Save El Rancho Campaign

Details & Links


"Evergreen Gateway" ("Observatory") development UPDATES

Grading permit application: In November 2023, the owner wrote in a post that he claimed to be factual: "We are being selective and are NOT clear-cutting the site. In fact, we are laying out the site to work around some beautiful Ponderosas on the property." The diagram he had submitted to the County at the time is here. (12/21/2023) Documents initially submitted to Jefferson County and CDOT indicated plans to haul about 94,000 cubic yards of fill dirt, to clearcut and bulldoze more than 6 acres of the property, to fill in the valley to create a platform 30-40 feet above I-70, and to reengineer the natural drainages to a system of two ditches and a large sediment basin at the bottom of the property (see initial plan). *UPDATE* (4/29/2024): The application currently under review has been revised to import about 40,000 cubic yards of fill and cut about 16,000 cubic yards of rock and soil from existing topography. The proposed grading would entail clearcutting and buldozing more than 4 acres of the property, while filling in a natural valley and burying the majority of mature forest under a stockpile more than 600 feet long, up to 33 feet deep, sloping steeply to the I-70 right-of-way, and creating a network of ditches draining to a half-acre sediment basin (image below, and see current plan). The application indicates that additional fill 'may' be necessary, and other documents on file with the County illustrate and describe earthwork entailing more than 71,000 cubic yards and involvement of additional acreage in the envisioned development, however there is still no development plan on file with the County. The justification offered for grading and stockpiling at this time is the present availability of fill from the I-70 Floyd Hill Project.

Special District application (2/27/2024): The owner has applied to establish a metropolitan district, creating more than $27 million of public debt (#2024 104434 000 00 SV). The proposed metro district of potentially 9.2 acres envisions 77,000 sq ft of commercial space, a 140-room hotel, and a 300-400 car parking garage with roads and utilities that exclusively serve those facilities. The "Observatory" properties are already included in water/sanitation, fire, ambulance, and transportation districts, and are adjacent to the Evergreen Parks & Rec district, all of which provide truly public facilities and services that the proposed district does not need to duplicate. Rather than pursuing private financing and forming a traditional POA, which has been the precedent for all other development throughout Evergreen, establishing a metro district (a state-regulated unit of local government) to fund infrastructure and provide management services provides a developer with a tax-exempt financing mechanism. Learn more about special districts and their proliferation here.

latest propaganda (1/11/2024): The developer claims that he is not pursuing rezoning (Developers demolish vacant El Rancho building, Canyon Courier, 1/18/2024, p.1). In reality, the owner's intention to annex adjacent right-of-way to become part of the development will necessitate rezoning, according to Jefferson County. Although there is still no proposal on file, the owner is currently marketing 7 "lots" for sale or lease that include area of right-of-way he does not yet own (SEE: Evergreen Vacant Land).

Observatory demolition (1/10/2024): The developer initiated demolition of the former Observatory Café building on 1/9/2024. No permit had been issued for this activity and a Stop Work Order was issued on 1/10/2024 (#24 100759 000 SW BP). An application for a demolition permit was subsequently filed (#24 100810 000 00 BP).

land disturbance and clearcutting (11/3/2023): On 10/10/2023, Jack and Sherry Buchanan, as "Northstar Ventures Ltd LLC" and its subsidiary "Observatory Holdings LLC", acquired the parcels at 29259-29339 US Hwy 40 through a deed of trust with assign of rents (private lender, Miller Bates LLC of Salt Lake City). The developer began asbestos mitigation work on the Observatory building in mid-October with a CDPHE permit; no demolition permit has yet been issued by the County pending asbestos mitigation. At the same time, the developer began earthwork to prepare for delivery of a "large amount" of fill dirt to stockpile on the property. Along with that, the developer proceeded with heavy equipment to clearcut more than an acre of forest parallel to US Hwy 40 (see the developer's own photos). CDOT had previously instructed the developer that erosion control must be installed to protect the stormwater drainages from US 40 and I-70, and Jefferson County had previously informed the developer to employ Mile High Flood District Best Management Practices for erosion control. The electric utility, whose line runs through one of the disturbed areas, was neither informed nor gave permission for this work in their right-of-way. No erosion control was installed and no permits were issued beforehand. On 11/2/2023, a Corporate Violation - Grading Violation was issued by Jefferson County (#23 133091 000 00 CV) for "Land disturbance of property potentially without a permit and not meeting performance standards." The developer subsequently contracted for straw wattles to be installed around the newly bladed area intended for dirt stockpiling.

The developer has already informed the County that he intends to exceed the no-permit limit (5000 cubic yards) for dirt stockpiling. CDOT has not granted permission for access through their right-of-way for that purpose, pending review of documentation that has not yet been submitted. No permit has been issued by Jefferson County. No development proposal has yet been submitted to, reviewed or approved by Jefferson County.

latest propaganda (5/4/2023): 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)

fire station proposal rejected (5/16/2023): 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 (read more about the history of proposals). 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. 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."

Rainbow Hill Road relocation rejected (4/2023): As recently as mid-March 2023, the developer was still actively seeking meetings with the County and CDOT regarding re-routing Rainbow Hill Road through the development as originally proposed. In late April, the County decided not to pursue relocating Rainbow Hill Road. The developer has since withdrawn the original rezoning application and has abandoned plans to relocate the fire station.

Observatory dumpster pollution (2/2023): In the first week of Feb 2023, developer Jack Buchanan hired workers to remove materials, not including asbestos, from the Observatory building. The crew loaded materials into an uncovered dumpster. When the wind blew, pieces of fiberglas insulation became scattered all across the intersection of Hwy 74 and US 40. It was several weeks before those pieces were cleaned up. Buchanan acknowledged the pollution emanating from the dumpster. At a fire district board meeting, he asserted blame for that pollution on the community and agencies whom he believed conspired to prevent the dumpster from being removed. In reality, Buchanan had been instructed by CDOT to move the dumpster immediately because he had not obtained permission to site it in the public right-of-way; he ignored that order for several more days. In the interim, the dumpster was not covered as it should have been according to County guidelines for temporary containers.

revised proposal (12/2022): In 3/2021, 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 (see original plans). A year and a half later, the developer revised his proposal, now planning to site the proposed hotel on Hwy 40. The plans he discussed with CDOT maintained his ambition to relocate Rainbow Hill Road, annex the Park-n-Ride lot, and to annex the rights-of-way parallel to Hwy 40 and I-70. He alleged that he had no plans to relocate the Alpine Rescue Team building (legally, he cannot do so). He again proposed to relocate the Foothills Fire Station to the side of Hwy 40, a quarter mile from its present site. He alleged that he only wanted to use the existing station site as a parking lot and to build alternative access to the hotel. The developer sought concessions from CDOT (an expedited concurrence review process leading to the acquisition of CDOT-owned rights-of-way, and to circumvent the public auction process required by state law), as well as from the County ("setback relief" and expedited rezoning). The revised proposal (see "plans") was not formally submitted to or reviewed by the County.

RTD El Rancho bus service lost (8/2022): The developer planned to relocate the RTD El Rancho Park-n-Ride lot to a distant location within the proposed development. For six months (2-7/2021), RTD negotiated with the developer to maintain a facility equal to or better than what it already had at El Rancho, but the developer repeatedly would not accommodate the design criteria (including pedestrian access, ADA compliance, number of spaces, and central location) that RTD stipulated in detail. RTD believed that its only recourse was to abandon the site altogether. RTD planners decided in 9/2021 to abandon the El Rancho stops and close the PnR; they subsequently used "low ridership" as the public excuse for doing so on 8/21/2022.

This decision worked in the developer's interest, and subsequently (12/2022) the developer omitted any plan to accommodate public transit at El Rancho while persisting with his intention to destroy the PnR and replace it with a commercial property. The subsequent withdrawal of the original rezoning application and negative County response to relocating Rainbow Hill Road (4/2023) have effectively nullified any remaining ambition to appropriate the PnR for development. Meanwhile, the PnR continues to be used but is no longer being maintained, and there continues to be no bus service at El Rancho. This decision by RTD would not have been made otherwise, and this loss for the community is a direct consequence of the developer's proposal and conduct. See RTD El Rancho closure notes for original sources, more information, and expanded discussion.

Water and sewer Petition for Inclusion (7/2022): One of the first actions the developer pursued was to seek a Submittal Requirements Waiver with a "request to defer submittal of proof of water and sewer (will serve letters) until the second referral of the Rezoning process" (21 130207 000 00 SRW, 9/9/2021); that request was denied. A year later, 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, without public notice, to include CDOT-owned right-of-way to the same meeting. The water board deferred their decision; no decision had been made, nor was pending, as of 1/3/2023. Related to the withdrawn rezoning application (4/2023), this parcel is no longer sought for the proposed development.

Water Complicated for Proposed Development (Canyon Courier, 8/3/2021, p.7)

Developer Explains Concept for Evergreen Gateway (Canyon Courier, 5/24/2021, p.5)

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)