior town manager Williams says that he expects Rock Creek to turn into a "bike-to-work kind of place."

But that scenario has its skeptics, too. "The potential of walking or biking to work isn't terribly high in Americans' minds when they buy their homes," observes Paul Danish.

The county commissioner views the estimated growth figures for the Denver-Boulder corridor with a mixture of wonder and chagrin. A few years ago planners were projecting 39,000 jobs in the corridor by 2020; more recent data predicts 75,000 jobs by 2006.

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