Aurora City Council advances plan update to allow for eastward expansion

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AURORA | It’s a difficult decision: Allow Aurora to grow at a heavy cost, or risk being surrounded like Glendale or another inner-ring suburb. But before they make it, Aurora’s City Council has to decide whether to even make such a decision possible.

At the Monday, July 18 city council study session, council members agreed to advance an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan that could allow for possible future annexations that could add an additional 128,000 residents and more than 50,000 new homes. That’s in addition to the 350,000 people who already call Aurora home.

The amendment still needs to go to a regular city council session for approval.

“Recently there have been a couple large urban-scale proposals in unincorporated Arapahoe County,” said Aurora Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor referring to several developments just outside city boundaries that have spurred council to look at moving the planning boundary line to potentially incorporate the projects rather than have them built under  unincorporated Arapahoe County standards.

There are four separate areas that make up the East Aurora Annexation Study, which analyzed the costs of expanding the city by tens of thousands of acres and itself cost $531,000 to conduct. The most controversial area of the study is a potential 9,000-home development called “Prosper,” a 5,100-acre area located between Interstate 70 and Mississippi Avenue from Hayesmount to Imboden roads. 

Conducted by Mark A. Nuszer Consultants, the study found Aurora would have a negative factor of about $15 million annually even under a best-case scenario at full build-out, with the cost of providing services far outstripping potential tax revenues from residential and commercial development. With a large portion of the growth being residential, the city would not be making enough money from commercial property tax to fund necessary increases in city services for 128,000 more people. The best-case scenario for the Prosper area alone would cost Aurora $143,000 per year, according to the study.

Longtime Aurora resident Duane Senn, a former chief surveyor for the city for 30 years, sent several emails to Aurora planning staff asking why the comprehensive plan needed to be amended now. The city is due to update its comprehensive plan — a document Aurora uses to guide residential and commercial development as well as policymaking — next year.

“It seems to me that making this large tract of land eligible for annexation will help determine what Aurora will look like before the discussion on what Aurora should or could look like with an overhauled comprehensive plan has even begun,” he said in an email sent to city officials in April.

Ward VI Councilwoman Francoise Bergan also questioned whether the city would want a development like Prosper. She referred to a letter sent last year by Jeff Vogel, a Prosper developer who said the developers were “not supportive of the City of Aurora planning modifications or development assumptions proposed for the Prosper property including the land use and transportation modifications.”

“Prosper’s position is to maintain their current master plan,” Bergan said.  “They’re already at different standards.”

At-Large Councilman Bob LeGare said  the city would feel financial impacts from a community as large as Prosper, whether it is annexed into Aurora or not. He pointed out that the Prosper development planned to provide the new homes with groundwater and that such a water source was non-renewable.

“Extending this before the comprehensive plan allows it to be factored in sends the message to Arapahoe County commissioners that Aurora is concerned about giant subdivisions being built on Aurora’s border,” LeGare said. “You build houses on groundwater and those wells start drying up, guess who you’re going to come to for water?”

The other potential annexations studied for the EAAS include 3,000 acres of land owned by the CCSC group, the northernmost 3,800 acres of the former Lowry Bombing range property owned by the state land board, and a large area of land held by TCBO Holdings east of Imboden Road, which includes some other landowners.

Water tap-fee connections would also increase under such a large expansion, and it’s still unclear how Aurora would secure enough resources to serve the thousands of new residents, according to city staff.

Aurora Water Director Marshall Brown said by 2070, the city expects population and water demands to double. He said Aurora can currently serve up to 411,000 people with 56,000 acre-feet of water storage to serve Aurora’s projected population into 2022.

He said with more than 50,000 new homes, the city would have to acquire a total of 120,000 acre-feet of water storage.

The study estimates that at full build-out of the proposed expansion, the city would need to add 242 new police officers, five new fire stations and 93 more fire personnel, add 181 acres of community parks and 2,400 acres of open space and 1,450 new public road lane miles to account for the new residents.

Hogan and other council members emphasized that Aurora could unwillingly become an inner-ring suburb without extending its planning boundary. He said that a vote to amend the comprehensive plan did not mean Aurora has agreed to annex the proposed area — it just allows for the possibility to do so.

“I don’t think we want to be surrounded by unincorporated large developments. That’s how Denver ended up surrounding Glendale and Holly Hills. I don’t want to be dealing with that,” Hogan said.