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Split Louisville Planning Commission recommends Redtail Ridge denial

LOUISVILLE — In what represents the most recent setback in a long series for the would-be developers of Redtail Ridge, the Louisville Planning Commission, on a 3-2 vote, is recommending that city elected officials deny approval of a final plat for a proposed commercial project off of U.S. Highway 36.

Denver developer Brue Baukol Capital Partners LLC, which bought the roughly 400-acre, long-vacant, former Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX) in 2020 for $34.93 million, has spent the past three years attempting to shepherd its project — which has undergone significant changes based on feedback from Louisville officials and residents — through the city’s development approval process. That effort has not, as yet, borne fruit. 

The most recent iteration of the plan calls for a 2.6-million-square-foot, commercial-only development with a focus on biotechnology facilities and more than 100 acres of public-space dedications. 

Redtail Ridge
A site plan shows the Redtail Ridge development in Louisville. Courtesy Brue Baukol Capital Partners LLC

Chicago-based Sterling Bay LLC and Harrison Street LLC were brought on board this year to lend their life-science real estate expertise to Redtail.

Concerns, raised by Planning Commission members and residents during a series of public hearings held in recent months, center around whether Brue Baukol’s proposal jibes with the land-use requirements set forth in a general development plan that governs what can be built on the site. Specifically, critics have complained that Brue Baukol plans to grade the site, a move that they say will negatively affect the natural environment. They also claim that the developer’s open-space dedications don’t meet the spirit of the development agreement due to the location of that space within the site boundaries. 

“I’m hoping that they come back with what I believe would be a more compliant project with the GDP,” Louisville Planning Commission member Tamar Krantz said Thursday. 

Other members of the body said they feel that generally Brue Baukol, which, through a spokesman, declined to comment for this story, has met the provisions set forth in the general development plan and that government officials, regardless of whether they believe in the benefits of a particular project, should be dispassionate in their application of city code. 

“Though any of us would love to be on the design team for any given project, that is not the role of the Planning Commission in this process,” commissioner Steve Brauneis said. “… While this project is certainly not what I wish was being proposed for this location, I do think it has a lot to offer Louisville, and further delay does not ensure a better project outcome for the town.”

He continued: “I wish we were discussing conditions to include a sustainability action plan with real teeth, discussing funding mechanisms for future traffic improvements and reduced grading on site. Instead we’re just telling the developer that we want more from them.”

The commission recommendation of denial is another win for opponents of Redtail Ridge, who for years have hamstrung Brue Baukol’s attempts to revive the site.

The site once housed Storage Technology Corp., which sold to Sun Microsystems Inc. in 2005 for $4.1 billion. Sun was acquired by Oracle Corp. (NYSE: ORCL) in 2010, and employees were shifted to Broomfield.

ConocoPhillips had acquired the property for a proposed clean-energy research park that was expected to generate 7,000 jobs, but the subsequent spinoff of Phillips 66 halted those plans, and the property was put up for sale.

Brue Baukol’s initial plans, which began taking shape in 2019 before the developer had secured the land, sought to turn the parcel into a 5.22 million-square-foot live-work development anchored by a new corporate campus for medical-device maker Medtronic Inc. and a roughly 1,500-home senior-living community operated by Erickson Living LLC. Additional planned components included offices, retail space and apartments. 

Medtronic skipped town for a nearby site in Lafayette, and locals spoke out against the housing portion of the project, arguing that thousands of new residents would strain city resources and exacerbate traffic congestion.

Brue Baukol brought forth a scaled-back plan, which was eventually approved last year by the Louisville City Council, which applied a dozen conditions to its approval to further limit the scope of the project. 

After Redtail Ridge’s plans were approved, Centura Health’s Avista Adventist Hospital confirmed that it is under contract to purchase land in the Redtail Ridge development for a new hospital on the site.

Almost immediately upon the city’s approval of Redtail Ridge, opponents of the project cried foul and set about gathering 780 signatures, nearly double the amount required by the city, for a petition to force the Louisville City Council to reconsider.

Rather than reversing its decision to approve the Redtail Ridge plans, the council opted to send the matter to the voters in an April special election.

In a result that surprised some observers, the project’s opponents prevailed, and the approved land uses on the site reverted to what was set forth in a 2010 ConocoPhillips development plan. 

That 2010 agreement allows for significant development on the site, however not as much as Brue Baukol previously envisioned.

Source: BizWest