A mounting fight over what happens to a large parcel of undisturbed farmland in the middle of Westminster is set to break into the open Tuesday, when city officials hold the first public hearing on the proposed 2,350-home Uplands development.
Karen Ray, with the Westminster Save the Farm citizens group, says she expects a large turnout of residents at the city’s planning commission hearing to speak out against the project, which would fill in approximately 235 acres near West 84th Avenue and Federal Boulevard with new homes, restaurants, stores and office space.
“This has been a working farm for 100 years,” Ray said of Uplands’ premium parcel, a 150-acre square of cornfields that thousands of motorists drive past every day. “It offers Westminster as a whole, and this community in particular, the most stunning views of the Front Range.”
Ray, who has lived in Westminster’s Shaw Heights neighborhood for 11 years, said a Change.org petition has gathered more than 5,000 signatures from people asking the city to aim for preservation of as much of the Uplands acreage as possible.
Many of those signing the petition hail from communities throughout the metro area, an indication of just how intense concerns about the pace of growth have become in and around Denver.
“It’s just wrong to take what little history we have left in Westminster,” wrote one city resident on the petition’s web page. “They’re going to make it to where we can’t see any beauty here, they just want us to see houses and buildings.”
But Jeff Handlin, president of Centennial-based Oread Capital & Development and a partner in Uplands, said his project will actually provide access to what is currently private property and off-limits.
“People are not allowed to sit, stand, park or anything on that property,” he said. “We’re going to invite them in.”
He said there will be plenty of open space and parks in Uplands open to the public, and “better connections for bicycles sidewalk-wise.” Handlin also noted that his team is proposing 2,350 homes for the project, far fewer than the 3,500 the city currently allows under its land use regulations.
“We determined that that was too dense,” he said of the original allotment.
Ultimately, Handlin said, it’s not up to him whether the land is preserved as open space or a working farm. The five parcels that encompass Uplands have long been owned by Pillar of Fire church, which made the decision to develop them.
The sale of the land to the Uplands team is incumbent on Westminster approving plans for the project. A series of meetings before the planning commission and city council are still ahead before a green light would be given to the project.
Several commercial property owners on the periphery of the project favor redevelopment at the site, hoping it can pump life back into a part of Westminster where retail activity has languished.
Joshua Kaatz, general partner of the Summit Square Shopping Center at West 84th Avenue and Federal Boulevard, wrote to the city in December that a grocery store and other retail tenants in his center have recently closed shop.
“This project will act as an impetus for positive change in the surrounding retail and commercial properties in general,” he wrote.
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