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A proposed 1,100-acre community in northwestern Elbert County called Independence would contain 920 homes constructed over a seven- to 15-year period. Lot sizes are planned in the range of one-third of an acre to a full acre.Opponents of the project say it would be detrimental to the area — that the development would require an irresponsible use of water, land, roadways and county resources.But the developer says it will be an asset for the community.“This (community) is a result of our team working for two-and-a-half years with a fleet of attorneys and water consultants to create what is truly a beautiful community — one that will help Elbert county, not hurt Elbert county,” said Tim Craft, community developer for the Colorado-based Craft Companies.“We truly believe we are building a best-in-class community,” he said.The homes in the 12-phase development that is eight miles from downtown Elizabeth and less than a mile from the border with Douglas County would range from the low $300,000s up to the $900,000s. It would have design guidelines “in keeping with the character of Elbert County,” Craft said, “along the lines of a rustic barn look as opposed to brick or stucco.”Craft said that the “five or six barn-like structures” on the land would be preserved and restored in the process of building the community. “They are not designated as historic sites but we plan to treat them that way,” he said.All requisite applications were initially submitted Dec. 20 by Craft Companies to the Elbert County Planning Commission. The applications were then distributed to third-party agencies for review and recommendations.A public hearing will be held when the review process is complete.The process for final approval is far more objective than subjective, said Elbert County Planning Commission Chair Dan Rosales.“We are like a judge,” he said. “We take the evidence presented and make a recommendation to the county commissioners based upon the facts.”The county commissioners rely heavily upon the legwork by the planning committee, he said, but ultimately the vote will be up to the commissioners.“We hope to break ground in six months, but that could change,” Craft said.Defining sustainable growthAlthough parties on both sides of the argument say they want “sustainable growth,” the definition remains disputed.“There are ways to integrate growth and resource management while maintaining the rich history of ranching in Elbert County,” said Tony Hartsook, who lives in the Sky Rim community in northwestern Elbert County.Victoria Thalimer and her husband, Todd, are members of the Facebook group called “SOD Elbert-Stop Over Development,” which has 225 members.The Thalimers, who live in Elizabeth, believe that although development is expected within the county, the Independence project does not meet the criteria for sustainable growth.“A high-density development of this magnitude has no place in Elbert County,” Victoria Thalimer said.“If the house sites were larger, say a minimum of five acres like Coyote Hills … with 200 homes, I would feel more comfortable with the development,” she said.Craft said that five-acre lot sizes constitute sprawl.“That is not something we could do in good conscience. Sprawl does not pay its own way,” he said. “It also causes negative traffic impacts, and it consumes considerable county land to house the same number of residents.”Concerns over water supplyThe Independence development will construct and be serviced by its own water resource and recovery facility. It will deliver treatment at a category 3 level — the highest level of water treatment in the state.SOD group member Jill Duvall believes there will be unused water associated with Independence.“All of the water that is available to this developer, per the water rights that go with the property, is not going to be used for the development,” DuVall said.“The development only proposes to use about two-thirds of the available water at build-out. Since the location of Independence is right on the Douglas County border, it would be easy to pipeline water out of Elbert County, if such a pipeline were approved.”Craft responded that anything to do with a water pipeline would come from the county, not the developer, and stated: “For the record, we have no plans to import or export water.”Others are worried their wells are in jeopardy of running dry.“I did a little research and … I found that my well, which services three households, (is) drilled into the Denver aquifer,” Victoria Thalimer said. “If my well goes dry, me and my neighbors would have to re-drill a whole new well … That is a burden of $27,000 per household.”Craft also disputed this point.“We have a water study from a leading hydrologist (Jehn Water Consultants Inc.) stating that if we run all four of our wells for 100 years at maximum capacity, the Denver aquifer will be reduced by less than one-third of 1 percent,” he said.“We are only using our water rights, which have gone through the courts. We’ve made our phone number and contact information public. I find that if people are willing to meet with us, we can generally assuage their concerns.”Impact on land values and economyA benefit to the area from the Independence community could potentially be the increase in property values for nearby homes, such as those in the Coyote Hills and Tallman Gulch communities, due to the creation of open space and trails. According to Americantrails.com, the value increase in 2010 to homes located within 1,500 feet of natural areas was $10,648 and specialty parks was $5,657.Victoria Thalimer expressed concerns about the amount of open space promised.“Tim Craft also lauds how much open space this development has. What provisions are going to be in place to keep that open space open?” she asked.Craft responded by saying that the open space is locked in as per the recorded PUD (Planned Unit Development) zoning document.Yet a concern for some residents is the impact on local tax revenues. The land has been zoned for residential use only.“There is no proposed commercial development in Independence,” Duvall said. “We need more commercial development to increase tax revenues.”THK Associates, a leading economic study group, assessed the community’s future economic impact. The report states that at build-out, Independence will bring in $978,229 gross annually through property tax revenue.In addition to the revenue from the community, Craft Companies will also be paying additional one-time fees to the county totaling more than $9 million.The report also determined that the project will add 3,974 temporary and 560 permanent jobs to the area.Road, traffic issues raisedAnother concern for many area residents is the construction traffic and increased population impact on the roads.“If you have been out driving on Elbert County roads you will find they are not in the best shape,” Victoria Thalimer said. “Independence is only proposing to add acceleration and deceleration lanes on County Road 158.”Craft disputed this statement.“Part of the agreement for the zoning approval requires us to build over $4.5 million in roads for the benefit of Elbert County — not just Independence,” Craft explained. “We will also be giving the county $2.3 million in traffic fees. This includes substantially more off-site infrastructure improvements.”These improvements and fees are written into the contract with the county, he said.Some of the road construction is required at the onset of the community, and most would be complete by 50 percent of build-out.Tim Craft said his company has an open-door policy and invited anyone with questions or concerns to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-601-8315.
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