This is Part 1 of a Series on the forces behind the removal of Dacono City Manager A.J. Euckert. Read the rest of the series here.
How a small group of neighbors became an influential force against residential developments in Dacono.
Drive anywhere in Dacono and it’s easy to see that it’s a town on the precipice of massive growth. Heading east off the interstate exit to Highway 52, there’s the big-city hubbub of a Ford and an Infiniti dealership, both brimming with the latest model year cars. A new Burger King sits nearby and just down the street is a for-lease commercial building, ready for another business to revitalize it.
The story starts to change once you travel past York Street. There, you’ll find more modern master-planned residential neighborhoods like Sweetgrass and Sharpe Farms mixed in with what locals refer to as “the old Dacono” and a neighborhood called The Glens. Master Planned Communities are large residential projects typically undertaken in rural areas with lots of available land for a single developer to build on. These projects also commonly include small recreational or commercial opportunities for residents.
Over the past several years, it seems as though Dacono city staff would say that attracting new residents is the key to the city’s growth. For example, the city’s median home value has increased by nearly 27% from around $395,000 in April 2020 to more than $500,000 as of April 2023, according to Redfin. At the same time, the city’s revenue from developer reimbursements, or fees that developers pay when they build new neighborhoods, is also projected to increase to around $300,000 in 2023, representing a 43% increase from fiscal year 2021. according to the city’s budget documents.
But to some long-time Dacono residents like Marian Thompson and Jean Frey, the lack of businesses in Dacono is a constant source of frustration. For example, Dacono has a local discount grocer called Esch’s, but big-box stores like Safeway, Sprouts Farmers Market, and King Soopers are each located outside of the town’s borders. There are also no movie theaters, no bowling alleys, and no municipal recreation center in Dacono either.
Thompson and Frey said in different city council and planning commission meetings that it felt like city staff was moving against the best interest of the town by approving new residential developments like Mesa Ridge, a development from Denver-based LGI Homes that could bring as many as 314 new housing units to Dacono, and Ridge Lands, a 280-unit development consisting of single-family homes from Loveland-based developer LC Home. Instead, Thompson and Frey argued that Dacono officials need to do more to attract new businesses to the city.
So Thompson and Frey formed an informal coalition called No Access On Andrews and attended as many public meetings about Ridge Lands and Mesa Ridge as possible. While they were just two of several residents who opposed these developments at the time, their advocacy got a boost from a powerful local in the summer of 2022—Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine.
Roots That Run Deep
Saine has long-standing ties to Dacono. Between 2007 and 2012, she served on the city’s planning commission, the city council, represented Dacono on the Carbon Valley Chamber of Commerce, and chaired the city’s economic development committee. Afterward, she was elected to represent Colorado House District 63 from 2012 to 2019 before being elected as a Weld County commissioner in 2021.
Saine’s connection to Thompson and Frey also runs deeper than ideology alone. The three women live within a block of one another in Sharpe Farms, according to property records, as do many of the people who show up to Dacono city council meetings and advocate against the Mesa Ridge and Ridge Lands developments. Since at least June 2022, the trio of Saine, Thompson, and Frey have shown up at at least six Dacono city council and Planning Commission meetings together and advocated against Mesa Ridge and Ridge Lands, according to city documents.
In October 2022, the trio spoke at a public hearing about a rezoning application for the Ridge Lands development, which is proposed to connect to Sharpe Farms via Andrews Street, a road that is currently connected to Dacono’s unpaved County Road 11 ½. The Andrews Street access road would also connect the new Ridge Lands development to Stonehaven Court, the street that Saine and Frey live on.
During a city council meeting on October 10, 2022, Saine told city council that she and some of her neighbors were not notified of the rezoning or its public hearing. The rezoning application asked Dacono to reclassify the Ridge Lands lot as a Planned Unit Development instead of a commercial district. PUDs can contain several types of homes from single-family to condominiums.
Saine also voiced concerns that Ridge Lands would violate the city’s master plan, known as Dacono Comprehensive Forward Plan 2017. The classifies the Ridge Lands plot within the R2 and commercial zone districts, meaning that it can accommodate high-density residential neighborhoods and small businesses. However, Saine said she worried that rezoning the lot to a PUD would increase traffic through her neighborhood to unsustainable levels.
Saine also said that she felt slighted because she did not hear of the project directly from council despite her previous years of service on Dacono’s planning commission. Former city attorney Kathleen Kelly told council that they do not have to notify individual residents of public hearings, only that meeting notices must be posted for the public. Saine asked council to reject the rezoning application and that Dacono should look at adding more round-a-bouts on Highway 52 to mitigate the traffic impact.
Thompson added that Ridge Lands “greatly concerned” her because of its potential traffic impact. She said the additional traffic could threaten the “integrity” of the Sharpe Farms community and could make it more dangerous for some of the children who live on Stonehaven Street nearby from playing outside.
“This is a very poorly thought out, very poorly planned out addition to a neighborhood in our community,” Thompson said.
City Manager A.J. Euckert told council that Dacono consulted the Colorado Department of Transportation’s latest Controlled Action Plan when discussing how to develop Ridge Lands with the developer. He added there are “opportunities to amend” the access plan to include the community’s feedback, which Euckert described as “practical.” However, he added that the community’s feedback didn’t have to be addressed at that meeting because the only question before council was the rezoning application, not the final development plans.
Mayor Adam Morehead added that he wasn’t willing to “blow up” the planned development because of concerns that can be addressed later. He added that he liked the plan to bring attached homes to Dacono because “that’s the kind of product people want these days.”
With that, the battle lines were drawn. Morehead called for a vote, and council members Kathryn Wittman, Jim Turini, and Danny Long all voted against the Ridge Lands rezoning. Members Kevin Plain, Jackie Thomas, and Doris Crespo voted in favor of it. With a 3-3 tie, Morehead broke the stalemate with a vote in favor of the project and it passed.
Morehead told investigators that Saine was texting him during the October 10 meeting, and was also possibly texting Wittman during the discussion about Ridge Lands. “It looks like you didn’t follow your own process in proving an amendment to the public master plan to switch to PUD,” Morehead said one of Saine’s messages to him read. Morehead said Saine also texted him that “the [Ridge Lands] developer was willing to not be straight with me, so I’m giving you a caution. This isn’t on the up and up.”
Saine, Thompson, and Frey would show up to the next two city council meetings on October 26 and November 14 to advocate against the Ridge Lands development, according to city council meeting minutes. However, their efforts didn’t sway the council, which approved the final development plan on November 14.
A Bloc is Formed
The three council members seemingly realized after the October 10 meeting that they needed a fourth member to form a veto-proof voting bloc. So they started vote shopping about two weeks after the vote, and it seems like they began with Crespo, who was appointed to fill a vacant seat on council in August 2022.
Crespo told Agent Patrick Ness of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation that Wittman had consistently tried to take her out to lunch since she was appointed to council, according to a transcript of their interview obtained by Yellow Scene Magazine. Crespo added that she turned down many of Wittman’s requests because she was busy with work and parenting her five children.
That all changed on October 26, 2022 when Crespo agreed to meet Wittman for lunch around 2:00 pm at Casa Cortez, one of the only restaurants in Dacono. Crespo said that Wittman told her she chose Casa Cortez because “[Crespo] needed some protection,” according to the interview. The two later agreed to move the meeting to another Mexican restaurant on Highway 7 at around 5:00 pm and that Wittman would pick up Crespo on the day they were scheduled to meet.
Crespo said that Wittman told her on the way to the restaurant that Turini would also be meeting them. Crespo said she was concerned that the meeting would violate Colorado’s Open Meetings law because three council members would be meeting together. Wittman told Crespo that “it’s a lie” that the meeting would violate the OML, according to the interview.
At the meeting, Crespo said Wittman and Turini told her that Euckert, community development manager Jennifer Krieger, and city attorney Kelly “had to go.” Crespo said Wittman and Thomas seemed to be baiting her to see if she would play along and help them fire the three officials, according to the interview.
Crespo added that she later told Morehead, Euckert, and Kelly about the meeting. Wittman denied ever meeting with Crespo when Kelly went to remind Wittman about the OML requirements, Crespo said in the interview.
After realizing that Crespo wasn’t going to side with them, Wittman and Turini began pursuing another candidate for their voting bloc–Jackie Thomas. About two weeks later, it seems the voting bloc had been solidified. A website for the No Access On Andrews group was registered on November 11, 2022, according to the ICANN database, and Thompson and Frey were listed as the group’s points of contact. The website says the group exists to support council members Wittman, Turini, Thomas, and Long — the four council members who voted to remove Euckert in February 2023 — and Saine, who the website says has “spearheaded the effort with CDOT to re-time/re-signalize the lights on Hwy 52 to reduce accidents at morning and evening rush hours.”
These four would then try to manipulate the city government to achieve their political goals and push Dacono into new territory.
This is Part 1 in a series of 4 articles. Check back for further updates to the series.