The south metro Denver area saw no shortage of news — or controversy — in 2013, making it a tough task to narrow down the contenders for our stories-of-the-year package.
The newsroom staff of …
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The newsroom staff of Colorado Community Media has whittled the list down to 13 for 2013. They are listed in no particular order, aside from the story of the year, the Arapahoe High School shooting, which horrified us all.
You can decide how the other 12 should be ranked.
School shooting at Arapahoe High
An 18-year-old student entered Arapahoe High School, home of the Warriors, on Dec. 13, shot a fellow student in the head, then killed himself. Authorities believe the gunman, an Arapahoe High senior, was targeting a faculty member, but was prepared to cause mass casualties at the Centennial school.
Claire Davis, a 17-year-old senior at the school, spent more than a week in critical condition at Littleton Adventist Hospital. She died Dec. 21.
In the days following the shooting, community support poured in for Davis in the form of prayers, vigils and a tribute outside a fence at the school that included gifts, flowers and cards from people from around the area. “Warrior strong” and “Warriors always take care of one another” could be seen on signs across the area.
Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson praised the quick response of the school resource officer after Karl Pierson began shooting at around 12:30 p.m. Dec. 13. With the resource officer fast approaching, Pierson took his own life about 80 seconds after firing his first shot.
Since the shooting, classes have been canceled at Arapahoe High School. They are scheduled to resume next week.
— Chris Rotar
C-470 project around the bend
Following two years of outreach and research, this February, the C-470 Corridor Coalition Steering Committee — made up of representatives from Douglas, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, the Highlands Ranch Metro District and cities of Littleton, Lone Tree and Centennial — unanimously approved funding a $230 million widening project of C-470 through the construction of 13.1 miles worth of managed toll lanes in both directions between Kipling and I-25.
While construction on the C-470 project — which was awarded $100 million in RAMP funding on behalf of the Colorado Department of Transportation this fall — won't get underway until 2015, road work dotted the south metro landscape in 2013.
Two major projects wound to a close in the latter months of the year, including the widening of US 85 between Highlands Ranch and Louviers, as well as the Broadway/C-470 intersection project, which took over a year to complete.
Douglas County spent almost as much money on road maintenance in Highlands Ranch in 2013, $18.3 million, as it did in the previous seven years combined, $21.6 million. A similar amount of work, mostly concrete maintenance, is slated for 2014.
The C-470 widening project is expected to be 100 percent complete by January 2018.
— Ryan Boldrey
The first civil unions
In a year that saw the Defense of Marriage Act deemed unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court, Colorado became the sixth state in the union to approve civil unions for same-sex couples this March, joining 10 other states where gay marriage is legal.
Receiving unanimous support from Senate and House Democrats, SB-11 also picked up three Republican votes along the way, including one from Carole Murray (HD-45) of Castle Rock. Murray said it is not for her to judge others; that should be left to God.
Neither Douglas nor Arapahoe County celebrated with midnight unions May 1, the first day couples were allowed to form a legal union, but there were couples in line when both county buildings opened for business that morning.
“I didn't ever think I would see this day,” said Jan Friedlander, who became legally bound to her partner of 26 years, Cynthia Kristensen in Castle Rock.
Englewood's Depot dilemma
The future of the Englewood Depot was in the news a lot in 2013, particularly the objections raised over the city's decision to sell the building to a Denver couple instead of keeping it in local hands.
Railroad officials closed the depot in the 1950s and it sat empty until the 1990s when Englewood residents rallied to save it from demolition, resulting in the building's move to its current location at Galapago Street and Dartmouth Avenue.
The initial plans were to restore it and make it into a museum. While some restoration work was done, the museum idea never got off the ground. The city eventually took possession of the building and, earlier this year, sought a buyer.
There were two proposals, one from the Englewood Historical Preservation Society and one from letterpress printers Tom and Patti Parsons. A selection committee unanimously supported Parson's proposal and council approved the sale for $30,000 despite numerous objections from residents and the historical preservation society.
Since the sale went final in October, Tom Parsons said he has been working on clearing a number of hurdles to move forward with letterpress museum plans.
— Tom Munds
Elbert County's 'dysfunction'
Teetering on the brink of financial insolvency, Elbert County jolted from crisis to crisis during 2013.
Governed by a controversial Board of County Commissioners that included two self-proclaimed Tea Party loyalists — Robert Rowland and Kurt Schlegel — during the course of the year, the county struggled to adopt new regulations for oil and gas exploration in the county.
A tug-of-war between the conservative BOCC and liberal planning commission resulted in the resignation of planning commission chair Grant Thayer in July and the firing of his successor, Paul Crisan, by the BOCC in November.
Meanwhile, former finance director Stan Wilmer was also fired in November when the county missed a set of deadlines to submit a final 2012 budget audit, a circumstance that prompted the state to freeze disbursement of property tax revenues. As 2013 came to a close, the audit had still not been submitted to the state.
And to add insult to injury, a scathing postelection report by a local consultant blamed the BOCC for the defeat of several key bond measures proposed to shore up the county's ailing finances. The report also blasted the BOCC for “infighting” and escalating “dysfunction” in the county's leadership.
— George Lurie
Apartments on rise in Littleton
After a long dry spell, developers went wild in Littleton, and city council approved four multifamily projects that will add about 1,200 units to the city.
All the activity stirred up a hornet's nest. Consequences included one failed bid for council, one eight-hour public hearing, one grassroots campaign, two successful citizens' initiatives and some name-calling.
But city officials are thrilled, even changing the city's motto to “Littleton: Anything but Little.” After City Manager Michael Penny took over in 2011, he went to work changing processes and regulations.
About 39 percent of Littleton's housing is multifamily, compared to 16 percent in Douglas County and 32 percent in Denver.
Council did reject a controversial proposal to build 225 units east of Littleton Courthouse and has yet to review a plan for 250 more on the southwest corner of Belleview and Federal. There are 774 more units planned for as part of a mixed-use development at Santa Fe and Mineral that council approved in the 1980s, but has never been developed.
— Jennifer Smith
Statue out, God in
Some may argue that God has always been there, and always will be — but this summer, unlike ever before, the Higher Power became visibly higher in the form of newly affixed in words on an overhang in the Castle Rock Town Council's Chambers.
And while the words “In God We Trust,” are now an indelible part of the town hall's ambience, a bronze sculpture affixed to a town hall stairway, was determined to be welcome no more and removed.
After Castle Rock Mayor Paul Donahue brought up his thoughts about wanting “In God We Trust” installed in council chambers, he said he also wanted removal of a sculpture — an about 8-inch-high piece that looks like a melting earth, accompanied by a plaque with the words “Global Warming.” It was one of several small bronze pieces the town's public arts commission had bought and placed around town.
Donahue thought it could be politically contentious. After a council consensus, the sculpture left, but didn't leave town. The sculpture was donated to a nonprofit that funds school art programs and auctioned off.
The new owner: Former Castle Rock Mayor Randy Reed.
— Virginia Grantier
Area is open for business
Several big-name businesses either opened in the area or announced plans to do so in 2013.
Perhaps the most notable addition was Cabela's, a specialty retailer of outdoor recreation merchandise that hired close to 200 employees when it opened in August to much fanfare. Hundreds of die-hard supporters camped out ahead of the grand opening, demonstrating the level of anticipation for the store's arrival.
It not only filled a niche and created jobs, but was expected to generate significant sales tax revenue and secondary economic benefits. Douglas County even funded a study that showed the store's impact to the local economy will be around $24 million a year.
Cabela's wasn't the only arrival. Charles Schwab's 1,800 Denver-area employees will soon move into three buildings in Lone Tree. The $230 million project is still taking shape on a 57-acre lot near Sky Ridge Medical Center. The Schwab buildings were designed, in part, to attract future employees.
— Chris Michlewicz
Pot plans up in smoke
South-metro smokers will have to commute to buy legal marijuana when sales start on Jan. 1, as every community south of Denver to Colorado Springs has either banned retail pot stores or put off a decision until the big-city experiment has a chance to play out.
Not all of those governmental decisions were unanimous. Several representatives believed allowing them would more accurately represent what the voters wanted and expected, and some felt like turning away a potential source of sales-tax revenue would be foolhardy.
“I believe the voters expect us to approve retail sales of marijuana in the city,” said former Littleton City Councilmember Jim Taylor before that council extended its moratorium until October 2014. “Littleton has a chance to be a leader.”
But many worried about things like crime, access by kids and their community's image.“You never want to bring in revenue that's going to negatively impact your community,” said Castle Pines Mayor Mark Towne before his council voted to ban sales.
Parker's prairie dog mystery
Questions swirled after a prairie dog colony on the northeast corner of Mainstreet and Twenty Mile Road in Parker was wiped out in mid-September, upsetting residents who drive and walk by the site every day. Tiny white crosses, with messages saying “RIP Prairie Dogs,” appeared on the empty burrows about a week later, with no one claiming responsibility.
A spokeswoman for the Town of Parker said the community development department does not regulate the elimination of prairie dogs on private property, and that no violations were committed because the species is not protected.
One of the many property owners on the corner confirmed that there were no pending development applications, leading residents to question the need for such action. The property owner said he did not know who ordered the extermination of the colony.
Several witnesses claimed they had either seen or talked to the men who were spraying a chemical gas into the burrows. Weeks later, employees of businesses adjacent to the barren colony became attached to a lone survivor.
School issues divide Douglas
The Douglas County School Board elections divided the county for months leading up to the Nov. 5 decision.
Four candidates endorsed by the Douglas County Republicans and supportive of the district's controversial education reforms — two of them incumbents — ultimately won the contentious race. They defeated four challengers seeking to change the way the district is being run.
Parents and teachers campaigned by painting car windows with the names of their preferred candidates and waving signs at busy intersections throughout the county. Supporters on both sides ran advertisements, hired canvassers and distributed a variety of campaign material.
As the year closes, school board members attempt to move forward and resolve to increase community input, even as some express continued discontent with recently enacted policy changes.
— Jane Reuter
Tackling a mountain
Labeling it a “top priority” for 2013, South Metro Denver Chamber President John Brackney led the charge locally to promote the “Fix the Debt” campaign — a national, bipartisan, grassroots effort to resolve “the nation's ongoing debt crisis.”
Brackney spent a great deal of time speaking about the issue and visiting communities across the state to lobby commissioners, mayors and other local leaders to get behind the movement.
“Decisions in Washington affect businesses outside the beltway,” Brackney said. “Congress and the president must act now … to create greater market certainty” and “put our country back on a track of fiscal sanity.”
Across the state, backing for the campaign grew during the year, bolstered by support from Congressmen Mike Coffman and Ed Pearlmutter and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett as well as former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm.
“I believe this is the most important issue facing the United States right now,” said Rick Whipple, a Littleton CPA and chairman of the South Metro chamber, who along with Brackney and other business leaders, made multiple trips to Washington during 2013 to urge lawmakers to come together to achieve a major debt-reform plan.
Sterling Ranch approved, again
For the second time in three years, the Sterling Ranch planned development in northwest Douglas County was unanimously approved by the Douglas County commissioners. The project — which calls for a 12,050-home community located on 3,400 acres northeast of Roxborough State Park — was approved July 10 and hopes to break ground in the next couple of months.
After successfully halting the Sterling Ranch development once already over issues of sufficient water, the neighbors to the north, the Chatfield Community Association, filed another legal challenge this August against the development, asking the 18th Judicial District court to once again review the commissioners' decision to approve.
While early in 2013 Sterling Ranch reached contractual agreements to obtain the necessary water through its provider, Dominion Water and Sanitation District, and signed on to the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership agreement to obtain renewable water from Aurora and Denver, opponents state that the commissioners demonstrated an “abuse of discretion” and “acted outside their jurisdiction and authority” by approving the development a second time.
Despite the pending legal tie-up, Sterling Ranch managing director Harold Smethills said they are ready to finally move forward and build homes. The developers selected Richmond American Homes of Colorado as their primary builder in August.
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