Where the Sidewalk Ends

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

For many people, Boulder County has become an example of how not to control growth. The City of Boulder cut back on new housing while simultaneously allowing huge growth in jobs, and the resulting traffic jams and sprawl in surrounding communities like Louisville and Superior -- where most of the people who work at those new jobs have gone to live -- has brought a slice of Southern California to the Flatirons. Broomfield has compounded the traffic woes by allowing for the creation of thousands of new jobs at the Interlocken business park while limiting permits for new housing. As a result, many of the people who work at Interlocken have to commute from as far away as Erie.

States like Oregon that have enacted growth boundaries have also passed laws making it easier for builders to break ground on new housing inside the boundary. Cities such as Portland have also become more dense as a result of the law -- lots are smaller, and townhomes and condominiums are more common. Since a growth boundary inevitably makes land more expensive, builders have to create more density to keep prices from skyrocketing. While critics have suggested that boundaries in Colorado will hike the cost of housing, Portland's average home costs are about the same as Denver's.

Even people who support the proposed initiative say voters will have to be educated to understand that if they don't want sprawl, they'll have to accept more density in their own backyard. The current controversy over "lot-splitting" in the central Denver neighborhood of Hilltop, whereby two houses are squeezed onto a lot that previously held a single home, shows how even urban homeowners will often resist density.

Homes on the range: The Brush Creek Valley south of Eagle is a natural for expensive new housing.
John Johnston
Homes on the range: The Brush Creek Valley south of Eagle is a natural for expensive new housing.

"If people vote for no infill, you'll have sprawl," says Don Elliott. "But over time, there's a lot of evidence that the voters do make intelligent decisions."

Beardsley says traffic woes around the Denver Tech Center and Interlocken will help people understand that it makes sense to build multi-family housing in the suburbs, so people can live close to where they work. "This will make people rethink how things happen," he predicts.

If the initiative meets the legal requirements set by the state, including the "single-subject" rule, supporters plan to begin gathering signatures in mid-May.

Oregon's growth laws have been fine-tuned over the years, and Jones says the same thing will likely happen in Colorado if the initiative passes. She believes it will be just the beginning. "You will hear people criticize this initiative because it doesn't include this or that," she says. "We can't address everything in one initiative. It's not a silver bullet."

If the initiative had already been passed, however, it would have prevented the Eagle County commissioners from overriding the town of Eagle's master plan, and it would have required Aurora and Douglas County to coordinate their own master plans for the neighborhoods on the county line.

Up in Eagle, it's probably too late to save the community plan town residents were counting on to preserve their way of life. The fate of the Brush Creek Valley has been settled, even if the outcome isn't what most Eagle residents desired. Town officials say Eagle is now a perfect example of everything that's wrong with the way Colorado grows.

"We're the poster child for bad planning," says town trustee Heicher.

Boyd is saddened that her children will come of age in an Eagle that may be far different from the old ranch town of today, and she makes it clear that she holds her elected officials responsible.

"This is a beautiful little town," she says. "I feel like two people can ruin what this community has been forever, what I've always envisioned for my kids and grandkids. It's really frustrating."

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