Douglas County District Court Judge Richard Caschette has ruled in favor of the county commissioners and the Sterling Ranch LLC development.
After successfully halting the development once already, the Chatfield Community Association filed another legal challenge against the development's approval in August 2013, asking the district court to reverse the county commissioners' decision from a month earlier to again approve the development.
The homeowner's group, filing under Rule 106, which allows for groups to challenge a governing body's ruling on a development, stated that the county commissioners demonstrated an "abuse of discretion" and "acted outside their jurisdiction and authority" by giving the development its seal of approval on July 10, 2013.
The development, located in the northwest portion of the county, is to the northeast of Roxborough and to the immediate south of the Chatfield Community Association.
The suit, similar to the group's 2011 legal challenge — found successful in 2012 — argued that Sterling Ranch still does not have an adequate water supply to move forward with its development and also stated that the commissioners acted on an application that was not pending, but closed, when they approved it last summer.
Caschette, in a six-page ruling filed with the court on Feb. 19, disagreed.
The judge, citing SB-258, which was passed in May 2013, wrote: "the Court finds that the Board did not exceed its jurisdiction or abuse its discretion when it approved the Sterling Ranch applications on July 2013."
The Senate Bill, which had been lobbied for by the county commissioners, gave Sterling Ranch the clarification that it needed to move forward, stating what they believed to be true already: that a developer doesn't have to show water adequacy for an entire development up front, but can demonstrate it in phases throughout the process.
Calling that particular part of the ruling "a threshold matter that (the Court) believes is dispositive of this matter," Caschette still took time to address the plaintiff's other concerns, point by point, finding on behalf of the development each time.
In response to the assertions that the district court's ruling in 2012 was a final ruling and that the Sterling Ranch applications could no longer be considered "pending" when the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the project in July 2013, Caschette wrote that the court "expressly stated (in November 2012) that ... 'additional decisions or actions with respect to the application are left to the Board.'"
Already forging ahead
The development, which had spent years tied up in red tape was not fazed by the recent suit, and had began moving forward with plans, following the commissioners' ruling in July, said Sterling Ranch spokesman Randy Pye.
"We never felt uncomfortable, even when the 106 was filed. The judge ruled with everything we thought he would," Pye said. "We thought it was a very weak case."
According to Pye, "completely coincidental to the judge's ruling," the development was already scheduled to begin moving dirt on Feb. 20. And even had the ruling not taken place yet, he said that still would have been the plan that was executed.
"We never really stopped moving forward," Pye said. "We had our zoning and wanted to go ahead. We felt it was time to start putting the infrastructure in."
The development still has to show adequate water, but according to Pye, 480 acre-feet of water being obtained from Aurora Water — more than what is required for the first phase of the project — has been included in the initial sketch plan, which has already been submitted and is awaiting approval from the county.
Referrals for the sketch plan were set to close on Feb. 25, he said, leaving only the preliminary and final plat filings to be dealt with before houses can start going up. Pye said he expects to see those first houses "go vertical in the first quarter of 2015."
"We are very pleased, needless to say," he said. "We have all the water we need for build-out and we are already rocking and rolling."
In addition to its own agreement with Aurora, the development's water provider, Dominion, also has a contract in place with Heir Water, south of Castle Rock, and is part of the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership, which will bring reusable water from Denver and Aurora into the community.
The development, at build-out, is expected to include 12,050 homes spread over 3,400 acres. Plans call for 30 miles of trails, multiple parks and wildlife corridors, a multi-field athletic complex, a hospital, fire services, schools, and a town center patterned after Littleton's historic downtown. The community also intends to keep the percentage of open space to about 37 percent of its acreage.
Another appeal in the works
Denis Larratt, vice president of the Chatfield Community Association, said he and his organization felt "that the judge missed the mark in several parts of his decision."
"We feel strongly that our case is solid, and as such we will likely file an appeal," Larratt said. "Our concern all along has been that Sterling Ranch won't produce a quality development, as they have continually sought approvals at substandard levels from water, to transportation and more. Worse, it appears that their partners on the Douglas Board of County Commissioners go along with anything they ask for.
"... It is obvious that community groups like CCA are required to hold the county and Sterling Ranch to state law and Douglas County zoning regulations, since they won't do it on their own."
Pye said they are not concerned with the possibility of another appeal and that the development will continue to forge ahead with its plans.