A long-running battle over efforts to develop 130 acres of land at the southwest edge of the sprawling Denver metroplex is headed for a showdown in the next few weeks. During a Jefferson County planning hearing the evening of Wednesday, December 7, opponents of the project are expected to raise a host of concerns about placing car dealerships in close proximity to scenic vistas, fragile dinosaur tracks and open-space trails.
Expect a packed house at the county's administration building in Golden, better known as the Taj Mahal. "We have asked for two overflow rooms to accommodate over 500 people," says Linnea Hauser, vice president of Dinosaur Ridge Neighbors, a group that has gathered more than 21,000 signatures on a petition opposing the rezoning of two parcels next to the C-470 and West Alameda Parkway interchange. The developer, Three Dinos LLC, wants to have the option of placing car dealerships or mini-storage facilities on the properties, which are currently zoned for smaller retail, office or light manufacturing uses.
Hauser and other opponents say the proposal is incompatible with the county's master plan and would have a range of traffic, visual and environmental impacts on adjoining open space, which encompasses two National Natural Landmarks, including the most significant dinosaur-track site in the country. Major hiking and biking trails also go through the area, which is a raptor migration route and offers habitat for deer, black bears, mountain lions and other wildlife.
"Car dealerships are among the least desirable developments you can have," Hauser says. "They're claiming that there would be more truck traffic if they built warehouses than if they built auto dealerships. But the reality is that auto dealers bring in a lot of customers, and those customers are test-driving, so the traffic increases. They have to have bright lights. In associated service areas, there's the possibility of contamination of groundwater. The signage, the aesthetics — they don't particularly blend in with the area. Dinosaurs and cars do not go together. It's almost beyond belief that anyone would come up with this idea."
A map featuring the proposed rezoning areas in red.
The land in question has a complicated and somewhat litigious history. Like most of the surrounding area, it was once part of the Rooney Ranch. When planning began on the C-470/Alameda interchange in the 1990s, the preferred option called for closing Alameda to vehicular traffic over the hogback, where fossils and dinosaur tracks had been found as far back as 1877. In 2007, county commissioners approved rezoning of the parcels next to the interchange from agricultural use to "corridor district medium retail," overruling the recommendation of its own planning department. The parcels were soon purchased by Three Dinos LLC, which filed suit against the county for the right to reopen Alameda over Dinosaur Ridge. The county then reached a deal in mediation with the company, which received $1.4 million in exchange for dropping the lawsuit and turning over nineteen acres of the land to the county; publicly, the arrangement was presented not as a legal settlement, but as a purchase of open space.
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"They paid a huge amount of money for a tiny parcel of undesirable land," Hauser observes. "It's a very questionable business transaction."
Last spring, Three Dinos submitted rezoning applications for the properties, stating that the company had been unable to attract development under the current "medium retail" designation. Jeffco's planning department and other agencies have weighed in with a host of questions and concerns about the proposal, but the rezoning has its supporters among the business community — and possibly among the county commissioners, as well. One of the principals of Three Dinos is Greg Stevinson, developer of Denver West and member of a family that has built a car-dealership empire in the region; he was also, for many years, chair of the Jefferson County Open Space Advisory Committee.
Wednesday's planning commission hearing gets under way at 6:15 p.m. at 100 Jefferson County Parkway in Golden. For more information, check out the Save Dino Ridge website or the rezoning documents posted on Jefferson County's planning site.