Silence Isn't Golden

Plans recently unveiled by Westminster and Arvada to build a major link in a new beltway along metro Denver's west side have alarmed Golden officials, who fear thousands of cars will be funneled into their city on Highway 93. But the din of oncoming traffic is nothing compared to the sniping between one former Golden mayor and three of his successors over just who's to blame for the traffic mess headed Golden's way.

Over the past few weeks, Golden officials have loudly criticized their northern neighbors for moving ahead on the planned Northwest Parkway without their town's cooperation. The only way a new freeway could be accommodated in Golden, these officials claim, is to tunnel it underground.

But Frank Leek, a former mayor and Golden City Council member for sixteen years, doesn't buy that argument. He insists the town's current predicament is its own fault, the result of a capitulation to the politically powerful Coors family. If Golden officials had followed a plan developed in the mid-1980s to reroute Highway 93 onto the western outskirts of town, he says, Golden wouldn't now be facing the prospect of thousands of additional cars streaming into its neighborhoods. But that plan was changed, Leek says, in order to maximize profits for a development scheme being pushed by Coors.

"Every time I pick up the paper, it says the problem is caused by Arvada," says Leek. "But the people to blame are not the people in Arvada; it's the developers and the City of Golden."

While Golden is traditionally regarded as a quiet enclave of old-time Colorado, the town has experienced periodic bouts of political infighting that would make a big-city pol feel right at home. The battle over Highway 93 was one such skirmish. But in true Golden fashion, that conflict is remembered very differently by several men who each served as the town's mayor.

According to Leek, in the mid-'80s, the state highway department worked for several years on a plan to reroute the highway. Ultimately, he says, the agency proposed routing Highway 93 along a hill on the northwest side of Golden, where it could then skirt the edge of town before reaching U.S. Highway 6.

But that land was part of a large housing and commercial development--known as Canyon Point--then being proposed by Coors Properties, the real-estate arm of the Golden brewing family. According to Leek, Coors wanted to sell the prime land at the top of the hill for expensive home sites and lobbied the city to move the new route for Highway 93 to the bottom of the hill, where it is today. Leek, who was mayor at the time, says Coors used its extensive clout to win over the rest of the city council.

"They went out full-bore for this," recalls Leek.
Today hundreds of new homes line the hillside above the highway. That neighborhood, known as Mountain Ridge, will be separated from the rest of Golden by a four-lane freeway if the Northwest Parkway proposal goes through.

"The blame for this lies with the previous city councils," says Leek. "The problem was bad government in Golden."

But several other former Golden mayors---anyone who spends much time on the Golden City Council seems to eventually become mayor--say the issue of where to route Highway 93 was more complicated than that. And even if the road had been routed higher up the hillside, they say, the proposed parkway would still be a headache.

"There was a controversy about the best place to put the highway," says James Brown, a former Golden mayor who served on the city council with Leek. "As I recall, Coors didn't want it up there because there were expensive home sites. Coors wanted the road to allow them maximum development and maximum profit."

A spokesman for Coors insists the company was not particularly thrilled to have the highway located where it is today. "Our major goal was not to have our property cut in half," says Jon Goldman, who adds that there were geological problems that interfered with building the road higher up the hill. "The final location was a compromise driven by geology," says Goldman. "We accepted what the final decision was."

Brown also says there were other problems with the proposal to put the highway up high, including an increase in noise that might have echoed off nearby canyon walls.

"If that road were up on the hillside, the noise would have been awful," says Brown. "Historically, highways have been built at the bottom of hillsides. Do you really want a big scar on the hillside?"

And even if Leek had gotten his way with the Highway 93 alignment, Brown adds, the Northwest Parkway would still be a problem since the neighborhoods along U.S. 6 on the south side of town will also be affected by the huge increase in traffic.

Marv Kay, who succeeded Brown as mayor, says running Highway 93 at the higher alignment favored by Leek would have required a multi-million-dollar flyover to link the highway to Colorado 58, which bisects Golden from east to west. "That was part of the problem," says Kay.

The old Highway 93 routed traffic along Washington Avenue straight into downtown Golden. The route the city finally chose for the highway, Kay says, was a vast improvement over the former roadway.

"This was as good as we could get at that particular time," he adds.
Regardless of any past controversy over the highway, almost everyone in Golden agrees that the proposed Northwest Parkway could be a disaster for the city of 16,000 people. If Westminster and Arvada go ahead with their plan to build the privately financed highway linking I-25 north of Broomfield to Highway 93, Golden will see a huge surge in traffic onto Highway 93--from 25,000 to 80,000 cars per day.

"We're concerned about what the traffic will bring: pollution and noise," says current Golden mayor Jan Schenck.

This week, Golden officials said they would try to secure federal funding to put the parkway underground through the city.

Schenck believes that Arvada and Westminster are pushing the road as an economic-development tool. Both towns have annexed raw land on their western sides, near the former Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant. Arvada in particular has aggressive plans to sponsor development all the way into the foothills; a new road would help drive that development.

"People are doing things for economic reasons," says Schenck. "But if they're going to impact other communities, we need to look at how that can be mitigated."

They should have thought of that ten years ago, Leek responds. "I think you have to blame those who were in power."

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