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The Conifer Center proposal has raised the hackles of area residents as the developers move forward to request rezoning a 47-acre property south and west of Conifer Safeway for 188 residential units. …
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The Conifer Center proposal has raised the hackles of area residents as the developers move forward to request rezoning a 47-acre property south and west of Conifer Safeway for 188 residential units.
Opponents are preparing to fight against the development, formerly known as Conifer Commons, for the reasons many in the foothills oppose large developments: concern about water availability, wildfire evacuations, the Elk Creek Fire Department’s ability to provide service to the development — some of the buildings would be three stories high — and the number of additional cars that will fill already congested U.S. 285, especially on weekends in the summer.
But for Stuart Borne with Foothills Housing 1, who has been the face for the developers for the past two years since the proposal came to light, this property is the chance to create what he calls a legacy project.
“One of the things we try to do is create communities,” Borne said. “We don’t like creating housing projects. We wanted to create some townhouses along with some affordable apartments and some single family.”
He said the owners are bending over backward to dot the i’s and cross the t’s as they answer questions from the county’s Planning & Zoning Department and other agencies. The owners want to rezone the property from agriculture to planned development.
“Our goal is to be good citizens and to provide what the community needs even though some people in the community don’t want it,” Borne said. “I feel personally obligated … to make sure we put our best foot forward and try to reach out to the decision makers in a way that they can understand the benefits to the community.”
Chuck Newby, spokesman for the Conifer & South Evergreen Community Committee that opposes the development, says the group is asking Planning & Zoning officials to force Foothills to produce up front the documents that lay out Foothills’ plans.
“We don’t want to be in a situation … where it gets into the final planning phase, and they have made a lot of promises they can’t deliver. That’s where we’re headed, and we want Planning & Zoning to stand up to this developer and say no, you have not met the requirements of our regulations and the intent of those regulations, which is to protect the public health and safety.”
Close to 100 letters have been submitted to the county from residents objecting to the proposed development and asking that it be denied.
The proposal is in the fourth referral, and county planner Nick Nelson said he wasn’t sure whether the proposal would go through a fifth referral. Referrals are requests for information sent to other agencies to determine whether a development proposal is viable.
Nelson reminds the public that a planner’s job is to get the information together before a proposal goes before the Planning Commission for a recommendation and the Board of County Commissioners for a decision on whether a zoning request should be approved. The proposal is not yet on the Planning Commission agenda.
Most of the development would be behind Conifer Safeway, with community space closer to U.S. 285, according to the proposal. The property owners chose 188 residential units because the Jefferson County Master Plan calls for up to four units per acre in the area, and wetlands that are closer to U.S. 285 would remain untouched, Borne said.
However, opponents say the wetland is a tributary to North Turkey Creek, and buildable land is meager in proportion to the entire property, so the number of units should be reduced.
Opponents are concerned about the number of cars that would be added on U.S. 285 on a regular day, let alone in the case of a wildfire. Based on the site map, all of the traffic from Conifer Center would use Light Lane to get to northbound and southbound U.S. 285.
That much traffic, they say, would cause a bottleneck, add additional traffic especially on weekends and be a disaster for those trying to evacuate in case of a structure fire or wildfire.
Borne said in a letter to Planning & Zoning that an emergency access is being proposed to the rear of the Safeway building. While extending Main Street to Pleasant Park Road is unlikely, conversations are taking place with property owners to potentially create an emergency access onto Pleasant Park Road.
Vehicle traffic in the case of an emergency evacuation might approach 250 to 300 vehicles maximum, according to the Foothills evacuation plan, and opponents say that’s a lot of cars trying to access Light Lane to get to U.S. 285.
The developers have provided documentation to Jeffco Planning and Zoning that they have the water and wastewater service needed for 188 homes. According to letters sent to the county, the Conifer Metropolitan District, which provides water and wastewater to the Conifer Safeway shopping center, has agreed to provide similar services to Conifer Center.
In a letter dated Jan. 28, the Conifer Metropolitan District has agreed “to provide potable domestic water and wastewater service to the project …,” and Foothills has agreed to pay the metro district’s costs to get a water court-approved plan to supply water in lieu of tap fees.
According to Borne’s letter to the county, “We are buying 3.519 acre-feet of water, which is equal to 62,827 gallons per day. If you calculate the water needed at 200 gallons per day per unit (for inside use only) the … augmentation water rights we are buying are sufficient to provide the 5% (95% is being recharged) for approximately 314 units. Our plan is for 188 units.”
However, Newby says the letters don’t prove anything.
“(Borne) admits that the Conifer Metro District doesn’t have rights to residential water, yet he puts a letter in the file hoping Planning & Zoning will allow him to move forward to the Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners for approval of rezoning to planned development,” Newby said. “He’s playing a game of obfuscation by letting these commitment letters and other letters stand in for the actual agreement letters with the Conifer Metro District. Conifer Metro District is playing the same game — they will benefit if he is allowed to move forward. One hand washes the other between the Conifer Metro District and Foothills Housing.”
The metro district says that it is going to court to try and secure the water rights for the development, with the developer paying the legal fees.
Newby also contends that infrastructure needed to create the water and wastewater system would cost several million dollars, and he believes that cost will be borne by future homeowners and renters.
Foothills Housing is in negotiations with the Elk Creek Fire Protection District, offering to pay part of the cost for three full-time firefighters and a ladder truck, so the fire department would have what it needed to provide fire service to the development.
The Elk Creek fire board met on Feb. 23 to discuss a proposed contract, but no decisions have been made.
Borne said sprinklers would be in all residential units, and the exteriors would be fire resistant.
“Frankly, not all of the needs (the fire district) has are caused by the development, but that’s what they need,” Borne said. “When we start building (Conifer Center), the water will be fixed, and the fire department will have adequate staffing and a new fire truck with aerial apparatus.”
At county staff’s suggestion, Foothills wants to create a special district to assess renters and homeowners to help pay for the fire district amenities, and Borne figures the assessment will be about $100 a month on a $400,000 home.
Opponents are concerned that the gridlock on the road will not allow firefighters and apparatus to get to the structures and that not enough water would be available to fight a structure or wildland fire.
“Elk Creek would need the firefighting infrastructure (such as) water tanks that can deliver appropriate pressure and capacity of water to defend the property,” Newby said. “That doesn’t exist. The developer does not acknowledge that that infrastructure does not exist. He is ignoring those facts.”
In addition, the Conifer & South Evergreen Community Committee believes the fire assessment would be more like $200 a month or $2,400 a year. Couple that with property taxes, homeowners would be saddled with $5,000 in fees on top of a mortgage.
Elk Creek Fire Chief Jacob Ware reminds the public that fire departments don’t have the authority to approve or deny a proposed development.
“The reality is, we can’t say no to a project as long as they meet building codes and county codes,” Ware said. “It’s up to the county to approve or disapprove this development. We don’t have the authority or the ability that some residents think we do.”
Borne said the Foothills developers are trying to be responsible and make sure the development will be an asset to the community.
“We are trying to be a good neighbor and not end up costing anybody any money,” he said. “We’re trying to be fair.”
Newby said the Conifer & South Evergreen Community Committee is synthesizing the concerns it hears from the community.
“We’re not just a bunch of angry citizens,” he said, “though we do get angry at times. We try to base our analysis on facts, and we try not to overstate the issues.”
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