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Residents of surrounding neighborhoods of Hyatt Lake demonstrate with signs opposing the construction of upcoming warehouses near Hyatt Lake. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

From her back deck, Anne Laffoon can watch beavers and muskrats swimming in Hyatt Lake and a bald eagle that sometimes perches in a tree on the sand-gravel shore. 

Even on a drizzly June day, neighbors are walking their dogs around the near-2-mile path that surrounds the quiet lake, and a group of moms and kids are building moats on the private beach. Paddle boards and aluminum fishing boats are lined up in the sand. The spring-green flattop of North Table Mountain is the backdrop, and somewhere behind it in the clouds, is white-capped Longs Peak.

In this unincorporated area of Jefferson County, not far outside the city limits of Arvada, residents gush about their peaceful enclave. It’s why they’ve geared up for battle — a petition, protest signs and information booths at the local hardware store — to fight what they say is a threat to their way of life. 

“We wanted to recreate my childhood for our grandkids,” said Laffoon, who grew up on a river in Texas. “It’s just a beautiful place to live, and it’s dark. Nobody leaves their porch lights on, because we have animals and insects.”

Hyatt Lake, in unincorporated Jefferson County, is approximately 75 acres in area. A developer is asking to build three warehouses on mostly vacant land on one end of the lake. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

On one end of the small lake that is now mostly empty green space, a developer is proposing to build three warehouses with a combined size of almost 500,000 square feet. That’s more than four times as large as the proposed Amazon warehouse about a mile away that was denied in 2021 by the Arvada City Council, and about the same square footage as the infamous Jefferson County Government Center along Highway 6 that’s known as the Taj Mahal.

The land in question has been zoned for light industrial use since the 1950s, and the proposed project, according to pre-application paperwork filed with the county, meets the zoning requirements. 

Still, residents in 18 neighborhoods are spreading information about the project, some challenging Jefferson County Commissioners to take action in what’s turned into the latest of Colorado’s messy land-use battles. What’s happening in the Jefferson County community — a place in transition with a mix of horse farms, condos, cow pastures and lake-front homes — is playing out across Colorado as cities and counties make way for the warehouses, Amazon distribution centers and marijuana grow operations that pervade modern-day life. 

Short of causing a ruckus and starting a petition, it seems there is little recourse for residents of the Hyatt Lake area to stop the project, at least under the current rules of Jefferson County. As one county commissioner put it: “A private citizen is selling his land to another private citizen.” 

Real estate developer Scott Carlson, whose firm has acquired the land in four parcels over the past decade, plans to file the formal application for the project in July. Then county staff will begin a monthslong process of creating a site development plan, potentially asking Carlson to mitigate any concerns raised by the community — traffic, lights, noise, views. Then it is up to county staff to approve the plan. Commissioners never actually vote on the project. 

Children and families in surrounding neighborhoods of Hyatt Lake frequent its beaches for boating and paddle boarding. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

“They don’t have the ability to be arbitrary and say, ‘We just don’t like it,’” Carlson told The Colorado Sun. “It’s an objective criteria of ‘Do we meet the code?’ That’s the way Jefferson County has operated for decades.” 

Carlson has met with several of the residents, but said they so far are not willing to budge on their position. Residents said the same about him.

“This one is pretty lively,” said Carlson, who has been negotiating real estate deals for decades. “They want nothing to happen and that’s not even possible. Something is going to be there. There really isn’t an avenue for them to stop it completely.” 

They want nothing to happen and that’s not even possible. Something is going to be there. There really isn’t an avenue for them to stop it completely.

— Scott Carlson, real estate developer

Residents have twice asked commissioners for a temporary moratorium on warehouse development, including in “infill” spaces, or areas where residential properties surround land zoned for industrial use. They want a pause while the county reexamines its requirements. Commissioners denied both requests, and in a letter to the community group this month, County Manager Joseph Kerby invited residents to participate in an upcoming review of regulations. 

“The county strives to balance the property rights afforded through our existing zoning regulations for all property owners and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the county,” Kerby wrote. “We are aware, however, that our existing regulations do have room for improvement.”

Residents fear, though, that the warehouse project will get the go-ahead before any existing regulations are modernized.

Hundreds of homeowners are fighting a developer’s plan to build warehouses next to Hyatt Lake. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Tenants for the 3 warehouses are unknown so far

Carlson plans to sell the property to Constellation, a Texas-based company that will operate the warehouses. The tenants are unknown at this point, since the project is still in the planning stages. 

But Carlson said he expects that each of the three warehouses would have multiple businesses with offices and storefronts on the side that faces bustling McIntyre Street, and storage space and loading docks on the back side, by the lake. He envisions items such as furniture, tile and fitness equipment. 

Carlson compared the project to a strip mall — the tenants are likely to come and go over the years, and businesses that are serving Jefferson County residents will seek the space. The plan isn’t for a huge distribution center with heavy truck traffic, Carlson said, specifically noting that it’s not for Amazon. 

“They are running around and saying the impact is going to be horrific, and I don’t think it is,” Carlson said of the residents, who’ve created a group called McIntyre Neighbors United. “They will meet with me, but they won’t engage in substantive conversation. It’s all, ‘We’re going to die. You’re going to kill my children and my grandchildren. My whole way of life is going to die.’ 

“They haven’t wanted to engage in the details. I’ve begged them for over six months to give me a definitive, written list from your neighborhood organization. Tell me what your concerns are so I can respond in a formal way.”

Residents of surrounding neighborhoods of Hyatt Lake admire the lakeside view from the residence of Judy Strange (not pictured). (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Laffoon, who is spearheading the neighborhood resistance, retired from the U.S. Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C., where she produced fact-based, nonpartisan research for Congress. She’s devoted dozens of hours to investigating the proposed McIntyre Business Park. 

Jefferson County’s process to approve development projects is “completely inadequate” to address the residents’ concerns about the noise, pollution and traffic that will come with a 24/7 facility, not to mention the eyesore that they fear will disrupt the peace on the lake and the view of the mountains. 

“The process is broken,” Laffoon said. “Right now the county is powerless to make the developer address the issues we raise because they lack the right regulations. Their regulations are outdated and have gaps. They allow an industrial facility with heavy trucking and distribution capability to be built right next door to hundreds of homes.”

The process is broken. Right now the county is powerless to make the developer address the issues we raise because they lack the right regulations.

— Anne Laffoon, Hyatt Lake homeowner

The land was zoned more than 60 years ago, and since then, tens of thousands of people have moved into the area and built thousands of homes. 

“Sixty years ago who would have dreamt light industrial warehouses would be up to 90-feet tall and have semi-trucks going in and out all day, around the clock?” she asked. “Who knew living with trucking noise, diesel emissions, and particulate matter is linked to skin cancer, asthma, reproductive health issues and heart attacks?”

Residents fear the buildings will rise 90 feet but there is no evidence of that, since the developer has not yet filed the official application. But Jefferson County has no height limit for light industrial buildings. Warehouses are usually about 40-feet high, and the typical height restriction for light-industrial buildings in other counties ranges from 40 to 90 feet, according to Jefferson County officials.

Abby Booten, 9, right, helps fill a moat with friends at Hyatt Lake. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

In addition to signs that say “No Heavy Trucks” stuck in front laws, neighbors created images showing how warehouses of 40, 60 or 90 feet high would impede their mountain views. 

The pre-application for the project called for 720 parking spaces, most of them for cars for employees and customers. A traffic study estimated the warehouses would generate 926 vehicle trips in a 24-hour period, but that has not been broken down into cars versus large delivery trucks. 

For context, that’s about the same amount of trips as are generated by 100 homes. 

“It’s not a political process”

The land where the warehouses would go has been mostly vacant for about 20 years, now a lush, green space that is a buffer between the lake and busy McIntyre Street. The parcels have a checkered history, and were once home to mining research labs that polluted the ground with bad practices in the 1950s to 1980s. The Environmental Protection Agency supervised one $25 million cleanup that ended in the early 2000s, while the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment signed off on the other a couple of years ago. 

The property is on a hill that slopes down to the lake, so the first phase of construction would include grading it to a flat surface and building a retaining wall. Because of that lowered elevation, the height of the warehouses isn’t expected to extend any higher than other nearby buildings, Carlson said. 

He says the neighbors are letting their concerns get ahead of the facts. 

Tracy Kraft-Tharp, one of three Jefferson County commissioners, urged residents to work through the existing process. 

It’s not a political process. This is a professional process.

— Tracy Kraft-Tharp, Jefferson County commissioner

“I know everyone wants it taken care of and they want it taken care of today,” said Kraft-Tharp, a former state lawmaker. “But this guy will submit an application when he’s ready. I absolutely appreciate the neighbors’ concerns. But we are not at that place yet that we know exactly what this project is going to look like.” 

County staff will work “intensively” on noise, traffic, effects on the wildlife and any other issues raised by the neighborhoods near the lake — after the application is officially filed, she said. 

“It’s not a political process,” the commissioner said. “This is a professional process.” 

Kraft-Tharp said she feels for local residents, but pointed out that what’s happening in the area is happening all across Colorado, which is why politicians from city councils all the way to the state Capitol are debating land-use policies.

Westwood Villas, a complex of condos and townhomes in Arvada, is near Hyatt Lake. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

“It’s really hard for people,” she said. “People who own these big farms are now dying and they are leaving their property to developers. They are wondering what is happening to my neighborhood that I just bought into.” 

Laffoon and other residents are wondering what’s happening, and also, why it feels that once the project application is filed, there is no room for them to make much difference. 

“We have a chance to take a breath, pause the process, be thoughtful, and in the span of six months or so work together to find a fair, balanced solution,” she said. “We think it’s terrific that the commissioners support fixing the process. We just hope it won’t come too late to spare our community.” 

“The traffic and the noise will affect all of west Arvada”

A group of residents holding signs that say “NO” in bright red and have an X over a picture of a delivery truck are standing along McIntyre Street at what could become the entrance to the warehouses. 

Some of them live in Westwood Villas, a condo complex next to the lake that is home to many retirees. They’ve set up a booth about the warehouse project at a nearby Ace Hardware and have helped gather signatures on a petition for a moratorium on warehouses that has more than 700 signatures. They’ve shown up at county commissioners’ meetings to give three minutes of public comment, the limit allowed per person. And they’ve donated to a GoFundMe to fight the project that has raised more than $10,000.

The group is questioning why warehouses belong near their homes instead of near an interstate or at least a major highway. Interstate 70 and state highways 58 and 93 are a few miles away. 

“The traffic and the noise will affect a lot of west Arvada,” said Pam Smith, who lives in the condo complex. “Then of course you have the sound going across the lake into the neighborhoods.” 

Lauren Nataluk, a special education teacher at Jeffco Public Schools who has lived near the private lake since 2014, was at the beach last week as her two kids played in the water. She said she is knocking on doors to make sure all her neighbors know about the proposed project and can show up at commissioners’ meetings. 

Judy Strange, who works at the Pediatric Dental Group of Colorado, has lived on Hyatt Lake for more than 30 years. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

She worries about safety — from the environmental impact of the construction so close to the water, to the extra traffic near the school bus stop. 

“I would love for my kids and other generations of kids to get to enjoy this beautiful area,” she said. 

Judy Strange has lived on Hyatt Lake for more than 30 years. Through the picture windows in her living room, she can see the Flatirons, or watch her teenage grandchildren fish and paddle board. She is among those fearing the worst.

“I mean, it’s just full of nature,” she said. “It’s beautiful. And to take it and destroy it environmentally, with noise and exhaust and trucks?”

Jennifer Brown writes about mental health, the child welfare system, the disability community and homelessness for The Colorado Sun. As a former Montana 4-H kid, she also loves writing about agriculture and ranching. Brown previously...