Applicant Chris Fellows, HF Holdings
by CPN Communications
On Wednesday, August 27, more than 350 people filled the seats and lined the walls of the Castle Pines North (CPN) Community Center as the City Council held the public hearing for the re-zoning of the Lagae Ranch parcel.
By a unanimous vote, the council approved the 248-acre development proposal at 12:05 a.m. Thursday morning. The lengthy hearing included statements from the CPN City Planner Sam Bishop, Chris Fellows of HF Holdings, LLC, developer of the Lagae Ranch parcel, and more than 20 public comments.
With the rezoning of this parcel, the Lagae development will now be home to a 39-acre park, a school, and a church. The development also includes land which has been designated for commercial development and/or other civic uses, and will have 231 single family homes, and 400 multi-family homes. The development will also include more than 75-acres of open space.
Douglas County School District Sends Negative Referral to City
A hot topic in CPN this past week has been the issue regarding the Douglas County School District’s recommended land use and impact fee requirements of the developer.
Douglas County School District (DCSD) principals distributed e-mails on Tuesday to the entire CPN school community warning that local neighborhood schools would become “overcrowded” if the city re-zoned the Lagae parcel. Four-track year round calendar for Buffalo Ridge and busing students out of the neighborhood were noted in the letter as possible consequences.
The DCSD also stated in the letter that “by law developers must dedicate cash or land to school districts due to student growth and impact.” According to their letter, the District states the probable impact would mean a “loss of district revenue up to $2.7 million.”
“There was no mitigation assigned to the District and we had to oppose this plan,” said Steve Herzog, Chief Operating Officer for the DCSD.
During the public comment session Herzog spoke, along with Jim Christensen, DCSD Superintendant, DCSD Board President Kristine Turner, Tom Bell, DCSD director of planning, and Bill Hodges, DCSD assistant superintendent of human resources. Each strongly recommended that the City Council require mitigation from the developer to help offset the impact to local schools.
“If Lagae is developed, where are the children going to go to school?” asked Castle Pines Village resident Kristi McDonald, whose children attend Buffalo Ridge. “My children’s school will be overcrowded…if the answer is Buffalo Ridge, is that responsible growth?”
City Representatives Ask Tough Questions
During the meeting, the City Council representatives explored all aspects of the DCSD’s requests and negative referral.
“The members of the City Council had much to study, review, and listen to before casting their vote,” said Mayor Maureen Shul. “I could not have been more proud of the seriousness and dedication they brought to this process and these proceedings.”
The council asked a variety of questions such as why land for charter schools does not count as a donation to the DCSD.
“If a developer gives land to a Charter School in Douglas County, why don’t they get credit for it with the [school] District ?,” asked Chip Coppola, city council representative from Ward 2. “As a taxpayer, I am trying to understand the economics of building a school that my taxes do not pay for and I don’t understand why that doesn’t count for something.”
The developer of Lagae Ranch donated six-acres to the Douglas County public charter school, American Academy. According to American Academy, 150 students currently enrolled in their school are from CPN, Castle Pines Village, Surrey Ridge, Charter Oaks and Beverly Hills. Their home schools would otherwise be Timber Trail and Buffalo Ridge.
According to the DCSD, the land donated to the charter school does not count as mitigation because they consider American Academy a “private corporation.”
In a response from American Academy to the DCSD’s letter, each charter school built in Douglas County saves tax payers more than $16 million. American Academy provides seats to DCSD students using their operational funds, while operating on less money and not having local tax payers pay for their building. Charter schools are not a capital cost to the DCSD.
The complete response by American Academy can be found at:
American Academy is currently home to more than 500 students. American Academy says without the new facility, the DCSD would immediately have to absorb these students back into Douglas County next summer.
American Academy Board President Erin Kane says more than 150 children enrolled today at American Academy would “go back to Buffalo Ridge or Timber Trail if the school did not get a facility by August, 2009.” According to Kane, the current lease on their temporary facility is up in July, 2009 and cannot be renewed.
“American Academy is not a private corporation, we are a public school,” Kane said during the hearing. “This is one building that local taxpayers do not have to pay for and our new home will allow 750 children seats in this community.”
Kane said American Academy has an agreement with the DCSD to allow more “weight” in the lottery for CPN families. The open-enrollment school is required by state law to hold a lottery for admission. The new school is expected to bring 250 new seats to the community.
Council members also inquired as to how much of the cash in lieu of land being required by DCSD would stay in CPN to benefit local children.
“So, if the developer gives you $1.1 million in lieu of land, how much of that money will remain in CPN and will it be used to build a new school? Can you not utilize your current location in CPN and build a school?,” asked Jennifer Havercroft, city council representative from Ward 1.
“No. We have no plans,” said Herzog. Herzog stated that the DCSD has no plans for building a school on the parcel they own at Hidden Pointe and Monarch Boulevard due to close proximity to the power lines.
In an earlier interview with Herzog, he indicated the DCSD currently has a designated school site in Castle Pines Village. “There are not roads to it yet and we don’t know how long it would be before the developer would have that done.” Herzog said it takes a minimum of two years to 30 months to build a new school.
Councilman Coppola also stated that the DCSD has a $395 million bond initiative on the ballot in November and the DCSD web site shows the only improvements for CPN include “updated technology and new carpet for Buffalo Ridge.”
During the hearing City Treasurer Doug Gilbert asked Tom Bell specific questions regarding tax impacts to the city.
“Do the [school] District’s calculations consider the adverse tax impacts to the City of CPN and to the CPN Metro District? [if mitigation is required] The two entities have a combined mill levy of 47.5 mills. Property tax revenues are very important for funding renewable water and running this city,” Gilbert said. “The city would lose that revenue in perpetuity,” he said.
According to Bell, the DCSD’s calculations do not take into account the loss of tax revenue to the City.
“The loss of tax revenues to the City is important,” Gilbert said. “If you do the calculation you may find that the school district owes the city money.”
City Attorney Provides Clarification
Toward the end of the hearing, City Attorney Erin Smith said she had read the letter distributed by the DCSD and was concerned with the statement that “by law” developers are required to dedicate cash or land in lieu of.
Smith stated, “With all due respect to the school district, we are not aware of any such law. Under the law that governs the City, there is no requirement for the City to exact from a developer a land dedication or cash payment in lieu of a land dedication.”
The land donation to American Academy was six acres, and the discrepancy of 1.08 acres will be paid as cash-in-lieu to the city. Although the city made no requirement of the developer to continue negotiations with the DCSD, Fellows agreed to meet with them. “We will deal with them fairly,” said Fellows.
CPN Charts Course for Self-Determination
Throughout the hearing, others spoke on behalf of the benefits Lagae Ranch would bring to CPN including Parks Authority President Sandy Colling and the Metro District Board President Bill Santos. Parks, civic uses, and $22 million in tap fee revenue for the CPN Metro District to reduce the price tag of renewable water to residents were all mentioned.
“I don’t have a child at American Academy, but one principal reason we incorporated was to see Lagae Ranch developed, to allow $22 million in tap fees to give us a better opportunity to obtain renewable water,” said Dana Eismeier. “I urge the council to take a chance to complete our new city and control our own destiny.”
Eismeier was an original committee volunteer for the Citizens for the Preservation of Castle Pines North, the group who launched the incorporation effort in the fall of 2006.
“We incorporated last year to become a city for decisions such as this – to determine our own future, to chart our own course, to have our city reflect the vision of its citizens,” said Mayor Shul. “And while not every decision we make will be agreed upon by all, we are committed to always finding the common ground that allows us to work together for the good of our city.”
Shul said she is proud of the diligence CPN’s first City Council displayed on this issue.
“What we witnessed Wednesday was the City Council comprised of citizen volunteers who pored over every aspect of this issue, listened to every citizen comment, and remained steadfast in our determination to do what was right for the entire city of Castle Pines North,” said Mayor Shul. “And I believe we did.”