The Save El Rancho Campaign has been inspired by recent proposals for large-scale commercial developments at the very center of this scenic and historic crossroads.
We are monitoring the on-again/off-again "Evergreen Gateway" proposal north of Highway 40, and provide updates to other El Rancho neighborhood proposals. Links to important topics, proposal details, action items, and media coverage are summarized in the sections below.
These efforts are supported by members of the Rainbow Hill, Hidden Valley, Ruby Ranch, Highway 40, and Nob Hill neighborhoods, as well as from elsewhere in Evergreen and other foothills communities. The development activity in this location is also a focus of local organization H.E.E.D. (Halt Excessive Evergreen Development).
El Rancho is named for the original El Rancho hotel and restaurant, a two-story log building built on old U.S. Highway 40 in 1948. Today it is at the intersection of U.S. 40 and State Highway 74 (Evergreen Parkway) at Interstate 70 exits 251-252. It is functionally and administratively part of Evergreen, Colorado, 80439, in western Jefferson County.
The immediate vicinity of the intersection of Highway 74 and Interstate 70 is known locally as El Rancho, while the original restaurant building still stands with its iconic neon sign proclaiming the location. A large shopping center in Swede Gulch, east of the highway, was developed as "El Rancho Town Center" in the early 2000s.
The El Rancho Building is an historical structure, although without historic status. Built in 1948, it was a community meeting place for decades when Highway 40 was the main route west from Denver to the mountains. Highway 40 was completed through this area in 1937. More than twenty years earlier, the Lariat Loop was routed through what was then a mosaic of forests and natural hay meadows, connecting the Denver Mountain Parks together between Genesee and Bear Creek Canyon. When this portion of Interstate 70 was completed in 1972, it followed the topography of an existing valley and was described as "peeking through the pines." The Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway, which today follows Interstate 70 and Highway 74, was designated in 2002. El Rancho is within the scenic corridor recognized in the Lariat Loop Corridor Management Plan, and the 30-mile view to the Continental Divide remains unobstructed today. The topography surrounding El Rancho has remained largely unaltered, as well: from every perspective and vantagepoint, the horizon is defined by hilltops, natural hillslopes are maintained, and the foreground and vistas are dominated by pine forest. Protecting these values is a priority of the Evergreen Area Plan.
Community Use is a land use recognized and encouraged by the Jefferson County Comprehensive Master Plan. At El Rancho, the area of Community Use where we have built the Foothills Fire Station, Alpine Rescue Team headquarters, Park-n-Ride lot, and Genesee Bike Path access on publicly-owned land has been identified as appropriate for commercial development, IF the existing community uses were to go away. These resources have been sited strategically at El Rancho for decades, supported by both public investment and private philanthropy. They are well maintained, well used, serve essential functions, and could not be duplicated in this vicinity. The developer of the proposed, so-called "Evergreen Gateway" development engaged in efforts to make these facilities leave this site, to be replaced with a large hotel and gas station aimed at non-resident interstate travelers. The community successfully defended its built assets, but the developer's efforts drove RTD away, and to date the bus stops at El Rancho have not been reinstated. It is a net loss for the community and area planning for public transportation.
The built landscape at El Rancho reflects a history of decisions. West of Highway 74, structures are widely-spaced, visually buffered by stands of forest and separated from main roads by low berms. Buildings are one- or two-story, with topographically sensitive siting and rooflines. Outdoor lighting is minimized (a 14×48-foot LED billboard facing Interstate 70 at El Rancho was proposed but defeated by the community in 2015). These choices are consistent with the guidelines of the Evergreen Area Plan, including those specific to the El Rancho Activity Center, and reflect the priorities of the Lariat Loop Corridor Management Plan. These outcomes preserve the aesthetic and functional priorities of a mountain residential community. The proposed, so-called "Evergreen Gateway" development features high-density siting and outsized, high-profile buildings. It would eliminate about five acres of forest in the immediate field of view and replace it with parking lots and token landscaping. The vision for this proposed development, explicitly, is "downtown Vail", not Evergreen.
El Rancho is a nexus of several travel routes. Interstate 70, State Highway 74, and U.S. Highway 40 intersect here. It is on the Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway, and the Genesee Bike Path connects three regional bike routes. Until recently, El Rancho was also a stop on the RTD EV bus route, with pedestrian islands conveniently located near the Park-n-Ride lot at this intersection; although maintaining a transit option at El Rancho is a priority of the Evergreen Area Plan, RTD service at El Rancho has already been lost as a direct consequence of the proposed, so-called "Evergreen Gateway" development. El Rancho is principally a residential community, with a major commercial area across the highway. Proposals for additional commercial development west of Highway 74 aim to attract Interstate 70 traffic, all of which would pass through the intersection of 40 & 74 and add to the congestion experienced by residents. A developer-commissioned traffic study in 2021 estimated that the proposed, so-called "Evergreen Gateway" development on Highway 40 would at least double from present levels the daily number of trips on that road. The proposed re-routing of residential Rainbow Hill Road through the commercial development was always untenable and was defeated by community opposition.
El Rancho is at the farthest end of the Evergreen and West Jefferson County Metropolitan Districts, which provide water and sewer service to the surrounding commercial area. (Municipal water travels about 8 miles from Bear Creek.) The water board has indicated that there are enough "taps" available and water to serve new development, yet it acknowledges that restrictions must be imposed on the existing system throughout Evergreen during drought conditions (read more here). At the same time, the water system is not capable of providing "fire flow" (a measure of the rate of delivery over a required period of time at a required pressure) to the El Rancho area, even for existing development. The proposed, so-called "Evergreen Gateway" development on less than 10 acres north of Highway 40 would use a developer-estimated 5.5 million gallons of water a year, including for what would be a third hotel at this same interchange. The density of existing development in the surrounding area presents particular challenges for fire safety now, and in this area may require the installation of large cisterns to ensure public safety where flow to hydrants is already inadequate (read more here). Additionally, because Highway 74 is a bottleneck for emergency evacuation from the Evergreen area, increasing commercial density around the already high-risk vicinity of El Rancho poses a very real concern for resident safety in a wildland fire scenario (read more here and here).
Jeffco Planning & Zoning process (enter address to find historical and current applications)
As part of the Floyd Hill Project, the Colorado Department of Transportation has proposed a large parking lot to serve its Pegasus I-70 shuttle service to be located at I-70 exit 251 (29899 US Hwy 40). Contrary to Jefferson County planning that favors a multimodal transit option to be located within the El Rancho Activity Center, the proposed 84-space, single-purpose lot would be located 3/4 mile from El Rancho and any other pedestrian or public transportation route. The location nonetheless received approval from the County's Planning Commission (8/23/2023). See also New parking lot on I-70 at El Rancho (Canyon Courier, 9/7/2023), which notes subsequently that the lot may have just 50 spaces. CDOT currently provides few details on its Floyd Hill Early Projects site.
A proposed 85-room hotel in Swede Gulch (28656 Tepees Way) has received full approval from the Board of County Commissioners (10/27/2022). The building permit application has begun (8/29/2023). This will be the second hotel at the Evergreen Parkway Interchange.
Note: The 2021 rezoning application was withdrawn in April 2023 and there is currently no proposal under review, but see updates below.
West Jefferson County Metropolitan District - Public Notices
Note: There are currently no water taps or water infrastructure associated with the properties north of Hwy 40 that are already included in the water district.
*UPDATE* (5/7/2023): The original rezoning application has been withdrawn, but the developer still intends to annex almost 3 acres of CDOT-owned right-of-way parallel to Hwy 40 and I-70, which would require rezoning; that application is pending with CDOT. The latest iteration of the proposed development still includes a large (100 room) hotel, proposes a 35,000 sq ft office/retail building, and adds other high-traffic businesses. No proposal has been submitted to the County. SEE: Development proposal in El Rancho gets cheers, jeers (Canyon Courier, 5/4/2023, p.14)
UPDATE (5/7/2023): In 2021, the so-called "Evergreen Gateway" proposal sought to take over all the area west of Hwy 74 and north of Hwy 40, intending to take publicly-owned land and demolish community assets for a commercial development. The developer was actively pursuing a response from the fire district through at least February 2023, when he appeared at the Board of Directors' meeting and lashed out at the community for its opposition to his proposal; he still refused at that time to provide basic answers regarding the proposed site for relocating the fire station, and refused to discuss the budget for the project. As recently as mid-March 2023, he was still actively seeking meetings with the County and CDOT regarding re-routing Rainbow Hill Road through the development as originally proposed. In April 2023, the fire district's Board of Directors announced that it would delay a vote on the proposal until its May meeting, at least, pending response from the developer to its questions. In late April, the County decided not to pursue relocating Rainbow Hill Road. The developer has since withdrawn his original rezoning application and has abandoned plans to relocate the fire station. *UPDATE* (5/16/2023): The Foothills Fire Protection District Board of Directors approved a motion that the FFPD would only reconsider an offer from Northstar Ventures if the following conditions are met: written confirmation from CDOT certifying that the land exchange would be approved; AND specify a specific parcel and final grade for the new station; AND provide a full cost estimate for the construction of the new station, with one of the following financial guarantees: a) an escrow fund in favor of the district for the cost of construction, b) a certificate of deposit in favor of the district for the cost of construction, c) a construction loan to be released as needed sufficient to complete the new fire station; AND a performance bond in favor of the district in the event of default. The board did not set a time limit for future discussion, provided that all of the above requirements are met, and stated that pursuing any offer would also involve a "significant public process."
UPDATE (12/29/2022): The developer has revised his proposal, now planning to site the proposed hotel on Hwy 40. The plans he has discussed with CDOT maintain his ambition to relocate Rainbow Hill Road, annex the Park-n-Ride lot (with the intention to avoid a public auction process in doing so), and to annex the rights-of-way parallel to Hwy 40 and I-70. He alleges that he has no plans to relocate the Alpine Rescue Team (legally, he cannot do so). He has again proposed to relocate the Foothills Fire Station to the side of Hwy 40, a quarter mile from its present site. He now alleges that he only wants to use the station site as a parking lot and to build alternative access to the hotel. The developer has sought concessions from CDOT (an expedited concurrence review process leading to the acquisition of CDOT-owned rights-of-way), as well as from the County ("setback relief" and expedited rezoning). The revised proposal has not been formally submitted to the County.
A petition for inclusion (water & sewer) of the fire district's parcel was filed with the West Jefferson County Metropolitan District on 7/6/2022 and heard 7/21/2022; public comment closed 7/29/2022. The developer pushed for a 9/27/2022 decision and unsuccessfully sought to add another petition to include CDOT-owned right-of-way to the same meeting; no decision had been made, nor was pending, as of 1/3/2023. UPDATE (5/7/2023): Related to the withdrawn rezoning application, this parcel is no longer sought for the proposed development.
EMD Updating Water Plan Before Giving the Go-ahead for El Rancho Development (Canyon Courier, 3/31/2021, p.13)
Hotel, Commercial Development Proposed in El Rancho (Canyon Courier, 3/11/2021, p.1)
*UPDATE* (6/8/2023): Developer Buchanan has begun discussions with the County regarding rezoning the El Rancho Building property (29260 US Hwy 40) to Mixed Use. The uses could potentially include Air BnB units above the restaurant and additional condominium-style housing on the property. The property currently has C-1 zoning that already allows for hotel use, but not for residential use.
El Rancho Restaurant to Reopen (Canyon Courier, 11/15/2022)
Note: The restaurant reopened in January 2023.
The former owners of El Rancho Restaurant and Brewery filed for bankruptcy (9/22/2022). One, below-asking offer of $2.7M was made and accepted for the property, from "1948 Holdings LLC" (Sherry Buchanan and Todd Ables, agents). The Colorado Bankruptcy Court granted a motion to approve the contract (11/9/2022) and the sale was finalized the next day. The would-be buyers in the court filing indicated an interest in reopening the restaurant in time for the holidays as their basis for requesting an expedited decision. The offer in the filing was co-signed by developer Jack Buchanan (see "Evergreen Gateway"). Ables represents Trans-Bay Capital Partners, a San Francisco-based real estate finance corporation specializing in multi-unit commercial and residential properties. The managing partnership of "1948 Holdings LLC" includes Buchanan and Travis McAfoos (owner of the former First Bank property).
Letter: Density is not in Evergreen’s character, or interest (Canyon Courier, 8/17/2023, p.12)
Letter: Smoke, Mirrors (Canyon Courier, 1/24/2023, p.8)
NOTE: The developer recently accused the author of fabricating this letter to the editor. Read here for his comments and the original sources on which the letter was based.
Letter: In response to Nate Marshall's March 17 letter to the editor (Canyon Courier, 4/15/2022, p.8)
*ARCHIVED* Petition (9/3/2022): Keep El Rancho Community Use
UPDATE 5/7/2023: Facing obstacles from the community, the County rezoning process, water board, fire department, and CDOT, the developer withdrew his rezoning application in April 2023. Thanks to the 119 neighbors and friends who signed to let the agencies know of the community's opposition to the original proposal!
"The proposed development is completely out of character with the current environment and betrays a legacy of good planning."
"Please don't destroy the unique character of our community."
"We do not want our road to become a thoroughfare."
"We recently moved to Rainbow Hill Road for the privacy. This development would negate that entirely."
"We just bought our 'forever home' 0.7 miles from El Rancho, and this proposed development is not what we signed up for!"
"Just moved to this community specifically because of its privacy and quiet residential nature. To have Rainbow Hill Road relocated and made into a commercial main street is a travesty of thoughtful development and would mar this neighborhood unnecessarily."
"We own property on Rainbow Hill Rd (since 1970) and would not like to see any more changes to the access."
"I have been using and living in this area since 1991 and would love to keep it as it is."
"We need to keep big development out of Evergreen. Jefferson County needs to respect the residents ahead of the developers."
"People who live here cannot get Jeffco to approve basic permits for anything in a timely manner but somehow things like this and rezoning of private land to commercial always seems to take priority and make it through regardless of how many people do not want it."
"No more big developments! This town cannot handle the burden."
"Evergreen is a residential community. The only ones that will benefit from this developer overreach are the developers. Reasonable and thoughtful development is good. Projects of this scope are not beneficial to the community of Evergreen."
"The concerns, priorities, lives and quality of life of the people of this community should be foremost among planning considerations. The money-making dreams of one individual developer should come last."
"There is too much congestion already at the intersection of Evergreen Pkwy and Highway 40. ... This proposal would make this situation worse than it already is. The weekend congestion would become a day to day congestion. This area needs to remain as is for the local community."
"Please do not do this. There's no need to direct traffic to this area and increase fire risk. This community does not need to lose any more water and changing the current building would definitely increase water usage."
"Increased traffic will make it difficult for the residents to evacuate in the not unlikely event of a wildfire."
"There have been 3 fires this month in our neighborhood. I'm concerned about the increased traffic congestion inhibiting a speedy evacuation along with the natural beauty being obscured by commercial lighting and buildings."
"The fire safety issues alone are terrifying."
"I am worried about water use issues with excessive development in and around Evergreen. Will there be sufficient water to fight a wildfire in this area?"
"A project of this magnitude will destroy the environment, cause loss of water, interfere with evacuation routes for Evergreen residents, and be a life threatening road block to residents."
"The use of this publicly owned land by a private developer is not in the best interest of the community."
"Please do not close this RTD Park-n-ride. I use it often because of its ease to hop back on 70."
"We do not want to see the Park and Ride at El Rancho discontinued. We are elderly and will increasingly need to use public transport to get to Denver for appointments."
"I am completely against this development and the selling of the RTD lot to developers."
"I have been here for over 30 years. I have used the Park n Ride and want it to remain in place where it is."
"The Emergency Services should not be moved."
"Please do not remove any of these: Foothills Fire station, and Alpine Rescue."
"None of this is needed. Just redevelop the Observatory land."
"Why do we need another hotel."
"The hotel will be unsightly and out of character for our residential area."
"I question the developer's assessment that Evergreen needs another shopping area and hotel."
"Evergreen does not need any further commercial development! Too much traffic, drain on resources and most especially destruction of this beautiful historic area."
"Please do NOT go forward with any demolition of El Rancho restaurant and the fire station and park and ride."
"Yes please stop with the over development of our beautiful community and to not preserve El Rancho and its history is a crime..."
"This is a quintessential Colorado restaurant and a historic landmark. It simply cannot be demolished."
"Please preserve El Rancho restaurant as a restaurant."
"Keep El Rancho!"
"Let's get a buyer for El Rancho that will keep it a restaurant or gathering place."
"Please let us keep our community the way it is and find a way to successfully run the brewery."
"El Rancho has been a part of this area for a long time and should remain."
"We have a quiet mountain community now and strongly desire to keep our community environment. Please don't change this wonderful community and quiet roads."