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A conflicted Elk Creek Fire Board on April 8 voted 3-2 not to approve an agreement with Foothills Housing 1 that would have allowed Foothills to buy the district a fire truck and pay part of the …
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A conflicted Elk Creek Fire Board on April 8 voted 3-2 not to approve an agreement with Foothills Housing 1 that would have allowed Foothills to buy the district a fire truck and pay part of the salaries for three additional firefighters.
Board members Melissa Baker and Kent Wagner, who voted to approve the agreement, said it was good public policy because it would allow the district to provide better fire protection service to residents.
However, board President Gary Barrett and board members Greg Pixley and Sharon Woods voted no because they felt the agreement would give the appearance that the developer was trying to get preferential treatment through the agreement, and they were unhappy with what Pixley called a “gag order” that didn’t allow district officials to say anything negative about the development once the agreement was signed.
Fire Chief Jacob Ware said he supported the fire board’s decision. However, he explained that in general, such agreements between developers and fire departments were becoming more common.
Foothills Housing 1 is hoping to build 188 residential units on 47 acres behind the Conifer Safeway. The development was originally called Canyon Commons and is now called Conifer Center. It is tentatively slated for a hearing before the Jefferson County Planning Commission on April 28.
Many area residents are vehemently opposed to the development, and they have voiced their concerns to Jeffco Planning & Zoning and the county commissioners. Their concerns are typical of those in the foothills who oppose large developments: water availability, wildfire evacuations, fire protection and the number of additional cars that would fill already congested U.S. 285.
Stuart Borne, who represents Foothills Housing 1, said on April 9 he was not prepared to comment on the fire board’s decision, saying he was baffled by the board’s no vote.
Four residents spoke before the board vote, urging it to vote no. Both the Pleasant Park Neighborhood Association and the Conifer & South Evergreen Community Committee are against the proposed development and the agreement with the fire district.
When the development proposal called for three-story buildings, Elk Creek Fire officials told Jefferson County that the department couldn’t provide fire service because it didn’t have a ladder truck. Part of the agreement was for a fire truck with a ladder.
Ware said if the development is approved by Jefferson County and subsequently built, Elk Creek would provide the best fire protection possible. Both Evergreen and West Metro fire departments have ladder trucks that could be used in case of an emergency.
The now defunct agreement was hammered out by attorneys for Foothills and the fire district, Ware said.
In addition to spending up to $1.5 million on the ladder truck, Foothills had agreed to pay for 75% of the salaries of three firefighters for the first five years after the housing development was approved by the Jeffco commissioners, 50% in years six through eight and 25% in years nine through 11. The amount Foothills would pay would be offset by property taxes paid to the district.
In exchange, the district would issue an updated “will-serve” letter for the development to Jefferson County saying it now had the resources and equipment to provide fire protection services to Conifer Center.
In addition, “the district will not object to the development in any public proceedings related to its possible approval,” according to the agreement.
Board member comments
At the meeting, board members took a few minutes to explain the reasoning for their votes without debating the issues.
“I remain in favor of signing the agreement because it’s good public policy,” Wagner said. “It’s a way for us to expand our resources to protect all members of the (fire) district.”
He and Baker agreed that now, if the development moves forward, the fire district wouldn’t have the equipment it would need to serve the development.
Woods said she was concerned about whether the development, if it is built, will have enough water available to defend it in case of a fire, noting that the county rezoning, site development and building permitting process put the cart before the horse.
“We the fire department don’t get to find out if there is enough water for firefighting until after rezoning,” Woods said. “What if the applicant agrees to put sprinklers in all the buildings? If there is not enough water, we don’t find out … until further in the process. There (could be) sprinklers, but not enough water for the sprinklers to sprinkle.”
Woods and Pixley agreed that as public officials, they didn’t like that the agreement hamstrung them because they would not be allowed to comment about the development.
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