Douglas County files Sterling Ranch appeal


Douglas County commissioners filed an appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals to reverse the district court decision that stalled the Sterling Ranch development.

The county aims to place the issue of water availability before the appeals court, which has not previously tested the applicable statute, said Lance Ingalls, county attorney.

The statute in question requires developers to prove the water supply for a rezoning before the start of new construction. Sterling Ranch in May 2011 gained the county's approval to rezone and develop 3,500 acres in the Chatfield Valley, with a plan for 12,000 homes.

With passage of the rezoning, the county granted the request from developer Harold Smethhills to prove his water adequacy at each plat or phase of development.

District Judge Paul King reversed the county's approval in August, following a challenge by the Chatfield Community Association.

“While land use and development is a matter of local concern, the adequacy of water for new developments is a matter of statewide concern,” King ruled. “(L)ocal government shall not approve an application for a development unless it determines that the applicant has established that the proposed water supply for the development is adequate.”

At the root of the appeal of King's ruling is a disagreement in the interpretation of state law, Ingalls said.

“Judge King's interpretation of the law is different from the county's interpretation and his interpretation impacts the county and its goal to encourage renewable water supplies,” Ingalls wrote in an email the day the appeal was filed.

One person who did not expect the county to appeal was the attorney who prevailed in the case. Jim Kreutz, attorney for the Chatfield Community Association, said he expected county commissioners to abide by their oath to uphold the laws of the state.

“Why would they appeal? They represent the people of Douglas County, they have to follow the law,” Kreutz said following King's November denial of Sterling Ranch's request for reconsideration of his ruling. “The board doesn't have a dog in this fight. They sat as a three-member judgment panel. Just because they voted in favor of it doesn't mean it's their application.”

County commissioners promised an appeal shortly after King rendered his initial decision.

“(A)n appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals will seek interpretation and clarification at a statewide level,” Ingalls said. “Such an appeal would also give a forum for others affected by this statute to be heard regarding its meaning and the full legislative intent.”

Sterling Ranch partner Diane Smethhills said the development has “great momentum” and the principals plan to continue to move forward.


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