Wah Keeney Park builder clearing land

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Neighbors still irked despite settlement in zoning violation case

By Vicky Gits

Residents of Wah Keeney Park are up in arms for the second time since 2006 about the same developer’s preliminary building activities on the 92 small lots he owns on the ridge above Troublesome Creek.

This time it’s about the construction of a temporary road and the related felling of hundreds of trees in September at the end of Larkspur Road on the far eastern fringe of Wah Keeney Park.

The developer, Tim Barbachano of Ridge Creek Development LLC of Lone Tree, is also embroiled in a lawsuit with neighbors Mike and Roseanne Paslay on nearby Larkspur Drive.

Barbachano will be in court Dec. 11 arguing for the right to build a bridge from the Paslays’ property to his hypothetical future development, 1.2 miles east of Highway 74.

Some of the neighbors think officials either are not paying attention or giving developers permission to do whatever they want. But Commissioner Kevin McCasky disagrees.

The neighbors have a right to be concerned about unregulated developments, but this is not one of them, McCasky said.

Barbachano has a legal right, and there are legal restrictions in place to protect the neighbors, McCasky said. The developer, who has not yet revealed exactly what his plans are, has many hurdles in front of him but as owner he has certain privileges.

“He has an unfettered right to develop his property in accordance with the zoning and the plat. Neither the county nor the neighbors can take that away from him without compensation …,” McCasky said.

“Do those old plats give us some fits? Absolutely. They do pose some difficulties. We still will require Barbachano to adhere to our current standards … . Contrary to what the neighbors think, (zoning administrator Mike) Chadwick and his team aren’t bashful when it comes to requiring developers to adhere to the zoning regulations.”

On Sept. 17, Barbachano reached an agreement with the county in district court under which he is allowed to proceed with his “land disturbance activity” so long as he complies with certain restrictions, namely installing erosion control measures.

A zoning inspector visited the site and issued a formal zoning violation against Barbachano on Sept. 21 for grading at 3066 Yucca Lane without a permit and grading activity that does not meet performance standards.

“We investigated the situation because one of the neighbors expressed concern,” said Tim Carl, Jefferson County director of development and transportation. “We went in front of a judge and worked out a court-ordered stipulation.”

Noise, dust, traffic and erosion

Guy Santo, who has lived in the rugged canyon laced with narrow dirt roads since 1995, is fed up.

“Developers get away with murder up here,” Santo said, adding that developers are allowed to do whatever they want and then ask permission later.

In the process of constructing the road, someone repeatedly drove over and exposed a natural-gas main line, forcing Xcel to dig a new trench, said Santo, who lives next door to the gas main. Xcel was on the site working with a trench-digger and a half dozen construction workers the week before Thanksgiving.

Xcel says it isn’t sure how it happened, but once it discovered the pipe was exposed, it acted quickly to re-bury it.

“It’s not unusual. Sometimes the ground shifts. There can be a number of reasons,” said Mark Stutz, spokesman for Xcel Energy. The company decided to move the line because the property owner was interested in building something on the land.

The area’s roads are filled with dust in the summer and are not maintained by the county in the winter, Santo said. He doesn’t believe the rural enclave can handle more traffic and noise. He is afraid that cutting down more trees will destabilize the slope and increase erosion.

Nature lover’s paradise

Gary Studwell, who lives on top of the ridge, likes the location for its “woodsiness,” the wild animals and being surrounded by nature. He likes the undeveloped land because it absorbs noise.

Studwell thinks the developer has tried to “intimidate the neighbors and not keep people informed of what their plans are.”

Studwell said he is sympathetic to the owner’s desire to develop but that he is going about it the wrong way.

“If they showed some consideration, they could have done things a lot sooner, and we could end up with a quality development there,” Studwell said.

The newly constructed road starts at the one-story cabin the developer owns at 3066 Yucca Lane, which is little more than a driveway at the far east end of Lewis Ridge Road.

The path cuts across the side of the ridge and goes for about one-quarter of a mile through a dense, pine-covered slope. On the side of the ridge, a large swath of about 5,000 square feet has been denuded of nearly every tree, leaving a space big enough for a large home.

The tree-cutting and grading activity in September attracted the attention of the Jefferson County zoning department, which forged an agreement requiring the developer to install erosion-prevention materials.

Otherwise, according to Chadwick, Ridge Creek Development has violated no other zoning rules and is entitled to do what it pleases within the rules on its own property. The only restriction is that if the land disturbance reaches the 10,000-square-foot limit, then Barbachano has to apply for a grading permit. But he has scraped off only about 6,000 square feet so far, Chadwick said.

Santo would argue the total is closer to 18,000 square feet, if you include the roadwork.

Nothing illegal

The neighbors may have their doubts about the wisdom of building houses on Larkspur Ridge, but there is nothing illegal about the development activity so far, Chadwick said.

“While they were grading, we gave them a stop-work order. But the amount they had done didn’t require a full grading permit. They agreed they would have to get a permit if they go over the limit,” Chadwick said.

People are entitled to cut trees on private property.

“We don’t control cutting down of trees. There is no limit,” Chadwick said, as long as someone is not disturbing the ground and as long as there are adequate erosion controls.

Some think the site is too steep and remote for road-building for a multi-family development, especially when the county doesn’t maintain the roads around it.

But Chadwick said the developer is entitled to build a private road and maintain it himself.

“We have private roads built in Jefferson County all the time,” he said.

It is conceivable Ridge Creek could build as many as 80 units, given the MR-3 zoning and the age of the plat, or formal lot lines, which were set back in 1929.

Routine maintenance

The attorney for the developer states that Barbachano was merely doing routine maintenance.

“The cutting is being done for fire and pest control,” said Rick Watrous, who works for a Littleton law firm. “The forest on the east end of Wah Keeney is extremely dense. If the beetles got in there, they would decimate it.”

Watrous said he didn’t know what Barbachano plans to build on the ridge, but confirmed he does plan to build something eventually.

“Someone doesn’t buy a bunch of land just to look at it. But I don’t think there is a final plan,” Watrous said.

Ridge Creek Development has been buying up properties in the Wah Keeney area for years and owns about dozens lots all over the ridge.

Trial set in related case

Barbachano is part of the group that tried to install a bridge and road in September 2006 at the place where Larkspur Road dead-ends at Troublesome Gulch, in front of the home of Mike and Roseanne Paslay.

The lawsuit between Barbachano and the Paslays, over whether the developer owns the easement that gives him the right to build the road, goes to district court in front of District Judge Tamara Russell beginning Dec. 11 for two days.


Ridge Creek development time line

• Sept. 21: Developer Tim Barbachano is cited for a zoning violation and allowed to continue work under a court-sanctioned agreement with Jefferson County.

• September 2008: Temporary road-building and timber-clearing activities at 3066 Yucca Drive attract attention of neighbors.

• Aug. 5 2008: Trial scheduled to decide whether Ridge Creek is legally entitled to access from the Paslays’ property on Larkspur Drive based on supposed easement sold in connection with other property. (Case is postponed until Dec. 11.)

• May 4, 2007: Neighbors going by the name Vining and Associates file a suit against the Barbachano group’s easement claim on Larkspur Drive. The Paslays are listed as defendants because the easement was on their property. (This case was settled in summer of 2008. The parties agreed not to disclose the terms.)

• September 2006: Loads of sand and galvanized steel pipe deposited on the side of Larkspur Drive in Wah Keeney Park for the purpose of building a bridge over the creek and providing access to the ridge on the south side of Larkspur.

• Sept. 7, 2006: Formation of Ridge Creek Development LLC; based in Lone Tree; registered agent, Timothy Barbachano.