By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Don Krueger, the sheriff of Clear Creek County, weighed in with his own letter to the Clear Creek County Planning Commission: "When I first heard of the proposal, I contacted the Law Enforcement Agencies where this company's other facilities are located and was quite alarmed at the call volume requiring law enforcement response. When I asked officials from these agencies for advice, they stated, 'Don't let it reside in your jurisdiction.' Aside from the above, it is obvious that that location is too far from any emergency response personnel. We are concerned that in the area specified, most of the year weather could be life-threatening to those that choose to leave the facility without permission, and with nowhere else to go, we feel this will result in burglary, home invasion or vehicle theft issue on those occasions due to the fact there is nowhere else to go...Clear Creek County already has similar facilities with in its boundaries and we do not feel it is anyone's best interest to turn Clear Creek County into a penal colony."
But having the Morrison facility hasn't been a problem for Jefferson County, says Dale Wizieck, deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, who serves as the liaison between Lost and Found and the neighbors. "As far as the call load from Lost and Found, it was no different than any other resident in the area," he says. "Just like any other resident, sometimes we would have a week where there were a lot of calls, sometimes we wouldn't hear from them for a month or two."
In the fifteen years that he's monitored the area, Wizieck continues, he can't recall a single occurrence that spilled out into the neighborhood around Lost and Found. All of the calls involved incidents at the facility — a facility much closer to neighboring residences than the Clear Creek County facility would be.
"The kids at Lost and Found are very well monitored," he says. "I can imagine people's apprehension — anybody would be apprehensive — but I don't see them as being a threat or a danger to any community in which they are placed."
"Lost and Found has functioned responsibly and safely as the finest neighbor the community could want," adds Larry Hobbs, who has lived down the road from the Morrison facility since it opened and is now Lost and Found's attorney. "My kids rode the school bus with them before they had their own school. They have been in my home, they have cut wood in my forest, they have shoveled snow for me. They have been very helpful, and they would do that for anybody. A 27-year record of good citizenship ought to amount to enough to put the fear and hatred in Upper Bear Creek to rest, but they pay no attention to that."
The cost of the litigation with neighbors is bleeding Lost and Found's budget. And there are other legal drains, too. Harry Elder, a real-estate developer in Evergreen, has filed suit, claiming that he'd entered into an agreement that would make him the next-in-line owner of the property should Lost and Found fail to receive its rezoning, and that the time has come to make good on that deal.
While that action is pending, Lost and Found can't raise money for its project. "It renders the property completely unmarketable — for any financing or donations, too — until the suit is resolved, because the property is in dispute," explains Hobbs.
"We're paying the lease for the property at Singing River while not being able to use the facility," says Hargett. "Meanwhile, we're running the Turkey Creek facility, we're running the Arvada facility, we've got the Medicaid cutbacks hanging over our heads still, I've got a balloon payment due to Glen West in December, and I can't even finance a campaign, because no one wants to touch us right now because of all our legal problems."
And that includes Clear Creek County officials. Last November, Lost and Found asked the county health department to inspect the property so that the program could get a state license to operate a residential child-care facility there, but the county refused.
"The health inspection related to a residential child-care facility application," explains Bob Loeffler, attorney for Clear Creek County. "If it were zoned for such a thing right now, we would go inspect it. But it's not zoned for such a thing, so we will not. This is not a dispute; it's simply not zoned right. We would do the same thing with another facility not zoned correctly."
Because Clear Creek would not do the inspection, the Colorado Department of Human Services took the unusual step of conducting the inspection itself. "I have never experienced it with a zoning dispute before," says Dana Andrews, licensing administrator for the department's Division of Child Care. "It's unusual to me, but in a small county, sometimes everything in the government is interconnected."
Until it hears back on its zoning appeal, Lost and Found is lost. Hargett has tinkered and re-tinkered with the zoning application, fine-tuning it to deal with the ever-surfacing concerns of the neighbors — everything from elk migration patterns to flood plain studies. But no matter what he does, he worries that it will not be enough.