Large crowd

A large crowd of area citizens packed the meeting room for the Commerce Planning Commission on June 28 for a hearing about a proposed large subdivision development in the city. The planning board voted to recommend denial of the project.

A proposed subdivision of over 400 homes got shot down June 28 by the Commerce Planning Commission.

In a 3-1 vote, the board recommended denial of the project by Cook Communities on Hwy. 441 South at White Hill School Rd. The issue now goes to the Commerce City Council for final action.

A large crowd of around 150 people packed the meeting room Monday night for the board's hearing and vote on the proposal. It was the third time the planning board had faced the issue with the first two meetings leading to postponements.

Last week, the developers hosted a meeting with citizens in an effort to win community support. But all of those who spoke at the June 28 hearing voiced opposition to the project, citing traffic problems, questions about city water and sewer availability and the impact of the project on the small Commerce City School System.

It is the largest residential project ever proposed for Commerce, something noted by those who spoke in opposition and by members of the planning board.

"It is large and it's more than what we've been used to in Commerce," said planning commission chairman Joe Leffew.

Leffew said he thought the project would bring quality homes to Commerce, but noted that it was obvious the public doesn't want it.

"Are we ready for that (high density)?" Leffew asked. "The community says 'no'; that's what I've heard tonight."

THE PROPOSAL

Under the project's proposal, the development would be built in five phases with 112 townhouses built first. Those are proposed to have 1,600 sq. ft. with a two-car garage and costing $240,000 and up.

Phase two would be 131 single-family homes of 1,800-2,600 sq. ft. costing $300,000 and up.

Phase three would be the community's amenity area, which calls for a pool, clubhouse, two pickleball courts, a community garden, playground, dog park and walking trails.

Phase four would be the remaining 175 single family homes of 2,000-3,200 sq. ft. each priced at $400,000 and up.

Phase five would be the development of 14.5 acres of around 10 commercial businesses.

The initial proposal called for over 600 homes in the development, but that was scaled-back following the first hearing before the planning board in April.

HEAVY HITTERS SPEAK

Among those who spoke in opposition to the project this week were Rep. Tommy Benton and Commerce school superintendent Joy Tolbert.

Benton said he and his sister own property neighboring the proposed development, property that is used for a cattle farm. He said he worried about what residents in the development would think about the odors coming from nearby farms like his.

Benton also echoed concerns about traffic, saying Hwy. 441 had been designated by the state as a "freight corridor" with a high speed limit.

"The DOT has no knowledge of this project," he said.

Benton noted that the state would not be putting a traffic light at the intersection of White Hall School Rd. and Hwy. 441.

Benton also questioned the potential cost to Commerce for infrastructure upgrades.

"It's going to mean more city services," he said.

Those cost money, he noted.

"I can tell the people here that taxes are going up," Benton said. "...I have never had my taxes go down because of growth."

Benton also commented on the likely impact of the development on Commerce schools. He questioned the developer's data that claimed the project would only add around 150 students to the school system.

That assertion was also questioned by superintendent Tolbert, who handed out a cost analysis sheet that indicated the school system would lose money for each house built if those homes have more than one child in the school system. Her data indicated that it cost around $2,200 to $2,500 in local property taxes for each student in the school system. A $400,000 house in the project would pay for one student, but not two students from the same household.

Overall, the average is 1.5 student per household, meaning the proposed project would add over 600 student to the system over time.

Tolbert said she agreed with the idea that Commerce needs additional housing.

"But I do not agree with the extent of this development," she said.

GROWTH COMING

Many of those who spoke in opposition to the proposed development said they know growth is coming to Commerce, but were opposed to the high density of this project. Several indicated they had moved to Commerce in recent years from other areas where rapid growth and high-density subdivisions had motivated them to leave for a more rural environment.

Lisa Farnham said her family had moved to Commerce three years ago from a similar subdivision development in Canton.

"They were horrendous," she said. 

Farnham said her previous experience in large subdivisions had been negative with traffic and crime problems.

"I'm floored that this is even on the agenda here," she said. "The is not Commerce; this is not why we moved here."

MORE PROJECTS

Commission member Andre Rollins, who voted against the motion to recommend denial of the project, said growth is coming to Commerce and that these kinds of residential projects aren't going away.

"We actually had another one on the agenda tonight, had it not been tabled," he noted.

That project is of similar size and design as the Cook proposal. It's on 162 acres on Ila Rd. and proposes 287 single-family homes and 194 townhomes. Action on that project was tabled by the commission pending further staff review.

The board also tabled action on a proposal for 64 towhomes on Waterworks Rd.

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