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In Land We Trust: Redtail Ranch Development Raises Concerns About Living on Old Oil and Gas Land

In Land We Trust: Redtail Ranch Development Raises Concerns About Living on Old Oil and Gas Land


A planned subdivision near the Colorado National Golf Club in Erie has some residents raising concerns about building new homes on land formerly used by oil and gas companies.

The neighborhood is known as Redtail Ranch, a 290-acre development that includes 587 single-family and townhomes as well as roughly 29 acres of open space. Greenwood Village-based Stratus Companies has been trying to get the project approved for nearly four years, and Erie’s Town Council has been skeptical of the development.

Redtail Ranch also raises questions about how former oil and gas communities like Erie can repurpose land once used for natural resource extraction. If approved, the neighborhood would be located between three landfills. One is the infamous Columbine Landfill, where computer company IBM dumped more than 1,500 barrels — roughly 84,000 gallons — of solvents several decades ago. There are also 32 oil and gas wells surrounding the community, which Erie town staff described as an “eyesore.”

Erie’s town council laid over a bill to approve the project during its last scheduled public hearing on April 23. When the project was brought up again for discussion on May 14, the town council again decided to push back the approval until a later date. Doing so would give the developer “additional time to address some of the issues raised in the public hearing,” Town Trustee Dan Hoback said.
The next time the development is expected to be discussed is June 25.

A long time comin’

Redtail Ranch has been a topic of discussion inside Erie’s town hall for the last several years. When it was first introduced, the development included about 898 residential homes split between two parcels. However, the land that the subdivision will sit on and Erie’s development code have been two sticking points between the developer and community ever since.

Stratus Companies first discovered the waste IBM left behind in 2015 after it purchased the land. A year later, Stratus sued IBM for improperly disposing of the waste. The company claims to have spent more than $4 million to clean up the site.

In 2020, CDPHE approved Stratus Companies’ monitoring and maintenance plan for the plot after reviewing the extensive cleanup efforts the company undertook. An environmental study of the land conducted by Pinyon Environmental of Lakewood found the land contained torpedo propellant, carwash chemicals, and grease trap waste.

Home under construction. Photo by Brett Jordan via Unsplash.

Erie residents argued that these measures haven’t gone far enough to address the public health concerns of building a new development on this land. One concern multiple residents noted during the April 23 hearing was that old oil and gas tunnels could cause sinkholes in the future. Pinyon’s environmental study seemed to echo their concerns by suggesting that developers limit the foundation sizes of homes to mitigate sinkhole risk.

“I don’t see how this development is going to add any value to future Erie residents,” Erie resident Arnold Slabbekoorn told the Town Council in a written statement.

Erie’s Unified Development Code has also been an issue for the development. When Redtail Ranch was submitted to the town in 2021, Erie was in the midst of updating its code to increase residential setbacks from oil and gas facilities from 350 feet to 500 feet. The Redtail Ranch development plan has its home setback at 350 feet, which meets the pre-2021 code requirements.

“We have made sure that we are compliant with everything in the UDC as it was when we submitted [this project] in 2021,” Layla Rosales, principal of a Denver-based urban design firm called Terracina Design, told Erie Town Council in April.

“I don’t see how this development is going to add any value to future Erie residents” – Arnold Slabbekoorn

A long way to go

Outside of the development code, Redtail Ranch also seems to have a long way to go to win over the Erie community.
In the four years that the project has been under consideration, the developers have only held one neighborhood meeting, which occurred in April 2021. At the meeting, residents expressed concerns about the project’s impact to traffic and enrollment in the local school system, according to a summary of the meeting developers provided the council.

Fast forward a couple of years, and some of those concerns still remain. For instance, city staff noted that the project could increase overcrowding at Soaring Heights K-8. Highlands Elementary may be able to help mitigate the impact, staff said. Stratus Companies paid a more than $488,000 fee in lieu of development because of the impact to the school system, according to project documents.

Residents in nearby neighborhoods like Vista Pointe and Vista Ridge shared concerns about how the project could impact traffic along WCR 4 and WCR 5, which intersect near the proposed neighborhood. Pinyon found that it would not be possible to widen WCR 5 to accommodate more traffic because of oil and gas lines running under the road. This may require the town to fund additional road projects in the future.

The next hearing for the project is tentatively scheduled for later this month.


Robert Davis
Robert Davis is an award-winning freelance journalist in Denver who writes about housing, homelessness, and poverty for several local and national publications. His work has appeared in Denver Voice, The Progressive Magazine, Invisible People, and many more.

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