Growth Discussion from a Resident

When I see “smart growth” on your website it scares me, because what I see happening in Castle Rock does not look smart or healthy. I’ve only been in Castle Rock for one year, and in Colorado for two, so complaining about growth feels hypocritical, but I moved to Castle Rock for the small town feeling, and because it felt like a great place to raise my two sons. I would like to see it remain a small town and not turn into another Parker or Highlands Ranch. In the one year I’ve lived here I’ve seen everything explode in growth. Traffic is worse, and the natural area that we fell in love with here is disappearing, and all natural areas that are not parks are threatened.  I’m originally from Atlanta, and I saw every community for 50 miles plagued by traffic and soulless strip malls (my 17 miles commute took 1.5 hours). Most of those cities around Atlanta lost their appeal. The Atlanta area started to explode in growth in the 1990s, and I see it coming to the Denver area now.

I saw somewhere online that the Castle Rock growth plan is for 100,000 people by 2030. To me, and to every average citizen of CR I’ve spoken with, that sort of growth is highly undesirable. There is a fear that Castle Rock will die without new growth, but we are close enough to Denver and the DTC that this won’t happen. We have enough people to support the fun downtown area, but more will only overload the downtown.

I’m looking for a candidate who will fight new neighborhoods and more stores and chains. I know this sounds hypocritical coming from a newcomer, who is part of the explosive growth, but what I’ve seen in even one year is shocking. If it continues I’ll move after my kids finish high school, and many others will leave Castle Rock as it loses its soul. It is people making generations of lives in a place that make it a community and a home, not people moving in and out because they found a house close to work. We don’t need another Highlands Ranch. Castle Rock is special, and I want it to stay that way.

My 1st Response:

I would love to say that Growth in Castle Rock will be slowing or stopping, and that we have devised new ways to pay for our services.  Growth is inevitable for a variety of reasons.  Forgive me if you know all this, I certainly did not when I moved to town 20 years ago.  I’ve spent the last 10 years actively volunteering in the town to learn about a lot of the issues you have described in your email because I also have 2 young children and I am concerned about the future of the town. 

A set of number I like to reference to highlight how growth has been an issue for decades

Historical population
Census Pop.
1970 1,531 32.9%
1980 3,921 156.1%
1990 8,708 122.1%
2000 20,224 132.2%
2010 48,231 138.5%
Est 2017 62,276
Est 2020 72,000  
Est 2025 81,000  
Est 2030 90,000  
Est 2050 130,000  
“Full build out”

Castle Rock has sold all the land, most of it 40+ years ago to private landholders.  When the property is sold there are typically a variety of zoning rights bestowed.  Even parks, schools and designated open spaces are now reliant on developers to design them and then give them back to the town after development.

When developers start to develop their plans, they rely on zoning to set the basic parameters, but then must utilize a site development plan (SDP) to show how they will develop the land.  Some developers are surprisingly aware of the importance of open space and ridgelines, and they know that maintaining these enhances their own community sales, others listen to community input and make changes to their developments, and very few developers just try to pack as many units as allowed.

The town generates revenue in three main ways, use fees, sales tax and impact fees.  Use fees are typically self-contained and the revenues they generate fund that enterprise function.  These are primarily Water and Recreation Center/Miller Activity Center admissions.  Sales tax revenues fund Fire, Police, Parks (new parks and maintenance) and Public Works (roads).  Development Fees pay for capital projects (not water related) and building/safety inspections (please excuse the over simplifications).

To direct and control the growth is why I developed my Smart Growth platform.  The objective behind Smart Growth is to channel design guidelines and regulations in a way that maintains or enhances the small-town character.  We also need tighter controls for annexation, and for neighboring areas that do not meet our guidelines for design or water usage, we should not provide them services.

There are other ways to reduce growth, such as the Town buying land itself, however these approaches have not been popular in the past due to the need to increase revenues to support such a plan.  If you have other ideas on how specifically to reduce or channel growth I would certainly welcome a conversation around them.

Items like congestion and transportation are part of growth, but it’s exacerbated in Castle Rock due to the lack of primary employers, the over reliance on retail minimum wage jobs, and lack of a transportation plan that addresses the metrics that matter. 

I hope this help explain how I will be addressing growth. 

Resident Response:

Thank you for your response. You can share it if you like. My next comments are meant with respect. Sometimes that doesn’t come through online. The ~100% to ~150% jumps in growth for decades prior remind me of when I worked in Web analytics and we would laugh when we saw a site’s leads go up 200%, when all that happened was that the leads went from 1 to 2. Growing from 1,500 people to 8,000 is expected and doesn’t change a town much (although I’m sure those who were here when it had 1,500 might disagree with me). Healthy growth is expected, and good, I feel, but moving from the size of our town now to 100,000 makes me fear that we’ll become another Colorado Springs at worst, or Highlands Ranch at best. 

I appreciate your efforts to control how growth is managed. It seems that many who bought land 40 years ago for say $100,000 would be happy to sell that now for its current value. I have heard of SPLOST taxes. I hate taxes, but one cent added to each dollar can go a long way toward buying public land, and might be something that Castle Rock residents could stomach if it saves their town. Possibly a developer fee — they are rolling in the coin right now — that goes toward a fund that buys public land. I know developers are adding green space, but it’s not much, and we could use more places like the Gateway Mesa Open Space. 

I agree with you that we don’t have many employers here that offer anything other than lower paying jobs. If we could attract an aerospace or start-ups that would bring in more higher paying jobs, and could use space we already have developed, that would change that. Georgia is now third in the world for movie and TV productions due to tax credits. Those work. Walking around Atlanta now feels like Hollywood with all the celebrity sightings, and often they take old sites like dead malls and turn them into movie studios. The film industry is one thing Georgia has done right.   

I appreciate you taking the time to respond, and explaining the landscape to me. I’m not sure if it eases my fears, and the fears of other people in Castle Rock. I think we want to see something strong, that is simple and quick to grasp, that we can believe will save our town from becoming another Highlands Ranch or Parker. Again, I write this respectfully, and I’m pestering you on this because I have a feeling you are the person who can lead Castle Rock into a good future where we are the outlier in the Denver area, and a place that people want to live because it’s not just another collection of neighborhoods, but a real community.

My Response 9/19/2018

First, I want to thank you for engaging in this dialogue, I learn a lot from each interaction like this.

The % growth figures can be humorous, frightening or confusing. I simply took that graph from the Castle Rock EDC and didn’t want to over edit.

I think conversations on public land buy backs, or gift back are appropriate.  The fine balance is between respecting the individual property holders and what they want for their investment on one side, with the resident’s desires on the other side. 

We have been too far on the developer side for too long and it shows with a lot of the look and feel, particularly outside of Downtown.  The Town has raised impact fees assessed on developers to help pay for select services, and that approach has created a different struggle. As the fees go up, the developers want to use more of the land to maximize their ROI. 

We need to reign that back to the center and have a balanced approach that works for all of us.  And the only way to do that is to be honest about our needs and priorities, and those are reflected best in the elected officials we choose to represent us.

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