Longform

GETTING HIS DIGS IN

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Lewis says he has commissioned geological reports that refute both of those claims. But Jim Peterson, a geologist who is president of the homeowners' association, calls those reports "a crock." According to Peterson, rather than hire a geologist to do the analysis, Lewis used an engineer who applied flatland hydrology to Bear Mountain and made false assumptions about the recharge rate of groundwater below the meadow.

Lewis says his expert is a water resource engineer whose conclusions were based on a geologist's survey of the area. Both sides will argue their cases before the Jefferson County commissioners at a hearing October 18.

"There's now an almost universal paranoia over growth, both on a local scale and on a worldwide scale," says Lewis, who discerns direct parallels between the Bear Mountain controversy and the recent global conference on population held in Egypt, a gathering he calls "a repudiation of human fecundity."

"People like to move here, but they don't like it to change," adds the developer, who's also battling residents at the Homestead over his plans to shrink new lot sizes. "Well, the Indians didn't like it, either. They resisted and they lost." Growth is inevitable, he believes, and anti-growth laws are futile.

"People talk about keeping things like they were in the good old days," Lewis says. "Well, I was here, and those days weren't so good. There were no paved roads, no school busing system, no auditorium, no pool, no sports programs, no cable TV and no decent phone service. All that came because of growth. There's still plenty of room in our land to grow."

Lewis is "a hard person for the homeowners to do business with," says Jean Pulliam. "I believe he'd do almost anything to succeed in developing whatever property he's interested in. He doesn't hesitate to go into litigation to get what he wants."

If the county commissioners rule against him next month, Lewis warns, he will pursue the Bear Mountain matter in court.

What his enemies view as ruthlessness, Lewis's friends see as tenacity. "Ron lives what he believes in," says Chuck Madison, who has known Lewis for a dozen years. When faced with a person who holds an opposing view, Lewis maintains his position "consistently, without being belligerent," according to Madison, who describes his friend as "very patient and caring."

Likewise, Lewis takes seriously his role as his brother's keeper. "He's one of the most community-minded people I know," says Madison, citing Lewis's support of Mountain Area Alternatives, a counseling and support service founded by Lewis and like-minded associates to give pregnant women an alternative to abortion. "He owns the building where they're located," says Madison, "and I know he's carried them when they couldn't keep up the rent."

Lewis himself traces his activism against abortion to a day more than two decades ago when he transported a body from his mortuary to a Denver-area crematorium. There he happened upon the remains of dozens of fetuses awaiting cremation. "I asked, `Whose babies are those?'" he remembers. "`Products of conception,'" he says he was told. "They sure looked like human beings to me."

A member of Operation Rescue, Lewis has no qualms about being arrested in abortion protests. "A statement needs to be made against abortionists," he says. "These doctors must be held accountable for their actions." Picketing the houses of physicians is an acceptable tactic, he says, but he draws the line at violence in the name of the unborn. "Christ's message is one of love and compassion," he says.

"There are a few subjects Ron and I can't discuss," says Sharon Klusman, a pro-choice Republican who recently made a primary run for her party's nomination in the Second Congressional District. "But I've found him to be a very generous man who puts his money where his mouth is to help his community. He takes people who are down on their luck into his own home."

Lewis confirms he occasionally brings in homeless people, billeting the odd transient on a cot in his casket-display room. "They usually don't stay very long," he says. And some good deeds go unrewarded, notes Madison. "I know one time Ron's car ended up in Florida," he says.

"We've lost three or four cars over the years," Lewis acknowledges. "There are certain hazards anytime you extend yourself. Those kids needed help. Our goal was to try to give them some discipline and lead them into a learning experience. Lives aren't going to be changed until somebody gets personally involved. We did what we could, and it turned out we lost a car."

Lewis feels bound to lead others into learning experiences. Before weddings, he asks the bride and groom whether they'd like to invite Jesus Christ to the service. Those who decline are left to cringe when Lewis interrupts the wedding to point out their snub of the savior.

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Richard Fleming