Sterling Ranch

The rise of Sterling Ranch

At buildout, community will have 12,000 homes and 33,000 residents living in neighborhoods with the latest in technology

Posted 7/4/16

About two years ago, Harold and Diane Smethills and about 20 congregants from Valley View Christian Church walked up a grassy hill in the rolling landscape near Roxborough in northwest Douglas County.

They joined hands and began to pray.

For the land.

For the well-being of neighboring communities — Roxborough, Littleton, Highlands Ranch.

For the residents of Sterling Ranch, the community that would rise from the land around …

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Sterling Ranch

The rise of Sterling Ranch

At buildout, community will have 12,000 homes and 33,000 residents living in neighborhoods with the latest in technology


About two years ago, Harold and Diane Smethills and about 20 congregants from Valley View Christian Church walked up a grassy hill in the rolling landscape near Roxborough in northwest Douglas County.

They joined hands and began to pray.

For the land.

For the well-being of neighboring communities — Roxborough, Littleton, Highlands Ranch.

For the residents of Sterling Ranch, the community that would rise from the land around them.

“We prayed that it would be a wonderful place to live,” Diane said, “filled with wonderful families.”

Sterling Ranch has been the Smethillses’ dream for 12 years: A $4.4 billion multi-generational, eco-conscious development of 12,000 homes on 3,400 acres with schools, churches, shopping, recreation and the latest in technology to make life easier and keep pace with the demands of a rapidly changing world.

Said Harold: “We are building a community for people who aren’t born yet.”

A modern community

On a morning earlier this summer, the Smethills sat in their Highlands Ranch office, on the second floor of the sandstone building near Lucent Bouleveard and C-470. Graphics, maps and floor plans of Sterling Ranch covered the walls around them.

Next month, after years of planning and dreaming, the first homes are scheduled to break ground. The journey has been invigorating, exciting, challenging, but overall, an ever-changing creation.

“Our initial vision hasn’t changed,” Diane said. “It’s expanded to include so many areas we didn’t dream of 12 years ago.”

The development sits west of Santa Fe Drive and south of Chatfield Reservoir, just east of the Roxborough community and next to Roxborough State Park. Pastures, dirt roads and a small enclave ofhomes and horse corrals surround the vast open space. It is seven miles southwest of Highlands Ranch, 15 miles northwest of Castle Rock and about 20 miles south of Denver.

Construction of the development’s backbone — its water and electrical infrastructures — started about a year ago. The first model homes are expected to break ground this August in one of eight villages, which along with a focus on water and energy conservation is a core concept in the Smethills’ emphasis on creating an environmentally aware and neighborly community.

The first village, called Providence, will have nearly 800 single-family homes, 85 acres of open space, one school, a church, a civic center, a recreation center and a fiber optic network that can transfer more data at faster speeds.

The plan is to minimize impact on the land, Diane said, with dense neighborhoods surrounded by open space. Woven among the villages are 30 miles of walking, biking and horseback riding trails “fueled by Harold’s love of the equestrian life.”

After a 20-year buildout, Sterling Ranch is expected to have about 12,000 homes with 33,000 people, five elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, 2 million square feet of commercial space and three neighborhood parks.

This type of mixed-use development isn’t uncommon in Colorado, economic development experts say.

The Denver metro area has several similar master developments, including the 125-acre Bradburn Village in Westminster; Reunion, a Shea Homes development with nearly 1,600 acres of residential development and more than 900 acres of commercial development in Commerce City; Stapleton, a 4,100-acre mixed-use community redeveloped from an international airport; and Candelas, a 1,500-acre community in Arvada.

The mix of housing, commercial and retail space essentially creates a mini-community within a larger community, said Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., an affiliate of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

But the difference with Sterling Ranch, Clark said, is its magnitude — one of the largest in near history — and the people behind it.

“The thing that makes Sterling Ranch interesting to me,” he said, “is this incredible focus on energy and water management done by a couple from Colorado.”

A boon for business

Although a small group of homeowners concerned about adequate water supply and the impact on their rural, tranquil life tried unsuccessfully to stop Sterling Ranch, business leaders are excited about its potential economic boon to the area.

The Northwest Douglas County Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that works to attract and retain area businesses, projects Sterling Ranch will create a 9,000 jobs of all varieties, including commercial, construction, retail and primary employers. Building of the development itself will generate several thousands of construction-related jobs per year. Its projected economic impact to the region is $411 million.

“As a resident of the region,” said Amy Sherman, the corporation’s president, “I am excited for the new amenities — everything from boutiques to swimming pools, to restaurants and shops. It’s going to bring a lot of new jobs to the area.”

The development also will provide quality housing for the diversity of companies in the south metro area — such as Lockheed Martin and Charles Schwab — and the growth that Dish and Comcast are experiencing, said Jeff Wasden, president of the Colorado Business Roundtable, a branch of the business policy advocacy organization based out of Washington, D.C.

“As we continue to attract great businesses to Colorado,” he said, “the type of housing that a development like Sterling Ranch affords is critical to companies’ growth and ability to innovate and stay competitive.”

Bumps in the road

The vision for Sterling Ranch took root in 2004 when the Smethills purchased the development from Joy and Frank Burns.

They are only the third family to own the land since the Civil War.

Over the past 12 years, the Sterling Ranch development team has held more than 450 neighborhood meetings, collaborated with dozens of organizations on environmental and living standards — and fought an ongoing legal challenge against a neighboring community association.

In 2011, the development drew opposition from residents of Chatfield, a small community of 65 people that sits near the development’s northwest border. The Chatfield Community Association filed a lawsuit against Douglas County’s approval of Sterling Ranch, arguing the project did not have proof of a sufficient water supply for the entire project.

Homeowners also worried about a detrimental impact on their rural way of life.

Although Douglas County District Court ruled in their favor in 2012, that decision was reversed in 2014. Judge Richard Caschette said state law did not require developers to show water adequacy for an entire development up front. Instead, it could demonstrate it in phases throughout the process.

Still, Chatfield Community Association vice president Dennis Larratt said he feels let down, in particular by the county, which has approved Sterling Ranch’s proposals throughout the process.

Despite the Smethills’ assertions to build an innovative community that reflects Colorado’s heritage, Larratt worries about funding, water, traffic and compatibility with surrounding communities.

“It’s going to change things,” said Larratt, who enjoys the rural, friendly life of his Sunshine Acres community bordered by Chatfield State Park and the High Line Canal. “The amount of offsite improvements is virtually non-existent.”

The Smethills, however, say they have always kept issues of water, energy and quality of life at the forefront of their planning.

“Our water conservation will be leading in the state,” Harold said.

In 2010, the Colorado Water Conservation Board selected Sterling Ranch for the state’s first rainwater harvesting project. A storm management system will collect rainwater from commercial buildings and street gutters. The water will be stored in tanks and retention ponds.

About 40 percent will be used for outdoor irrigation, Harold said.

Striving to be a good neighbor

The Smethills also have worked closely with One Roxborough, an organization that includes residents and representatives from businesses and county and state agencies in Roxborough, an unincorporated Douglas County community just west of Sterling Ranch. It has about 9,100 people, a small shopping center and two schools.

Through their discussions, One Roxborough and Sterling Ranch agreed to share outdoor trails and recreation centers, meaning any community member can access the trails on the once-private Sterling Ranch land.

“Finally,” Diane said, “the fences will come down.”

Ed Yeats, co-chair of One Roxborough, is expecting Sterling Ranch to help business in Roxborough thrive.

His only concern has been traffic and road safety.

One of two main routes in and out of Roxborough is the two-lane West Titan Road coming from Santa Fe Drive, which turns into Rampart Range and runs along the Sterling Ranch development.

“There are going to be some challenges with traffic,” Yeats said. “The county has to keep an eye on those challenges on our behalf out here.”

Although Douglas County works diligently to provide safe routes through construction zones, county officials said some delays will be unavoidable.

To limit impact, the majority of construction traffic for Sterling Ranch will use an internal construction road off Roxborough Park Road, south of Titan Road, the county said.

“Construction traffic turning off and onto Titan Road at Roxborough Park Road will continue to be monitored throughout,” said Wendy Holmes, director of public affairs for Douglas County, “and when warranted, improvements at that intersection will be required to be constructed by Sterling Ranch.”

Quality of life

For the Smethills, the vision for Sterling Ranch was greatly influenced by family — their two millennial sons, who inspired them to focus on building an eco-friendly community with state-of-the-art technology embraced by today’s generation.

Theirsons, Brock, 25, and Ross, 28, studied at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Brock is now chief operating officer of Sterling Ranch and works closely with his parents.

“There’re two components to Sterling Ranch,” Brock said. “The nature of your day and the nature of your surroundings.”

That means incorporating what the family has determined to be key components to quality living — education, health, lifestyle, safety, energy, technology and water. Much of what makes up the last three, the Smethills believe, sets their development apart.

Among their requirements:

Builders will offer LED lighting, wildlife-friendly landscaping and solar system packages for homes. Painters must use low-chemical paints, carpets and adhesives. Water usage in toilets, faucets, showerheads and washing machines will be regulated.

Homes and businesses will be interconnected at the ease of a virtual touch-screen that controls technology and energy usage.

Streets will have LED lighting with advanced security functionality for individual residences and the community as a whole.

In the evening, the Smethills said, streetlights will dim so residents can see the stars. 

But everything comes back to what they prayed for on that hilltop two years ago, the couple said, a community where people know each other and care about each other and where they live.

So, homes will be close together with no cul-de-sacs. Front porches will face side streets. A civic center will provide a gathering place. And a variety of housing styles will attract residents of all ages and backgrounds, from single parents to millennial families to grandparents.

“For a high quality of life,” Harold said, “knowing your neighbors is important.”


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