DENVER AND THE WEST Development pressures prompt battle over annexations in Castle Rock

Petition to require voter approval for large annexations could gather signatures next month

By John Aguilar
The Denver Post

CASTLE ROCK — Bill Placke is a corporate attorney and a conservative. He worked on Mitt Romney’s transition team in 2012 in preparation for a possible presidential victory.

He doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a person who would serve as the driving force behind a slow-growth movement.

But Placke has become so frustrated with what he perceives to be Castle Rock’s develop-at-any-cost approach that he is launching a campaign to get on the ballot a measure requiring that any annexation greater than 5 acres first get approval from voters.

Placke and his supporters have to gather 4,103 valid signatures from registered voters to make a special election happen this spring.

It’s an unusual approach — only Greenwood Village currently requires a vote of the people for residential annexations, according to the Colorado Municipal League.

But the Castle Rock initiative has similarities, if not in political persuasion, to other recent slow-growth efforts in the metro area that have seen success at the ballot box, notably last year with campaigns to curb city urban-renewal powers in Wheat Ridge and Littleton.
In those instances, as well as in Castle Rock now, there was a perception among those challenging the cities that their elected leaders weren’t listening to constituents.

“The impetus behind this is that the town does not appear to be acting in the best interest of the citizens but rather in the best interests of the developers,” Placke said. “The attitude of the current majority on the Town Council is that they need this land to get to 100,000 population, and they’ve given away all the leverage.”

Castle Rock has just under 60,000 residents.

Placke’s effort specifically targets three large proposed annexations — totaling nearly 2,500 acres primarily on the east side of Interstate 25 — that are working their way through the town’s approvals process.

The developments the annexations would spur — Pine Canyon, Canyons South and Pioneer Ranch — could bring more than 4,000 new housing units to town, along with 900,000 square feet of retail and 208,000 square feet of light industrial.

Placke said all those new residents will clog an overburdened Founders Parkway with thousands of new cars all bottlenecking their way to I-25.

“The development plan is not accounting for any realistic infrastructure to support it,” Placke said.

The Denver Post attempted to reach two members of Castle Rock’s Town Council for this story, including Mayor Paul Donahue, but neither was able to talk because annexations are governed by a quasijudicial process while they go before the council.

Town Manager David Corliss said Castle Rock has been ably managing its growth, collecting impact fees from developers to pay for the amenities people in town want. The town also has major road and interchange improvements either completed or underway.

What would be the result of passing a ballot measure, such as the one being pushed? Builders and developers would skip over Castle Rock and submit projects to neighboring towns, such as Castle Pines, or to Douglas County itself.

“Will someone want to invest in a community if they have to put it up to an election?” Corliss asked. “It basically would stop most annexations from proceeding in the community. It would stop that growth from being in the town’s tax base.”

Colorado Municipal League executive director Sam Mamet agrees that developers may simply bypass Castle Rock with their projects if they have to deal with annexations by popular vote. He said municipalities have land-use experts on staff to deal with the intricacies of the issue, including water rights, zoning and rights of way.

“It’s also why we have planning commissions to look at these things before they go to council,” Mamet said.

Placke was a member of the Castle Rock Planning Commission until about a year ago, when he resigned in “utter frustration” over what he said was a lack of transparency and responsiveness to citizen concerns.

He’s not anti-growth. He didn’t support the citizen attempt to stop construction of the Promenade at Castle Rock retail project last year. In fact, Placke said he wants to see more commercial space built in Castle Rock so that more people can work where they live.

But more residential is not what’s needed in a town where hundreds of units are still going up on the west side of I-25, he said. And certainly not before there are the roads and utilities to support it.

Placke plans to give the Town Council a chance to adopt his petition as an ordinance at its March 8 meeting. If it doesn’t, he and about 25 of his supporters will, with clipboards in hand, hit the streets.

Placke said Castle Rock is a community “cool” enough that it doesn’t have to accept whatever plans developers turn in. It should demand the very best in terms of trails, parks and open space, he said.

“Our message should be: If you want to be a part of this town, you come in on our terms, not on developer-mandated terms,” Placke said.

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