State land board OKs development on former military bombing range
DENVER – State officials have approved an agreement with a developer planning to build thousands of homes and stores where the military once practiced bombing raids southeast of Denver.The proposal by Lend Lease Communities, an Australian-based company, has been criticized by environmentalists, who say the State Land Board rushed through public review and comments on the plan.Matt Baker, executive director of Environment Colorado, said the board’s final vote last week “doesn’t hold water.” He added that the development about 20 miles southeast of downtown Denver and outside Aurora will worsen metro-area sprawl.A state official said the decision to lease 3,800 acres of its 26,000 acres of trust land on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range was made after nearly a decade of study.”We have involved significant input from the communities and stakeholders,” said Melissa Yoder, the Land Board’s manager for the project.Yoder disputed the claim that the development would contribute to sprawl. She said the future growth boundaries envisioned by the Denver Regional Council of Governments, made up of representatives of area governments, abuts the area.”Aurora has already done significant residential development” in the area, Yoder said.Lend Lease’s plan for about 13,000 residential units and 260 acres of commercial space on part of the former bombing range was chosen over two other proposals. The plan also calls for 705 acres of open space.”We have a lot of work to do and this means we can move ahead with the ongoing support and partnership of the Colorado State Land Board,” said Simon Walker, Lend Lease executive director.The company plans to break ground in 2009. Completion of the development is expected to take 25 years.The company will deal with local governments as it submits the plan for review. The land is in unincorporated Arapahoe County.The Land Board has estimated that leasing part of the land for residential and commercial development will generate as much as $100 million to $300 million for the state over 20 years. The money would come from lease payments, property taxes and other fees.Baker of Environment Colorado, said the board would raise more money if it waited to lease the land until the existing growth spreads to Lowry. He said building on the land will worsen sprawl in the Denver area and drive up costs for communities because water, sewer and other infrastructure will have to be extended to the land.”It’s very, very unusual for an agency of the state of Colorado to be promoting sprawl and ex-urban development at all, let alone at this scale,” Baker said.The land is among about 3 million acres managed by the state board, whose members are appointed by the governor. As other states did, Colorado received the trust lands from the federal government upon statehood. Most of the money raised from sale or lease of the land goes to the public schools.The area is part of what started as an Army airfield, bombing and firing range in the late 1930s. Other branches of the military, including the Air Force, used the nearly 60,000-acre site for training until it was turned over to Denver in the 1960s for a landfill.Portions of the landfill were placed on a priority list of the country’s most contaminated toxic waste sites in 1984. The Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency approved an agreement on cleanup costs last year with Denver and companies that used the landfill.Various state and federal agencies monitor health and environmental issues at Lowry. The Aurora Reservoir, some housing divisions and a conservation center are in the area. The Land Board leases some of its acreage for sand and gravel mining and oil and gas production.—On the Net: Colorado State Land Board, the Lowry Project: http://www.trustlands.state.co.us/Lowry/Indexr.asp
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