Patio-home plan stirs much debate

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The chair of Columbine Valley’s planning board threatened to shut down a public hearing regarding the Willowcroft property after a brief shouting match erupted April 9.

There’s a lot of opposition to a plan to build 42 patio homes targeted to seniors on what was once the grand Willowcroft Manor, which has fallen into disrepair. Urban Frontier’s original plan, approved in February, called for 29 single-story homes, all with thee-car garages. But the company recently acquired 4.5 adjacent acres, adding a dozen homes, a park and some guest parking.

At one point during the meeting, several residents raised their voices, talking over each other and the board members.

“It’s kind of like the developer says jump, and we all say how high,” said Brian MacAulay.

“There’s not been one person generally supportive of this plan,” said Mike Sullivan. “Why do we feel compelled to succumb to the pressure?”

Many on the board agreed with opponents who say the project is too dense — at about 2.95 homes per acre, it’s higher than the 2.4 allowed by the town’s master plan. However, an exception can be made if a project proves to be superior.

“I feel like let’s just build some apartments and be done with it,” said board member Carol Carson.

They voted to recommend the town board of trustees approve the plan but with only 34 homes. They had lowered the number on the first plan, as well, but the trustees bumped it back up.

The trustees could make the final decision on the new plan as early as next Tuesday.

Board member Greg Armstrong addressed strong concerns from the adjacent Brookhaven neighborhood about an emergency access to which the trustees added a 50-foot easement the first time around.

“It certainly would suggest that the town has an ulterior motive, and it’s that ulterior motive that has everybody on edge,” he said.

Phil Sieber, town planner, said the trustees were very clear that they wanted the right of way in case it ever needed to be a road — an idea the Brookhaven residents are very opposed to.

Resident Richard Nicholson worried that approving the higher density would set a precedent that might be followed should the large Tuck property at the south end of town be developed.

Sieber objected to that, saying precedent is set by what’s around the development, not across town. Two areas near Willowcroft have higher density than normally allowed.

Rachel Parris of Colorado Preservation Inc. implored the board to find a way to save the Willowcroft residence. It’s the only 19th-century building in the town, she noted, and it was designed by master architect Robert Roeschlaub, also known for the Central City Opera House.

CPI put the residence on its list of most endangered places in 2010, right alongside the state Capitol dome. It’s been on the Colorado State Register of Historic Places since 1993.

Board member Germaine Gregg, city manager in 1993, said she regretted asking for the historic designation after realizing how far gone the property was.

“It was historic, but I think that ship has sailed,” she said.