Home Opinion OpEd: Initiative petition to provide voters with a say in annexations gains...

OpEd: Initiative petition to provide voters with a say in annexations gains momentum

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In response to the unprecedented growth the Town of Castle Rock is facing now and in the foreseeable future, a group of concerned citizens have banned together in an effort to give residents a say in future development. Citizens for Responsible Development have launched an initiative petition to provide the community with the chance to vote on major annexations.

In December, the Timber Canyon HOA received two letters from the Town of Castle Rock seeking input on two large annexations of 2,400 acres that include 2,600 residential units and up to 400,000 sq. ft. of new commercial space. Even though the Town sent these letters over the holidays, it demanded a response by mid-January. The Timber Canyon HOAs made a simple request of the Town Council: Please extend the response time to Feb. 1 so we can get through the holidays and receive substantive community input. The Town responded that responses would be received, but the process was moving forward regardless. These plans had been around in various forms over the past two years, and yet the Town waited to provide notice and opportunity to provide input over the holidays and refused to extend the time to respond by even two weeks.

“At that point,” explained Jeff Vanderwall, one of the organizers of the initiative petition, “we realized that the Town did not really want community input and was moving full steam ahead with development no matter what.”

Vanderwall and a group of concerned citizens from HOAs across Castle Rock got together to share information and concerns. From this, the group Citizens for Responsible Development was born with the purpose of giving the voters a voice in the major annexations under consideration by the Town.

During their initial meetings, representatives of the Woodlands, Metzler Ranch, Sapphire Point and Timber Canyon HOAs, along with others from across the community, realized there was a large, collective impression that the Town and the Town Council were not listening to the constituents or their concerns.

“We came to the conclusion that the majority of the Town Council has the view that whatever the developers want, the developers get,” said Amy Fienen, one of the people behind the initiative petition. “There is no accounting for community concerns. This is best demonstrated by the fact that there have been no modifications to the proposed plans on the part of the Town or the developers in spite of the input provided by residents who are concerned for their property values and way of life.”

The conclusion was collectively reached to launch an initiative petition to provide the community with the chance to vote on major annexations. The petition would keep in place the existing process for annexations of less than five acres to ensure the Town can continue to expand as necessary for public utilities and public use.

However, for annexations of five or more acres, the developer will be obliged to put the annexation, zoning and development plan to a vote of the people at a special election paid for by the developer. If the annexation and plan is approved by the people, the developer will not be permitted to increase residential or commercial usage or decrease the amount of land dedicated for open space or schools without getting voter approval.

Sid Brooks, a recently retired judge and resident of Castle Rock, noted that this is really just the other side of the coin in an annexation proceeding.

“An annexation proceeding requires, amongst other things, the affirmative vote of at least 50 percent of the land owners on the property to be annexed,” he explained. “The initiative petition is just saying that at the same time, the Town ought to get 50 percent affirmative vote of the people. It seems a just conclusion that not just one side should have the consent of 50 percent of the effected people, but both sides should have the consent of the people.”

Tom Curtis, the president of the Timber Canyon HOA, provided some statistics that explain the committee’s belief that there is simply not enough infrastructure to support this massive and irreversible expansion without further planning.

The Town has already approved 7,000 new homes to be built in the Meadows, the Terrain and across from King Soopers on Ridge Road and Founders Parkway. The 900,000 sq. ft. of the Promenade is not even halfway completed. Before even putting one shovel in the ground on these projects, the Town now wants to annex 2,500 acres over three properties and approve development of over 4,000 homes and an additional 1.3 million sq. ft. of commercial space.

“No reasonable person could argue that this is responsible development,” Curtis said. “We are by no means against development, but the densities have to be reduced, the commercial needs to be in the right places, the open space needs to be contiguous and expanded, and the accommodations to existing communities must be made. The current Town Council is not listening to any of the existing communities, and it is terribly frustrating to say the least.”

The small fire for the petition had gasoline poured on it when the Town Council began pushing harder for two of the three annexations and developments to be accelerated and approved the eligibility of the properties at the Feb. 16 Town Council meeting.

Kevin Pratt, another of the petition’s organizers, said that the Town is making no effort to hide the fact that they will continue to progress these annexations through the spring. In light of the Town Council’s continued refusal to heed the voices of the people, Citizens for Responsible Development plan to collect the needed 4,000 signatures before Tax Day.

“A responsible Town Council would slow the process until they’ve heard from the community,” Pratt said. “As representatives of the people, they should be actively seeking community input at every opportunity instead of hiding and limiting public input at Town Council meetings. We have a very simple question for all Town Council members: Why do you oppose the right of the people to vote on these major and irreversible decisions that would forever change our Town?”