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Sterling Ranch moves forward

Last month, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners approved the Sterling Ranch sketch plan for 5,225 single-family homes on 1,443.7 acres north of Woodmen Road and east of Vollmer Road.Morley-Bentley Investments LLC owns the land, which is within the Falcon/Peyton Small Area Master Plan and the Black Forest Preservation Plan.According to the sketch plan, the Black Forest Fire Rescue Protection District will provide fire and emergency services.The western half of the development is in Academy School District 20 and the eastern half is in Falcon School District 49.The development includes 56 acres of commercial land, 57 acres of school sites, 210 acres of parks and open space and a 2-acre utility site.In May, the El Paso County planning commission denied the initial sketch plan, said county project manager Elaine Kleckner. Density transitions and consistency with the Black Forest Preservation Plan were the main issues, she said.”The applicant worked with staff to address the density and buffer issues. Density is fairly sensitively handled in terms of the density transition and buffers, so the proposed development is generally consistent with the Black Forest Preservation Plan,” Kleckner said, as she recommended approval.Water was another contentious issue at the May meeting. The initial plan included a complicated proposal from Cherokee Metropolitan District to provide at least some water for the development.”The applicant has severed their relationship with Cherokee,” Kleckner said.Bill Fronczak, attorney for the project, outlined a new water strategy.Phase I, consisting of 1,055 homes on the west side of the development along Vollmer Road, will rely on adjudicated water in the Laramie-Fox Hills and Arapaho aquifers underlying the development, Fronczak said.Water for the 1,182 homes in phase II, which is anticipated to start in seven years, will come from the Dawson and Denver aquifers. “We are in the process of filing those applications and finalizing the augmentation plan,” Fronczak said.For phase III, he said they are “proposing to use Arkansas River water from the Stonewall Spring quarry.””We’ll bring it through a pipeline,” Fronczak added. “We have easements with Xcel Energy for that pipeline, but it’s probably 12 to 15 years before we get to phase III, so we haven’t done any engineering or design.”Phase IV will rely on a combination of Arkansas River water and water from the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Groundwater Management District, he said.Speaking on behalf of Protect Our Wells, hydrogeologist Julia Murphy said using Laramie-Fox Hills and Arapaho aquifers as a source of water for phase I is reasonable, but using the Dawson and Denver aquifers for phase II will require a replacement plan.”They have not addressed the source of 1,182 additional acre feet for holding in reserve for post-pumping depletions,” Murphy said.Piping Arkansas River water for phase III is “grasping for water,” she said, adding that the Pikes Peak Water Authority assessed the cost of this project at $1.6 billion.The PPWA said they would have to move 55,000-acre feet to be cost-effective, Murphy said. This proposal claims they have 675-acre feet, which falls way short of making this viable for their project alone.At the sketch plan phase, merely identifying the need for water is all that is necessary, said Commissioner Wayne Williams.”It’s clear from the evidence presented to us there is some water, and the developer understands that if he is unable to obtain water, the final plat will not occur for other parts of the subdivision,” Williams said.Judy von Ahlefeldt, representing the Black Forest Land Use Transportation Committee, asked the board to deny approval of the sketch plan, citing a traffic study completed by Colorado Springs in September.”Using data from Sterling Ranch, that study shows noticeable congestion, high delays and frequent cycle failure for through traffic on Woodmen Road by 2015; a need for six lanes by 2025 and the total failure of the Woodmen Road and Marksheffel Road [intersection] by 2035,” von Ahlefeldt said.”We’re planning for failure here.”Von Ahlefeldt also cited the use of a letter of intent, instead of a letter of commitment, from Woodmen Hills and Paintbrush Hills metropolitan districts for wastewater treatment service as another reason for denying the application.By 2016, the Paint Brush Hills wastewater treatment facility will be at capacity of 1.3 million gallons per day when Sterling Ranch is added to the mix of commitments with Woodmen Hills and Meridian Ranch, she said.”Because of state permitting rules, any necessary expansion must coincide with the anticipated requirement from the state to upgrade the facility during the next discharge permit cycle, which doesn’t begin until 2011,” von Ahlefeldt said.She also testified about drainage problems. The development’s rooftops, driveways and roads will “prevent infiltration into the alluvium over a good part of this 1,400 acres,” she said.”Water that infiltrates at one point may actually wind up in a very different place, like down in Ellicott, and so as we’re urbanizing these upper watersheds, we have to be very careful not to turn southeastern El Paso County into a desert.”In August, we had 3.6 inches of rain in 45 minutes. We had issues with the regional detention ponds at Woodmen Road that closed the road for one and a half days and damaged the Highway 24 bridge over Sand Creek.”Colorado Springs is in the process of writing new storm-water management and storm- water drainage standards. Urban planning for these areas should be deferred until urban standards are in place.”The board had no questions for Murphy or von Ahlefeldt, who also submitted a petition – with 428 signatures from Black Forest residents – against the development.John Maynard of N.E.S. Inc., which represents Morley-Bentley Investments, said the majority of the plan’s opponents contend the development is an intrusion of an urban density into a rural area.”I don’t believe that’s the case,” Maynard said, adding that most of the development south of Briargate Parkway and Stapleton Road is already urban.According to sketch plan maps, the connection of Briargate Parkway to Stapleton Road will traverse Sterling Ranch, and the urban areas within the development will be south of the connection.”The more important thing to look at is how does this plan address the surrounding properties?” Maynard said.With 5-acre parcels on the northern boundary nearest Black Forest, moving to urban densities on the southern boundary; Maynard said the plans are “very compatible” with adjacent properties.”We’ve designated approximately 250 acres, primarily in D 49, for an active adult residential community – a modern term for retirement community,” Maynard said. “It’s placed in D 49 to minimize impact on the school district.”Maynard also noted that there is no attempt to interconnect Sterling Ranch with adjacent roads, such as Mohawk Road, on the development’s eastern boundary.Williams moved that the original number of houses be reduced from 5,500 to 5,225 to ensure lower density in the northern part of the development and that the buffer on the southern boundary be increased from 50 to 100 feet.The development’s main entrance will be on Vollmer Road, so Williams clarified that Marksheffel Road will be extended into Sterling Ranch in phase I to reduce traffic on Woodmen Road, Black Forest Road and Vollmer Road.The board voted 4 to 0 in favor of the sketch plan. Commissioner Amy Lathen was not present.

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