It’s a vista seen by thousands of people a day: The metro area, rather suddenly, opens up wide and flat as eastbound travelers hurtle through the final twists and turns of Interstate 70 into Golden.
The unique geography where the Rocky Mountains meet the plains — a view enjoyed by millions of skiers, tourists and travelers every year — is seen by many as the primary gateway into Denver from the west. It’s also now threatened, nearby residents say, by a businessman’s efforts to build an RV dealership and self-storage facility on a 25-acre site perched at the southeast corner of the I-70/C-470 interchange.
“Instead of seeing Green Mountain and the Dinosaur Ridge hogback, you’d see a concrete structure surrounded by blacktop and chain link fences,” said Rob Perlman, who lives in the Mesa View Estates neighborhood at the base of Green Mountain.
“It’s a big window that opens up as you come down that last part of I-70,” said Perlman, who joined more than 100 of his neighbors at a community meeting last week to oppose the proposed development. “It finally opens up, and you have this beautiful view.”
The objections from Perlman and others came with familiar reasons: the additional traffic, bright lighting and excessive noise the project might bring to surrounding neighborhoods. But others gave voice to the idea that the site, known as Golden Overlook, is in the middle of the windshield for motorists descending from the mountains into the city — whether it’s their first trip down the hill or their thousandth.
Perlman acknowledged that the area in and around Golden is by no means pristine today, but he said the site in question is at a higher elevation — and thus much higher-profile — than a lot of the existing commercial properties in the area.
“It would be an eyesore stuck in your center view,” he said.
The battle over Golden Overlook reflects the larger fight on the Front Range over relentless population growth and the question of where to put the future homes and stores needed to serve Colorado’s newly arrived. The preservation of views, usually mountain vistas, has become a major battle cry in the face of ever taller buildings going up around the metro area.
In the Rooney Valley, which stretches down the west side of the metro area from Golden to Littleton, confrontations over proposed development have generated headlines. Just last year, a large contingent of neighbors rallied in front of the Jefferson County government building to denounce a developer’s plan to bring car dealerships to the intersection of C-470 and West Alameda Parkway, just a mile south of Golden Overlook.
They were successful, with the county commissioners voting to keep car lots out of the area.
Opposition to a proposed residential development on 300 acres in Morrison has garnered more than 1,000 signatures on a Change.org petition, which features a plea to “stop over-development in Rooney Valley.”
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Lisa Merz has lived in Mesa View Estates for more than a decade. She said there are places in and around Denver that need special attention because of where they are located and what they mean in the larger context. She counts the Golden Overlook site, with Green Mountain as a backdrop, as one of them.
“There are certain areas that everyone agrees should have thoughtful development,” she said.
But the question of who gets to decide which areas deserve extra consideration is one that’s difficult for cities like Golden to negotiate, said planning manager Rick Muriby. The city, he said, has to be fair to the property owner, who in this case is playing by the rules in asking to change the zoning on the land from residential to commercial.
Golden Overlook is owned by Jim Blumenthal, president of RV dealership Trailer Source. He didn’t return several requests for comment from The Denver Post.
“There’s no legal justification (in Golden) for blocking something because of the view you may have,” Muriby said. “The city has to be reasonable in its approach.”
Over the next few weeks, the city will review the application for the project before it goes before Golden’s planning commission and city council for a decision on its future. Muriby said while Golden has to abide by its statutes and codes in evaluating projects, it doesn’t have to entirely ignore aspects like aesthetics and compatibility when setting conditions for approvals.
“We would look at the impact to the hillside,” he said.
At last week’s community meeting, several people brought up the possibility of converting the land to open space. But Muriby said Golden doesn’t have a dedicated fund for open-space purchases and that the site is “not high-quality open space” because of the noise generated along the heavily used I-70/C-470 interchange.
“It’s not a place where you would want to relax,” he said.
Other neighbors discussed the possibility of taking their concerns to the ballot box in the form of a measure that would halt a rezoning. The parcel’s current residential zoning designation allows the construction of up to 92 homes, but the city said because of highway noise, that’s been a difficult pitch to homebuilders.
Perlman said he and his fellow residents aren’t trying to take an obstructionist “not in my backyard” stance in regards to the proposal, but they do want a voice in what eventually ends up getting built on the highly visible site.
“We’re here not to say ‘Do not do anything’ — we’re here to say ‘Do the right thing,'” he said.