Some Indian Hills residents don’t mind if the Messiah Mountain Retreat Center continues to host camping and church groups, as long as the property isn’t commercially developed and its fire mitigation isn’t neglected.
Residents voiced their concerns to members of Messiah Community Church, the Denver congregation that owns the Indian Hills retreat center on Parmalee Gulch Road, at an Aug. 27 community meeting. The church has submitted a pre-application to the Jeffco Planning and Zoning Division to rezone the property to planned development and hosted the meeting to get neighbors’ input.
The 27-acre property — which includes a lodge, a cabin and a vacant dormitory — is used by church members for camping and events, and can also be rented out to other groups for camping. The land exists in two parcels, one that is zoned residential and the other agricultural, said Jeanne Shaffer, the county case manager for the project.
The church can continue to use the property as a retreat center; however, if the buildings were damaged by more than 50 percent or burned down, the church would not be allowed to rebuild, Shaffer said.
Rezoning to planned development would allow the church to write a plan to determine what uses would be allowed in the future, she said. The official development plan would list everything allowed on the property.
“We feel very strongly that this is a special place for us,” said Roger Miller, a church member working on the rezoning. “We feel very strongly that we need to be good stewards of the land.”
Indian Hills resident Ron Matson said he wanted to be sure that the church wasn’t trying to secure the means to develop a housing or commercial project, which it could then sell.
“If you want to keep it a retreat, that’s fine and dandy,” Matson said. “I have an issue with it (being) a stepping stone to rural cluster (development).”
Miller said all the church wants to do is increase the center’s already existing use. It may also convert the unused dormitory — which was damaged when a tree fell on it — into a gazebo that visiting groups could use as shelter or a meeting place.
“I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about new buildings in the foreseeable future,” Miller said.
Indian Hills resident Molly Garbus said she wanted to be sure fire mitigation was being done on the property.
“It has been tinder dry this summer, and that’s my curiosity,” Garbus said.
“I’d approve this (proposal) no problem, I just need to know a fire’s not going to come from this property,” agreed Valerie Carr, another resident.
Miller said church members regularly volunteer to cut down trees and do other mitigation, and Indian Hills Fire Department members have assessed the property and made recommendations. The church also requires everyone who stays at the center to submit proof of liability insurance. A church member also lives on site in the bottom floor of the lodge and supervises visitors.
Indian Hills resident Matthew Williams suggested that since the church is hoping to bring in more groups — and thus more risk — it should consider making a donation to the Indian Hills Fire Department as a goodwill gesture.
Others said they would like to stay informed of the plan’s process, even though county requirements say that only neighbors within 500 feet or homeowner associations within 2 miles must be notified.
One resident who declined to give his name said the plans seemed sound.
“It seems like a positive thing that they’re interested in upkeep,” he said.
Contact Gabrielle Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-350-1043.
The rezoning process
Once Messiah Community Church submits the official development plan to the county, anybody may see it by calling the Planning and Zoning Division and setting up an appointment. Call 303-271-8700 for more information.
The plan will go through two referral processes in which various county departments will make notes that the church must address. This process usually takes about 100 days.
Public hearings will be held by both the Jefferson County Planning Commission before it makes a recommendation on the plan and the Jefferson County commissioners before they make a decision.