Aurora council leery of major ArapCo housing developments

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AURORA | Though Aurora recently nixed a plan to expand the city eastward by 20,000 acres and potentially add enough residents to make it the second-largest city in Colorado, that decision does not keep development from encroaching on the city’s eastern borders.

There are two particular residential developments in unincorporated Arapahoe County just outside of city boundaries which remain a concern for Aurora City Council members because of their potential water and traffic impacts: Prosper and Sky Ranch.

Prosper is a 9,000-home residential development proposed for a 5,100-acre area located between Interstate 70 and East Mississippi Avenue north to south, and Hayesmount and Imboden roads west to east.

At an Aurora City Council Planning and Economic Development committee meeting Nov. 7, Arapahoe County planner Julio Iturreria told city council members that Prosper is now going through reviews at the county level, and that a preliminary plat — a map showing a proposed subdivision — has been submitted and approved by Arapahoe County Commissioners.

For the past two years, Aurora officials have expressed concerns over Prosper, citing the difficulty of working with its developer on necessary infrastructure for the project.

Aurora Ward III Councilwoman Marsha Berzins, a member of the committee, asked if Prosper had any water resources to serve its future residents. Iturreria could not directly answer the question.

“By state statute there is no requirement to establish where a water source will be,” Iturreria said. He said financing for a water source will be aided by the county setting up eight metropolitan districts for Prosper. Arapahoe County officials say those districts will also help finance and build infrastructure such as water, utilities, sanitation, transportation, parks and recreation and fire protection for Prosper residents. 

“Virtually all developments — I don’t care where you are in Colorado — at one time or another, have all started off with wells, including the city of Aurora,” Iturreria said.

A study conducted this year by Mark A. Nuszer Consultants for Aurora City Council said the best-case scenario for providing city services such as water and road infrastructure to the Prosper development would cost Aurora $143,000 per year, with the development so close to city boundaries. In August several council members cited their concerns about the financial burden of incorporating a development as large as Prosper as a reason for nixing the measure to expand the city’s boundary eastward.

Last year Jeff Vogel, a Prosper developer, said he was “not supportive of the City of Aurora planning modifications or development assumptions proposed for the Prosper property, including the land use and transportation modifications.”

Despite Aurora’s concerns, the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with initial plans for the Prosper development at a November 2015 meeting.

“The Prosper Development meets all the requirements of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, a plan developed by the citizens of eastern Arapahoe County,” Commissioner Rod Bockenfeld, who represents portions of Aurora and all of unincorporated eastern Arapahoe County, said in a statement released in 2015 before the November meeting. “Prosper will bring jobs and renewable water infrastructure to the I-70 Corridor, while also allowing the eastern part of the county to maintain its rural culture.”

Just northwest of Prosper is another 525-home residential planned development known as Sky Ranch — again, just outside Aurora’s boundaries. The project measures 931 acres and is located between I-70 and East Alameda Avenue from north to south, and Powhaton and Monaghan roads west to east. The project is owned by water and wastewater service provider Pure Cycle, which says it currently leases the land to an area farmer and the property’s mineral rights to ConocoPhillips.

“We’re not necessarily a developer, we’re a water supplier. We have the water supply for our development,” Mark Harding, president of Pure Cycle, said to Aurora City Council members at the committee meeting.

Harding said the development’s water plans include building a 7-mile pipeline to connect into a Pure Cycle water system near the Denver/Lowry area. He said Sky Ranch already has 25 acre feet of base and ground water supplies from Denver, as well as a 500 acre-foot share in the WISE water system, which takes unused and recycled water from several Front Range municipal systems, including Aurora’s Prairie Waters.

He said those supplies would be more than enough to sustain the 525 proposed homes that the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved at an October meeting.

In July, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan wrote former Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Doty about his concerns regarding Sky Ranch, including not only water but traffic impacts on I-70 and Aurora’s streets.

“By placing significant development on the periphery of the metropolitan area, it reduces the metropolitan region’s ability to encourage denser development, reduce vehicle miles traveled, control air quality, and to provide the most efficient services to future residents,” Hogan wrote.

Hogan added he was concerned to see Sky Ranch using groundwater as a longterm source without a concrete plan for how to replenish it. He said depleting groundwater in and around Sky Ranch would negatively impact Aurora’s own efforts to preserve groundwater in times of drought and emergency.

Hogan also wrote the Sky Ranch development would place a huge burden on I-70, which residents would have to use with no direct connection into East Sixth Avenue for years to come.

“Like our own street system, the existing I-70 corridor was not designed with a development like Sky Ranch in mind,” Hogan wrote.

Arapahoe County spokeswoman Andrea Rasizer said county commissioners could not comment on the two developments because they serve on a quasi-judicial board, and because they are likely to hear more land-use decisions regarding both Prosper and Sky Ranch in the future.