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Timnath, Ladera officials respond to wildlife agency’s Topgolf concerns

TIMNATH — Town officials and the landowner whose property is the site of the proposed Ladera mixed-use development are responding to a state agency’s concerns about nesting and migratory birds that could get tangled in the tall netting of a golf and entertainment center planned for a portion of Ladera yet to be annexed.

In a 10-page letter sent Feb. 22 to the Timnath Community Development Department, the state Department of Parks and Wildlife cited potential threats to area wildlife posed by a proposed Topgolf driving range, its bright lights and netting variously estimated to rise from 156 to 175 feet.

Guide Our Growth, a group of Topgolf opponents that is collecting petition signatures for a ballot issue that would prohibit nets and poles taller than 65 feet, obtained the letter through a Colorado Open Records Act request. The group cited the portions of the department’s letter that states that “CPW is very concerned that this project may negatively impact a variety of species in this area.” Citing multiple wildlife studies, the letter recommends that the annexation codes relating to the project “be delayed until such a time where all … information and data has been shared and analyzed with CPW.”

In an email to BizWest, Kevin Koelbel, Timnath’s senior town planner, said the town has “received the report from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department (CPW), and consistent with their recommendation, we will be requiring the applicant to submit a report on the environmental impacts of any potential development. This report must provide the information needed for the town to work with CPW to move forward on a recommendation.

“At this point,” Koelbel added, “it’s still early in the process and we do not have the reports and documents from the applicant that need to be reviewed and considered in conjunction with the CPW.” The 183-acre annexation request for the tract that includes the proposed Topgolf site was submitted in January, and has yet to be reviewed by town staff or the Town Board.

In a prepared statement sent to BizWest, Connell LLC, on whose land Ladera would rise, pointed out that, “based on concerns expressed by the residents, Timnath planning staff requested comments on the Ladera project submittal from Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the Ladera Annexation Application. This was a responsible, and not unusual, referral by a public agency planning staff. CPW was also responsible and professional in presenting its comments, which they do not represent as findings of fact, and expressed appreciation for being consulted early in the development process.

“Representatives from Ladera have scheduled a meeting with CPW to understand their concerns and how to best address these as the Ladera annexation process advances,” the Connell statement said. “The ultimate project is much more than Topgolf, and Ladera will bring additional users that are consistent with the regional commercial zoning that is designated for the property.”

The Connell statement noted that “the Colorado Department of Transportation studied this area as part of its I-25 widening project and noted no threatened, endangered or state-sensitive species were within the reach of this project. This includes the area of the heron rookery that has since fallen down naturally. The annexation process includes preparing additional wildlife and avian studies, among the many other reports and documents required.”

Although many residents who attended a Feb. 13 meeting with Topgolf representatives made clear that their concern was with the golf facility’s netting, lights and noise and not the Ladera development plan itself, the Connell statement noted that “the tendency of certain Timnath residents to conflate Ladera and Topgolf is both unfortunate and inaccurate. Since CPW’s concerns are specifically focused on development of a Topgolf facility, these are more appropriately addressed when a Development Site Plan application for the facility is made and accepted for review by the Town of Timnath. CPW’s recommendation is to delay Topgolf-specific modifications of the land use code, not to delay Ladera’s annexation.”

In its own statement, Guide Our Growth cited the proposed Topgolf facility’s proximity to the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area’s ecosystem and listed American bald eagles, great blue herons, owls, osprey, more than 100 other local and migrating avian species, and … a variety of insect-consuming bats. CPW, it said, “classifies the site of the Topgolf facility, a featured element of the proposed Ladera project, as ‘High Priority Habitat … which holds high  concentrations of wildlife throughout the year.’” The CPW letter, it said, “addresses the unique characteristics of this particular stretch of the Poudre River as a ‘crucial’ low-elevation riparian woodland, and noted that, during harsh winters, the Cache La Poudre River may be the only source of water that is open and available for waterfowl species to rest and feed.”

However, Connell responded that “the unilateral narrative activities being advanced by certain Timnath and non-Timnath residents is a disservice to the many residents of the Town of Timnath who recognize and value that the Ladera project is the fruition of decades of Timnath’s land use and fiscal planning.”

In their statements, both sides in the debate stated their plans to lobby town officials.

According to Connell, “Ladera looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the Town of Timnath and their referral agencies in the development of this economically invigorating project.”

Meanwhile, Guide Our Growth wrote that “the CPW letter, along with several other recent wildlife impact studies arriving at similar conclusions, should garner the attention of the Timnath town planners and Town Council members. The hope is that elected and appointed officials will weigh these factors into consideration before annexing additional land for the proposed Ladera development in order to accommodate the Topgolf facility.”

Bill Jenkins with Guide Our Growth told BizWest on Friday that his group has collected around 600 of the 651 signatures it needs to place the measure limiting the height of the nets and poles in town limits onto a ballot. Although the group’s deadline is early May, Jenkins said Guide Our Growth might be able to turn in as many as 900 signatures by the end of March.

If the town clerk verifies the qualifications of an adequate number of petition signers, Jenkins said, she then would forward it to the town council, which then would be required to set a ballot title and schedule an election.

Grant Nelson of Greenwood Village-based Republic Investment Group, who Connell had retained to help develop Ladera, said at the Feb. 13 meeting with the project’s neighbors that, although the project’s backers are committed to seeing Topgolf through, “we have other retailers we’re working with, and we’d have to reassess our plans” if the initiative passes and Topgolf pulls out.

If that happened, Topgolf might have another place to go in Northern Colorado.

Martin Lind, who heads Water Valley Land Co. and has proposed a large hotel and water-park complex near The Ranch complex, said “we originally presented a plan to Topgolf when they were doing site selection. If it doesn’t work in Timpath, they should take a look at our area,” a tract near Northern Colorado Regional Airport, the Embassy Suites hotel and Blue Arena, formerly known as the Budweiser Event Center.

“There’s no riparian area, no residential area that would have its view blocked, and a 100% commercial and industrial area,” Lind said. “It’s on the highest hill along I-25 in the area, with the best visibility for marketing in our area.”

Lind said the Topgolf facility could either be located “right on the interstate or south of Embassy Suites,” with access from the Crossroads Boulevard interchange.

“It’s already a destination area,” he said. “Everybody lingering in our area has time to kill – and they’re ready, willing and able.”

Connell’s ventures related to Ladera are contending with environmental concerns on another front as well. Connell wants to build Ladera on a total of 240 acres southeast of the intersection of I-25 and Harmony Road on land reclaimed from an asphalt mining operation. Connell Resources is seeking to close its asphalt plant there and move it to 3548 E. County Road 66 in north Wellington, but Wellington’s planning commission, barraged with concerns from residents living near the proposed site, recently delayed a decision about the new plant until it could get more information on whether hazardous levels of benzene, formaldehyde and other toxins the facility would emit into the air. Connell officials have noted that the Environmental Protection Agency removed asphalt plants from its list of major air-pollution sources in 2002.

Source: BizWest