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ARCHIVED  March 1, 1997

Weld I-25 growth plan generates controversy

A number of factors have combined to drive creation of a new comprehensive plan for southwest Weld County along Interstate 25, but controversy over the plan lingers.Counties have traditionally tried to keep growth, both residential and commercial, crammed into cities. County lands are usually reserved for low-density agricultural use or for open space and wetlands.
Growth is directed to cities, because counties are not prepared to manage high-density areas or to be the governing body for a metropolitan area.
Typically, counties are not able to provide infrastructure such as water, sewer, schools and other amenities necessary to run an urban center.
But from time to time, anomalies occur. Retail centers and industrial parks might spring up around a major highway intersection, and residential growth follows on its heels. This type of growth is about to explode in southwest Weld County along I-25 and at the Colorado Highway 119 interchange.
To prepare for growth in this area, the Weld County Commissioners, along with the Southwest I-25 Corridor Group, updated a portion of the Weld County Comprehensive Plan called the I-25 Mixed Use Development Area Comprehensive Plan.
“We got a lot of criticism (for doing this plan) that we are just trying to promote development,´ said George Baxter, chairman of the board of the Weld County Commissioners. “But we said ‘no, no, no – we are just trying to plan for growth. We are not seeking it out.’ The whole idea is that development pays its share.”
The Weld commissioners invited the I-25 Corridor Group, made up of city officials from all along I-25, to participate in the process and to have input because the development from Greeley to Broomfield would affect many cities and small towns in its path.
“The public is on both sides of this issue,” Baxter said. “So we shifted some of the density along the corridor.”
Land owners, it seems, wanted to have their cake and eat it, too.
“Some people wanted the density lowered there, so we listed it as residential/agricultural. Some property owners wanted low density or agricultural while they lived there – but they wanted to be able to change that when they decided to sell it. They wanted to be able to change the category, so it could be developed.”
Baxter admitted that this could cause some serious land squabbles if one land owner wanted to sell and wanted to develop the land, but the other land owners in that area wanted it to remain low-density agricultural.
Although there are no density or zoning requirements in this area, the commissioners plan to hash it out with developers on a case-by-case basis.
Five structural land-use categories were established. These categories were assigned an intensity measure, rather than a density.
1. Employment centers – highest intensity.
2. Regional Commercial – medium intensity.
3. Neighborhood Centers – mixed use.
4. Residential Neighborhoods – low intensity.
5. Limited Site Factors – lowest intensity.
“We are looking at intensities, rather than densities through the PUD (planned unit development) process,´ said Kerri Keithley, a planner with Weld County. “You tell us what you want, and we will review it. So we are looking at the effects.”
Keithley said that after reviewing several businesses, they saw that a business such as Gerard’s Bakery with more employees was less intense on the land than a McDonalds or a gas station with fewer employees.
“We are leaving it up to the developers and the neighborhoods to say what density they want,” Baxter said.
The density was actually lowered in some of the categories by requiring more open space.
The last comprehensive plan was done in the 1980s. Baxter said the commissioners decided to do a separate plan for this area and to take some time with it because, “We are anticipating a lot of growth in this area. We are not advocating growth; we are anticipating growth.
“It would be better if this was a town or an incorporated area, but it’s not,” he added. “There are not enough people there to incorporate. We are certainly not trying to encourage growth. If this area was allowed to develop out (under the original plan), it would have 30,000 to 40,000 people. Under the new plan (with lower density) it still could have about 20,000 people, if everything were developed.”
Although some towns along the corridor would welcome this type of growth, few are prepared for it with the infrastructure in place. The largest city close to the center of this development is Longmont, and city officials there are looking at development along this corridor with fear and trepidation.
“Our request, by the City of Longmont to the Weld County Commissioners, was to reduce the size of the mixed-use development along the eastern border along County Line Road, and they almost doubled what we requested,´ said Leona Stoecker, Longmont’s mayor.
Stoecker said that Longmont was thrilled to be asked to participate in the update of the Weld comprehensive plan and said she kept looking for areas that they could all agree on as a starting point.
“I made the statement that they are not set up to finance what would essentially be an urban development,” she said. “Weld is very much into a property-rights issue. Land-use legislation from the early 1900s has never given land owners the right to do anything they want to. Property owners have the right to do what is beneficial for the land, not the highest use.”
Longmont initially tried to create a buffer zone between I-25 and the City of Longmont by asking the Weld commissioners to zone the area for agricultural low-density use, but Weld refused, saying Longmont should purchase the land if they want a buffer zone.
“Longmont wanted us to zone some areas as open space, but there are property-rights issues involved, and we told them they have to buy land if they want open space,” Baxter said. “We’re not going to sit down and tell land owners we’re going to zone their land as open space.”
Longmont tried to pass an open-space tax so that it could purchase the land, but voters rejected the idea. So Longmont has little to work with. Recently, Longmont annexed 120 acres on the east side of I-25 and County Line Road 1 where Concepts Direct, a gift-item catalog company, will build a new facility.
“We are not going out looking for people to annex,” Stoecker said. “Longmont has always had growth paying its own way.”
Longmont is also looking at purchasing another large parcel in that area.
Longmont fears the traffic on Highway 119 will increase to major proportions, and city officials see town facilities being used by the people along the I-25 corridor without the tax base.
“The roads, traffic, library and parks will all be affected in Longmont,” she said. “Our school district crosses into Weld; it always has. Now we are looking at a bond issue for the schools to help expand the school system.”
But traffic could become a nightmare. Virginia developer Petrie Dierman Kughn is proposing a 1.1 million square-foot regional discount mall at the intersection of I-25 and Colorado Highway 7. Known as the Great Mall of Colorado, this 125-acre mall will most likely draw people from a wide radius and will increase traffic all along I-25.
“One of the consultants working on this comp plan said that traffic along 119 could be the same as downtown Denver when that area (along 119) is built out in 10 to 15 years,” Stoecker said. “The state would have to add lanes to 119 to compensate for that traffic. And one of the commissioners said that they didn’t think they had enough water.”
United Power is the electric company that serves that area, and a special district was created, the St. Vrain Sanitation District, to service that area for waste-water and sewage treatment. “The sanitation district was started 10 years ago to service that area, and it serves under the state, not Weld County,” she said. “It has a large bond indebtedness, so we think that St. Vrain wants all the growth possible because of their indebtedness.”
There are four water districts in that area of Weld, Central Weld Water District, Left Hand Water District, Longs Peak Water District and Little Thompson Water District.
“Having enough water is going to be a limiting factor for growth in this area,” Baxter said. “Our requirements for any development are that they have to show that they have water – they have to prove that they have water and sewer provisions.”
Baxter admits that development in this area may not be smooth sailing and said he would not be looking forward to settling land-owner and developer disputes.
“Infrastructure was a bone of contention right up until the end,” he said. “We left it that we require setbacks and other things. My take on it is that the infrastructure will be a joint effort between the county and the developer. I know the schools will be affected. We have told developers that they must work with the schools in either payment or some type of land dedication.”
Weld planners said the goal of the I-25 Mixed Use Development Comprehensive Plan is to create more rural areas.”It is perceived that there is more land left as open space under this plan,” Keithley said. “One of our biggest goals is to create more rural areas, which we know citizens want.”
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A number of factors have combined to drive creation of a new comprehensive plan for southwest Weld County along Interstate 25, but controversy over the plan lingers.Counties have traditionally tried to keep growth, both residential and commercial, crammed into cities. County lands are usually reserved for low-density agricultural use or for open space and wetlands.
Growth is directed to cities, because counties are not prepared to manage high-density areas or to be the governing body for a metropolitan area.
Typically, counties are not able to provide infrastructure such as water, sewer, schools and other amenities necessary to run an…

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