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Rising from the Prairie

Late last year, Morley-Bentley Investments LLC submitted plans to the El Paso County development services department to develop Sterling Ranch, a 1,443-acre property on the east side of Vollmer Road and north of Woodmen Road.The sketch plan describes the development as consisting of a maximum of 5,500 urban density residential units with 74 acres for commercial development and 162 acres of open space.Sterling Ranch is in the county and is staying in the county, said Jim Morley of Morley-Bentley Investments. “It’s not in the Colorado Springs annexation master plan,” Morley added.”The downturn in housing won’t last forever. We’ll be under construction in the next 18 months. As bad as the market was last year, it still did 2,500 new houses, and I think the area will do the same this year.”Morley credits the U.S. Army as a driver of housing demand, especially in the southern Colorado Springs area, but he also credits the U.S. Air Force and Air Force-related high-tech jobs for bringing buyers to the area.Retirees are an up-and-coming demographic that will make the Colorado Springs housing market less reliant on the military.”We have a number of builders who are interested in doing an age-restricted (50 and over) development. The views are spectacular and Sterling Ranch is close to the hospital and close to shopping. Those are the things builders look for when they do age-restricted developments,” Morley said.”They like to cluster their houses, creating open space buyers would certainly like. They have to have a big enough area to do clustering, and Sterling Ranch is big enough. There aren’t a lot of big areas around Colorado Springs anymore.”Age-restricted developments also eliminate the need for schools. Sterling Ranch falls within two school districts: School District 49 and D 20.If Morley decides to go forward with an age-restricted development in part of Sterling Ranch, he could place the age-restricted area in D 49 and place standard residential housing in D 20 because of the growth pains experienced by D 49, he said.Regardless, Henry Reitwiesner, D 49’s director of planning and construction, said he has negotiated one school site in the Sterling Ranch development and hopes to negotiate a second.Jeff Petersma, deputy chief of the Falcon Fire Protection District, said the Sterling Ranch development does not fall within the Falcon fire district. A map provided by Kathy Russell, public information officer for Black Forest Fire Protection District, indicates the development is within the Black Forest fire district.Water for the developmentAccording to the Sterling Ranch sketch plan, the Cherokee Metropolitan District has agreed to provide Sterling Ranch with about 2,505-acre-feet of water per year.In return for water, the agreement between Morley-Bentley Investments and Cherokee requires that the Sterling Ranch development provide Cherokee with 2,505-acre-feet of new water.The sketch plan stated that Sterling Ranch is not within Cherokee’s service boundaries but will be annexed by the district in the future.According to the water resources report submitted with the sketch plan, the Denver Basin aquifer underlying the development could provide 749-acre-feet of water under the county’s 300-year annual appropriation rule – enough to “supply up to 1,784 single family equivalent units which will meet the commitments for the initial phases of the proposed development.”Kip Peterson, Cherokee’s general manager, said test wells have yet to be drilled. “It’s too early in the process, but I have seen a lot of the subsurface geological analysis of that general vicinity. It varies quite a bit, but from what we can tell the saturation thickness of some of those aquifers look very promising,” Peterson said.It was stated in the water resources report that Cherokee will provide the new development with new water sources that are not presently dedicated to existing customer usage. The report lists water from the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Groundwater Management District as one such source. However, Sterling Ranch is located outside the southern boundary of the UBS.The water resources report also describes Cherokee’s well field in the UBS as consisting of 18 wells, 10 of which can export the water that is produced outside the UBS.”Those are the 10 wells already providing water to Cimarron Hills and Claremont Ranch,” said former UBS president Kathy Hare. “Obviously, that water is already spoken for, as we know from last June when Cherokee said their water tank was down to a weekend’s water supply.”Wastewater treatment plansCherokee will also provide wastewater treatment for the development, which is estimated at 1,100,000 gallons per day. According to the agreement, all wastewater return flows are the property of Cherokee.Peterson said he sees Cherokee’s agreement to provide water and wastewater treatment for Sterling Ranch as paving the way for further development. “This may allow us the ability to develop the northern wastewater plant and recharge facility,” Peterson said. “It would allow us to generate some revenue and spur development along that corridor, which can really only occur under a centralized wastewater system.The continued use of septic systems on 2.5-acre lots concerns Peterson. “If that keeps going, it makes me very, very nervous in terms of water quality issues,” he said. “It’s not a going thing to have a long-term reliance on them. Ask anyone who knows how septic systems work.”Development is going to occur, whether you agree with that or not. I am hopeful development can be done in a more environmentally sensitive way.”

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