ERIE — Neither side appears to be closer to resolution in the border war between Erie and Lafayette, as stonewalling, accusations and rewriting history have become the order of the day.
“Lafayette launches a smear campaign against Erie under the guise of an ‘investigation,’ and most recently they have decided to expend their taxpayers’ dollars to test the limits of eminent domain in Colorado,” claims Fred Diehl, assistant to the Erie town administrator. “Bottom line is they just don’t want us to develop and have been throwing everything (including the kitchen sink) in our way to try to deter us.”
At the heart of the matter is Nine Mile Corner, on the southeast corner of U.S. Highway 287 and Arapahoe Road, which has both history and a history between the two municipalities.
Following World War I, members of the American Legion wanted to construct a gateway over Arapahoe, the main drag to Boulder before the construction of U.S. 36, and named it the “Road of Remembrance.” Today, two stone pillars remain at the intersection, named Nine-Mile Corner because that was the distance to Boulder.
While the Great Depression and another world war put many of the roadway plans aside, a lot has happened more recently to create a history between Erie and Lafayette.
When Erie annexed land at the northeast corner of the intersection before the turn of this century, which became the site of a strip mall anchored by a Safeway store, it kicked off what many feared would be a full-out annexation war. The Boulder County Commissioners helped work out an Intergovernmental Agreement between the two municipalities, which expired in 2014.
Before that occurred, however, Erie already had purchased Nine Mile Corner in 2012, using urban renewal funds and soon after announcing its intention to pull out of the Super IGA between Boulder County municipalities. While things may have been tepid between the municipalities since then, they heated up dramatically this spring.
“We believe that a substantial buffer between the municipalities is important,” said Lafayette Mayor Christine Berg. She noted that Erie has plans to become a city of as much as 60,000 residents, while Lafayette plans its city will be fully developed at 35,000.
“Erie and Lafayette have had very different visions on development for a decade,” she said. “I think, as the communities continue to grow, we’ll see there’s more of these things.”
Lafayette Beacon Hill residents, whose homes border the Nine Mile development, largely have thrown in the towel, believing that the development is inevitable.
“We will continue to press for consideration, just to hope that we can get consideration,” said Jeanne Stratton, one of the founders of Quality Lafayette in 2012, a group opposing the development of the property. “There are a lot of neighbors here who have some really hard feelings here, but the current (Erie) Mayor (Tina Harris) is not to blame for that. I think she is doing her best to balance the interests of everyone.”
While the Erie board has continued to say the property will be developed, there seems to be some consideration of at least some buffer between the mixed retail/residential development and Beacon Hill, including statements by the developer Erie has brought on board, Evergreen Development. Principal Tyler Carlson of Evergreen’s Denver office has said the center likely would have a grocer as an anchor tenant, but added that he also would be working with existing residents as a master plan develops for the 45-acre property.
While much of the press has cited Lafayette as being ready to use eminent domain as a tool to fight the Erie development, there is no mention of that in the resolution the board adopted. The attorney the town designated — John Putnam of Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell of Denver — actually refers to representing public interests on a “wide range of environmental, energy and transportation issues, including public utilities laws, the National Environmental Policy Act, air quality, climate change, noise, transportation regulations and natural resources,” on his web site.
Quality Lafayette studied the legality of using urban-renewal funds for the purchase and development of what was a rural property containing a drained reservoir and a horse farm,
“As it turns out, urban renewal is used in this way all across the state. They can find a crack in the sidewalk and call it blight,” Stratton said. “We looked at every angle we could find, but the law is complicated and, because they owned the reservoir, they were able to pull it off.”
In the early 2000s, Erie was called on eliminating wetlands here without replacing the lost resource, which ended in a minor fine but may have hastened the exit of the town administrator.
Stratton said she and her neighbors hope the lost wetland areas are addressed, along with concerns about drainage and possible flooding. But what has both Beacon Hills and some Erie residents — especially those in nearby Arapahoe Ridge — concerned is traffic.
Neither Erie nor Lafayette has specifically addressed traffic concerns on Arapahoe and Baseline roads, although significant concerns already exist without adding another shopping center to the mix. Both municipalities have said they are working with the Colorado Department of Transportation, although Berg noted that Boulder County wants nothing to do with expanding the two-lane Arapahoe Road between U.S. 287 and Colorado Highway 42.
If keeping a separation between the two municipalities was so important, why didn’t Lafayette or Boulder County move to purchase the property? Neither Lafayette officials nor county Open Space Director Ron Stewart returned calls on the matter.
Lafayette also is moving ahead with more plans on the western side of 287 along Arapahoe, which Diehl said is inconsistent with seeking rural preservation — perhaps only seeking preservation where Erie can develop. He cited emails between Boulder County Commissioner Cindy Domenico and Lafayette City Manager Gary Klaphake as pointing to possible collusion between the two organizations, although these emails started well after Erie had purchased the property and mostly continued after Erie decided to opt out of the IGA.
“Lafayette wanted out — but they didn’t want Erie to opt out because that would leave us free to compete for commercial/retail opportunities along 287,” wrote Diehl in an email.
“The fix was in. The county knew Lafayette was leaving but never bothered to tell Erie because they wanted Erie to continue to be restrained by the Rural Preservation restrictions.”
Meanwhile administration members of Lafayette and Erie haven’t met in several years, although elected officials seem to be less onerous about the situation.
“Certainly I’m optimistic. There has to be a resolution to everything,” Berg said. “How that transpires, I guess, is the big question.”