Re-2 employees quiz Lakota developer on school impacts
The proposed 893-unit Lakota Canyon Ranch subdivision drew a standing room only crowd to the New Castle Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday.
Residents are concerned about school district impacts, adequate water supply, golf course access, elk and deer management, wildfire mitigation, and traffic in and out of the development.
The commission held a public hearing on Wednesday evening to continue discussions regarding the master plan for phase 1 of the project. It is New Castle’s largest subdivision since Castle Valley Ranch was approved in 1983.
Lakota Canyon Ranch – formerly Eagles Ridge Ranch – is a 487-acre development just north New Castle, east of Castle Valley Ranch. Lakota Canyon Ranch Development LLC is proposing to develop the site in phases, with the first phase containing 25 percent of the total project.
The development also includes an 18-hole golf course, which developers are planning to keep open to the public. Details of the public’s use and fee structures have yet to be worked out.
Garfield School District Re-2 Superintendent Gary Pack offered dire predictions on how quickly New Castle will run out of school space, and asked developers and the planning commission for help acquiring land.
“In the impact studies we have, this development will bring in approximately 180 to 200 students,” said Pack. “We’re almost at capacity right now and Castle Valley isn’t even entirely built out. Where are these students going to go?”
Currently, the town requires developers to dedicate 10 percent of the land, or fees equal to the market value of the land, for schools, parks or recreation uses. Since land is at a premium, school districts prefer land over fees.
Lakota Canyon’s developers contend the golf course fulfills the recreation use requirement.
“The issue here is that we have a golf course instead of a school,” planning commissioner Greg Russi said.
“We can’t solve all the issues this municipality has,” David Myler, an attorney representing the developer, said. “We’re oriented toward the recreation side, not the school side. We received no indication how to satisfy the dedication requirements, and you’re changing on us now that it’s `let’s make a deal’ time.”
Planning commissioner Brenda Kerr said the school district’s needs are more important than recreation uses.
“I’m in 100 percent agreement that a golf course is a great asset,” she said. “But a privately-owned public golf course is not in the best interest of the community if it means New Castle doesn’t get a new school.”
Lakota’s developers contend their land isn’t appropriate for a school. But Pack and school board president Vicky Van Engelenburg said Lakota’s developers should provide land for a school site.
“The terrain is not much different than Castle Valley Ranch,” said Pack. “I’ve built schools in far worse conditions than that.”
“The bottom line is we need land dedicated to us within city limits,” VanEngelenburg said.
At the hearing, school officials and Lakota Canyon’s developers agreed to meet together later and discuss how best to address these concerns.
Concerns over water, especially during a drought year, came from planning commissioners, town officials and residents.
“We’re trying to get our arms around the water situation,” said David McConaughy, special town attorney. “A new water source needs to be developed and we’re working on how to fund it.”
East Elk Creek is currently New Castle’s source for water, although the town doesn’t hold senior water rights. New Castle officials are also looking into drilling wells, building pump stations and water treatment and filtration stations. But these solutions would cost at least $1 million per project or higher – costs that likely will be passed onto New Castle’s homeowners.
Planning commissioner Kevin O’Brien encouraged officials to look at the town’s overall future.
“Does it make sense for a community to develop land where there isn’t enough water to sustain it?” he asked.
Greg McKennis, who owns a horse ranch next to Lakota Canyon Ranch, shares water from a Canyon Creek ditch with the Lakota land. He warned developers against building a golf course.
“The worst possible thing is this golf course,” he said. “You will not be able to count on your greens being green.”
Now developers must answer these and other concerns, and town officials will need to review and study submitted development materials before the two entities meet again.
The next planning and zoning public hearing for Lakota Canyon Ranch is scheduled for Oct. 23 at New Castle Town Hall.
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