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Neighbors oppose development on 170-acre Fehringer Ranch parcel

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By AJ Vicens

The development group that plans to turn a set of empty fields known as Fehringer Ranch into 2 million square feet of office, retail and residential space told a group of angry homeowners last week that the debate about whether the land should be open space is in the past; the question now is the mix of uses it will support.

“What is there is undeveloped commercial land,” said Ray C. Pittman, a consultant working with Landmark Property Group to develop the 170 acres of land near D’Evelyn High School. The land sits in the western part of the triangle formed by the intersection of South Kipling Avenue, West Quincy Avenue and U.S. 285.

Landmark hasn’t officially closed the deal to buy the land from Denver Water, the current owner. Landmark wouldn’t disclose the precise figures, but the land deal alone is worth tens of millions of dollars.

Nearly 100 homeowners filled about half the cafeteria at D’Evelyn High last week to hear from Pittman and Gardiner Hammond, vice president of Landmark Property Group. The developer was required by the county to hold a public meeting prior to submitting an application to rezone the land.

Pittman said the developer plans a mix of retail, residential, office and open space to make a “more vibrant community that doesn’t feel like a vacant area part of the time.”

“Why is the assumption that we don’t want quiet anymore? That we don’t want open space anymore?” asked Joseph Youmans, a nearby homeowner.

Pittman told him the conversation about open space versus development was over, because the land today is zoned as commercial, and mixed use would be best for the community and the developer.

“Mixed use is not what we want,” one woman shouted from the audience. “It’s what you guys want.”

Fehringer Ranch is designated as an activity center, according to the South Jefferson County Community Plan. An activity center is designed to increase the non-residential portion of the county’s real estate tax base with a focus on higher-wage employment opportunities and to provide areas for support services and higher-density housing.

Landmark wants to change that plan by asking for a rezoning of 31 acres of open space and a change from commercial land to single-family homes. A pre-application review conducted by the Jeffco Planning and Zoning Department in November 2007 did not support Landmark’s plan as submitted.

“Based on that very preliminary submittal, our response was, not only do we have concerns about the community plan, also the criteria for rezoning land that’s labeled as open space within a planned development,” said Nancy York, a planner with the county. “Approximately 31 acres of that is considered open space, so rezoning that to a different classification, they have to meet specific criteria, and staff didn’t feel they were meeting that.”

Landmark did modify its plan for the southwestern-most chunk of the land that sits between U.S. 285, West Quincy Avenue and Simms Street, York said. Landmark now has that land listed as office flexible/open space, and proposes to build sports fields on adjacent land and maintain them.

Hammond told the crowd that the development group has not made any formal applications, and none of the plans are “cast into concrete,” and that “we may well go back and look at things differently.” He guessed that the company is 90 to 120 days from submitting any formal applications. Pittman said construction could begin in two years.

The vast majority of the crowd was hostile to Landmark’s proposal, citing concerns about their property values, views of the mountains and downtown Denver, and about making the community busier.

Still, a few supported the project, including a man who approached Hammond after the meeting and said, “This project is a good thing. People just don’t understand.”

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.