The Sprawful Truth

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

"People are beginning to have what I would call booster remorse," Danish says. "They're having second thoughts about properties that have been annexed and zoned for development. I guess it's better late than never, but it's going to be quite expensive to undo some of this. Generally, the mischief is done by the time the lesson is learned. That's part of the tragedy of growth control in Colorado--nobody wants to do it until it's too late. We're finding that out statewide the hard way."

Some officials have argued that developments such as Rock Creek are a direct result of the county's anti-growth policies, which drove folks priced out of Boulder to seek solace in exurbia. But Danish rejects that argument.

"What would have happened if those policies hadn't been in place?" he asks. "I would say: the same thing--only worse. You would have county subdivisions, and you would have had a hard time providing them with services."

The county's feud with Superior ended a couple of years ago, Danish notes, when the two sides signed an intergovernmental agreement that delineated both the town's growth boundaries and the areas the county could pursue as open space.

"My own conclusion is that regional planning as a solution to growth has been a vastly overblown palliative," he says. "Regional planning is the United Nations approach, and it's about as effective. What has been more profitable is intergovernmental agreements, because they have some teeth in them. They address very specific things, but at least they're doable."

Superior's Williams acknowledges that local officials still have a lot to accomplish before they reach their goal of making his town "the finest place to live in the whole Denver metro area." But the key is making wise choices about the development they encourage, he says, not slamming the door on more growth.

"In order to be a well-rounded community, we need churches, doctors' offices, veterinarians, hardware shops, grocery stores and so on," he says. "It would be nice not to have to drive everywhere."

Rock Creek resident Chuck Sharp, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last spring, sees the town maturing along with its greenery. "As we get more of the things that make it a whole town, maybe it will become more connected," he says. "Right now it's more of a bedroom community. And, of course, it does look fairly uniform up and down the street. But I think the years will tend to solve that problem, as people repaint their homes and put more trees and bushes in their yards."

Cynda Arsenault is working on hiking every trail in Boulder County, a journey of hundreds of miles that takes her from pristine wilderness areas to narrow peninsulas of open space weaving through housing projects of different vintages, the creep of sprawl from one era to another.

"I used to get so aggravated at all the growth," she says. "But as I go through the housing areas, one of the things I'm seeing is that there's about ten years' difference between an ugly subdivision and an individual home. After a while, they add on to their porches and decks, and you see that there are people living there."

Arsenault is still wary of change, still adjusting to the wave of new neighbors in Superior. But the notion that even a subdivision can acquire character over time offers some consolation.

"For me, that makes it a little easier," she says. "I don't think there's much we can do about it, so we might as well try to learn how to live with it."

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