Acres Green resident Paul Veal and his two dogs walk the trails in and around Lone Tree’s Bluffs Regional Park through sun, snow, thunderstorms and, of late, construction. Lots of construction.
RidgeGate’s west side is nearing completion with a roar of activity, most of it along the bluffs Veal and others hold precious. Cabela’s and the commercial sites that adjoin it, the Montecito and NorthSky neighborhoods all are under construction along the bluffs. To make way for the projects and stabilize the land, developers on the three adjacent sites cut into the hillsides.
City officials said developers can only build to specific heights, a restriction designed to preserve view corridors. But to Veal, the views already are spoiled.
“They completely destroyed the mountain behind the (Lone Tree) rec center for the homes, and the bluff on the other side to put Cabela’s there,” he said. “I’m not an environmentalist. But at the same time, I’m vested in that walk up there and the wildlife. When’s it going to stop?”
Veal fears the impact on the animals he sees there, which include lizards, deer and in May, a mountain lion.
“Every time I go up there, I see something new,” he said. "I think those animals are going to split. I think it’s going to take a lot away from what people are seeing and finding up there.”
City officials say development won’t extend much farther up the bluffs than it already has. The work they did to keep the visual impacts as minimal as possible was painstaking and detailed, including photo simulations that showed Montecito rooftops stopping about halfway up the bluffs, Lone Tree Community Development Director Steve Hebert said.
The 2000 city vote to annex the RidgeGate property was fueled in large part by a desire to protect the bluffs.
The 250-acre Bluffs Regional Park is a Douglas County open space. Its loop trail includes connections to the East-West Regional Trail, South Suburban Parks and Recreation and Highlands Ranch trail systems.
But, Hebert noted, “There is such a thing as private property rights. Coventry for many years worked with the county to get development rights up and around the bluffs, along the bluffs and below the bluffs.”
Because those rights are in place, Lone Tree can’t stop development.
Like Veal, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Millet is a frequent bluffs visitor.
“I appreciate the concerns and I share the concern,” said Millet, who walks the bluffs trails about five times a week. “But I think precautions were taken to respect the rights of the developer but preserve that natural beauty of our community.”
RidgeGate developers did not return calls requesting comment.
NorthSky, a 33-home development that recently broke ground on Crossington Way, isn’t the last bluffs development. Another nearly 50-home development is depicted on RidgeGate documents in the ravine south of Cabela’s and west of the East-West Regional Trail. While those homes won’t be as visible as Montecito or NorthSky, they will change the experience for trail users.
“The city will obviously make sure these homes will be aesthetically attractive with good buffer areas,” Millet said.
RidgeGate’s property includes another parcel, with space for about 10 large homes, east of McArthur Ranch. Access and infrastructure to those bluff-top sites hasn’t been determined, Millet said. Those homes might be visible from McArthur Ranch, but not from Lone Tree, she said.
The bluffs were a selling point for Charles Schwab in its decision to build a corporate campus in Lone Tree, as well as the Hampden Inn, Millet said. Cabela’s already touts the county’s East-West Trail among the amenities of its soon-to-open RidgeGate Parkway store.
“The bluffs are the most well-loved, treasured place in the Lone Tree community,” Millet said. “I would say majority of our residents spend part of their week up there. It’s very important to me and all of council to make sure it’s protected.”