Where the Sidewalk Ends

Even if one community turns them down, developers always know they can get what they want from another.

That solution won't be coming from the state legislature. This year Colorado's elected representatives have once again been unable to pass a single meaningful law dealing with growth, even though opinion polls repeatedly show that voters see sprawl and poorly conceived development as the number-one problem facing the state. Many people thought a growth-management bill that had won the endorsement of both environmentalists and homebuilders would have a good chance of passing, but lobbying by city and county governments killed that legislation. Even a fairly toothless bill that would have simply encouraged cooperation between neighboring cities in planning went down in defeat.

"The state legislature has abdicated its power to do anything," says Elliott. "The legislature is not doing its job."

In exasperation, a coalition of environmental groups is now planning a campaign to place an initiative governing growth on the November ballot. And in an indication of just how frustrated planners are around the state, their main professional organization, the Colorado chapter of the American Planning Association, is playing a key role in fashioning the initiative. Under the proposal, every city and county must designate where it wants to grow and submit those plans to local voters for approval. Once voters sign off on those plans, growth would be allowed only in the designated areas. In addition, cities and counties would be forced to work together and respect each other's growth boundaries.

Fenced in: Carley Watkins will soon see the land around his home filled with new houses.
John Johnston
Fenced in: Carley Watkins will soon see the land around his home filled with new houses.
Window on the future: Development along the C-470 corridor is threatening a rural way of life.
John Johnston
Window on the future: Development along the C-470 corridor is threatening a rural way of life.

"People want growth to be reasonable and managed," says Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. "Right now, people feel like they're losing control."

Brush Creek Road separates two construction sites just south of downtown Eagle.

On one side bulldozers are already at work turning over dirt for a development the town approved, one that will bring 1,100 homes and double the population of Eagle. The developer, East West Partners, worked closely with town officials to create a plan that met the goals of the Eagle Area Community Plan. The streets will be laid out in a "new urbanist" fashion, on a grid that will link them to the existing downtown. Wetlands along the creek bed that are home to wildlife will be protected, and a system of trails and open space will run through the project. Affordable housing for people who live and work in the area will be a major part of the development, known as Eagle Ranch, and it will contain sites for a school and other public buildings. A public golf course is also planned.

On the other side of the two-lane road that bisects the valley, another development is about to get under way. The Adam's Rib Ranch will consist of 1,100 vacation homes and three golf courses, all behind closed gates. It will be an exclusive getaway for the wealthy, and locals will have little to do with it unless they get jobs cleaning bathrooms, mowing lawns or fixing roofs.

Last spring, the Eagle town board unanimously rejected a proposal by Fred Kummer to annex his property into the town and allow for construction of the Adam's Rib Ranch. Despite the fact that Kummer had offered to build Eagle a recreation center, donate a park and school site and make road improvements, boardmembers said that the addition of more than 1,000 vacation homes would turn Eagle into a resort community and ruin its character.

The project also would have violated the community plan.

But when Kummer failed with the town, he took his proposal right down the street to the offices of the Eagle county commissioners who went ahead and approved it, even though it also violated the county's master plan.

Eagle's elected officials make no secret of their anger at the county commissioners. "This is leapfrog development for very wealthy people," says town trustee Bill Heicher. "It's not something this community needs. This is for second or third or fourth homes. We sure as hell don't need a gated community; we need housing for the worker bees."

"One of the main reasons we turned [Adam's Rib] down was the gates," adds trustee Pam Boyd. "Eagle does not want to be a gated community. How do you apply one set of rules to these people and across the street have a whole other set of rules?"

Kummer himself has also been part of the problem. The St. Louis-based developer has been trying to develop his land since the 1970s (for years, he dreamed of developing a ski area on the south side of the Brush Creek Valley in the White River National Forest but was never able to win permission from the U.S. Forest Service). But he is widely loathed in Eagle, where he's a frequent visitor, and viewed as arrogant and unwilling to compromise.

As an example, Boyd says that one of Kummer's golf course putting greens in Adam's Rib may displace a blue heron breeding ground, but when she raised this as an objection, she says Kummer told her, "I haven't seen any blue herons. Do you want me to protect any flying pink elephants as well?"

Kummer has stirred up controversy elsewhere as well.

He infuriated many people in Denver in 1995 when he insisted on tearing down the I.M. Pei-designed May D&F paraboloid on the 16th Street Mall to make way for an addition to his Adam's Mark Hotel, a project that received a $25 million subsidy from the Denver Urban Renewal Authority.

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