One recent morning, Deanna Meyer gazed across the soon-to-be construction site on the north end of town between I-25 and U.S. Highway 85, near the Outlets at Castle Rock, and saw hundreds of prairie dogs scurrying and standing sentinel at the …
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One recent morning, Deanna Meyer gazed across the soon-to-be construction site on the north end of town between I-25 and U.S. Highway 85, near the Outlets at Castle Rock, and saw hundreds of prairie dogs scurrying and standing sentinel at the openings of their burrows.“I drove by there this morning and it’s heartbreaking,” said Meyer, a leader of the Save the Castle Rock Prairie Dogs group, “…seeing hundreds of them and knowing they’re about to be murdered.”The previous evening, activists had flooded the Castle Rock Town Council meeting to speak for the more than 1,000 prairie dogs living under the future Promenade at Castle Rock — a 900,000-square-foot shopping mall with about 350 apartments on some 200 acres. Get the skinny on Prairie Dogs. Read our FAQ.
In emotional testimony reflective of issues created by growth, more than 20 residents lobbied to preserve one of the Front Range’s largest colonies of prairie dogs. They urged Alberta Development Partners to delay construction of the $177 million mall until June when pregnant prairie dogs who conceived in early winter would have given birth.
They wanted time to find a suitable place to relocate them and to raise money and awareness.
But after 1 ½ hours of public comment, council voted 6-0 to approve revisions to the contract between Alberta Development and the town. The approval clears the way for grading of the site to begin soon. No date has been set yet. Councilmember George Teal was absent from the Feb. 17 meeting.“I thought it was awful,” Meyer said. “The councilmembers didn’t hear a word of it and they didn’t care at all or take our concerns into account.”The prairie dog issue is a matter of a private company developing private land and the town has no authority to stop or delay the project, a town spokeswoman said. That would be different in the case of a species deemed protected or endangered by the state, she added.Prairie dogs were not part of the Feb. 17 council agenda and the discussion was prompted by residents and activists.Town officials said they will not comment further on the issue.The right decision?According to Castle Rock Town Attorney Bob Slentz, the only provision regarding wildlife in the building code says development must conform to state regulations if threatened or endangered species are present.Prairie dogs are not a protected or endangered species. And Alberta Development has met all required wildlife regulations, the town said.Castle Rock also worked with Douglas Land Conservancy about possible sites for relocation within the county, but said it was told by the county no place can accept the prairie dogs, according to Sandy Vossler, the town’s senior planner.“Our plan is to — since we can’t find a permanent relocation site at this point — is to remove the prairie dogs before we start grading,” Alberta Development principal Peter Cudlip said.Removal of the prairie dogs will be done under a Colorado Parks and Wildlife permit and guidelines, according to Alberta.Alberta couldn’t be reached for comment regarding the specifics of the removal or a timetable, but Meyer said activists expect it to take place prior to March 15. After that date, additional surveys for the burrowing owl and raptors would be required by law.Supporters of Save the Castle Rock Prairie Dogs are circulating a petition to delay construction of the mall until June. It has amassed more than 1,400 signatures and a fundraising campaign has collected $2,000.Meyer said the group is exploring legal options for advocacy and has not yet ruled out demonstrations and protests.What is the price of growth?The prairie dog issue raises an important discussion about growth for Castle Rock, the once-small town that plans to double its population to 100,000 by 2030.“Our job is to take care of all of our constituents. And I know that the comment was made that the prairie dogs are our constituents as well, and…the wildlife and the preservation of wildlife in our community is a big deal,” Mayor Paul Donahue said during the meeting. “But, also a big deal for us here is to make sure that the residents of Castle Rock have an opportunity for jobs. They have an opportunity to purchase goods and services. They have opportunity for the future families in Castle Rock, as well, and that’s something that is important to all of us.”Donahue pointed out Castle Rock’s continued growth will require more land for development, which means more wildlife will be displaced.Many residents at the meeting voiced concern about the changing town, saying they never wanted a new shopping mall and moved to Castle Rock for the small-town nature and proximity to wildlife.Councilmember Brett Ford acknowledged the importance of finding “a happy medium,” saying “part of the vision of Castle Rock is keeping that small-town feel and trying to balance out the needs as we grow as a community.”He noted 27 percent of the town is dedicated to open space.“That doesn’t necessarily mean the land right behind you is open space,” he said to residents. “But there’s 5,415 acres dedicated in the town of Castle Rock as open space to…preserve some of the natural habitat that is here.”However, many in town still harbor concerns about the changing landscape of the town and how development will alter its natural beauty.“I chose to live in Castle Rock because of its natural beauty, its wildlife… the beautiful topography that occurs here,” Castle Rock resident Stacy Wagner said. “I’ve spoke previously to this council and provided comments to the planning commission regarding my concerns about this project and the impacts I feel it will have on the quality of life of residents of Castle Rock, the character of our town and, most especially, the aesthetic beauty of Castle Rock.”
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