Update February 7, 11:55 a.m.: Last night the Lakewood City Council narrowly approved an amended version of the Rooney Valley master plan by a 6-5 vote. The amendments included various measures designed to limit heights, reduce overall density (to around 3400 housing units, instead of the 4000 previously reported), protect wildlife corridors, and otherwise address some of the objections raised during previous public comment sessions. The plan presents guidelines rather than specifics of particular housing and retail developments, each of which will be the subject of future annexation and zoning hearings.
Original story: Having formally closed public comment on the matter, Lakewood's City Council is poised to vote Monday night on whether to adopt a revised master plan for the Rooney Valley — one that encourages a dramatic influx of housing, retail services and other development impacts in an area where dinosaur tracks, open space and the stunning backdrop of Red Rocks Park have long provided a buffer zone between suburban sprawl and the foothills.
Coming on the heels of one developer's effort to install car dealerships next to Dinosaur Ridge, the most significant dinosaur track site in the country — a rezoning request that was partly rebuffed last month by Jefferson County's commissioners, who okayed gas stations and motels but not the dealerships — the proposed "update" of the Rooney Valley master plan has generated passionate opposition from folks who live and recreate in the area.
Plan Rooney Valley is essentially a joint master plan developed by the cities of Lakewood and Morrison to encourage mixed-use development on 2,000 acres south of the Alameda/C-470 interchange, next door to the existing Solterra development. The development of the area has been under discussion for years and has been approved by Lakewood's planning commission. But at a public hearing two weeks ago, a long procession of residents voiced concerns about the proposed densities of new housing projects — an anticipated total of 4,000 homes and 12,600 new residents — and the effect that such a surge in population in a relatively undeveloped area would have on traffic, stormwater runoff and other infrastructure issues.
Councilmembers complained that there had been a lot of "misinformation" about the plan. But several seemed uncertain themselves about whether the proposed new developments had secured an adequate water supply — a major hurdle to development in the area a few years ago — or how the city would absorb the additional thousand schoolchildren in the area. While many infrastructure costs are expected to be paid by developers through the formation of special districts, the bill for building new schools tends to fall on existing property owners.
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City officials have maintained that the revised plan has been through an extensive community outreach process. However, several speakers at the January 23 meeting complained that the community meetings were more about form than substance; some said they had not been allowed to ask questions or provide meaningful input.
Many of the opponents urged the council to delay adoption of the plan until they could clarify questions about environmental and financial impacts — or pull out of the intergovernmental agreement with Morrison altogether. After the meeting stretched into the wee hours, councilmembers agreed to postpone the vote until tonight, February 6 — in a meeting at which no further public input would be allowed.
The "gag order" is particularly galling to Lakewood resident Rhonda Peters, who had her own comments to the council interrupted repeatedly by staff because she was raising questions about specific development plans that would be addressed at future zoning hearings. "I suggested to some folks that since we cannot talk tonight, we should come with duct tape over our mouths and paper with large print saying, 'I am not permitted to speak, please VOTE NO,'" she says.
The special meeting is scheduled to get under way Monday, February 6, at 7 p.m., at 480 South Allison Parkway. The draft Plan Rooney Valley is available on the city's website.