Real Estate & Construction  February 26, 2010

Berthoud subdivision to seek home-grown power

BERTHOUD – A proposed mixed-use subdivision in north Berthoud is touting a variety of innovative features, including a resident-owned solar farm to slash utility bills – and perhaps break new legal ground.

The 900-home Prairie Star is the brainchild of Boulder developer Scott Sarbaugh and his partner, Richard McCabe. If successful the development would offer a unique living space on a 190-acre site that straddles the U.S. Highway 287 Berthoud bypass.

“What occurred to us was a need to launch into a new age of development and (we) determined that Berthoud and this site would be on the cutting edge of that,” Sarbaugh said.

Seven years in the making, Prairie Star is entering its final approval process with the town of Berthoud. The subdivision features high-density residential, office and retail along with public areas and open space. A village center is at the heart of the pedestrian-friendly development, where off-center streets offer visual interest and minimize that grid feeling.

Also included in the site plan are an equestrian center, community garden, senior and recreation centers and a green-focused employment site. “We want to attract a forward-looking company that wants to take advantage of our solar farm,” Sarbaugh said.

The solar farm, which would ultimately include about 20,000 panels on 25 acres adjacent to the subdivision, is the most radical aspect of the Prairie Star plan. The goal is to create a net-zero energy community, Sarbaugh said. He added that Berthoud is in a unique position to offer a special municipal energy district for the development, because franchise agreements between the town and Xcel Energy and Poudre Valley REA expired in 2007.

“We’re in the process of structuring a municipal utility district and to provide energy as an investment to our homeowners,” Sarbaugh said, noting that each home and commercial site buyer would purchase ownership in the solar farm and then receive substantial savings on monthly energy bills.

Michael Hart, Berthoud town administrator, said the town is interested in doing what it can to help make the project work. “The city would probably have to host that (district). That’s a legal bridge none of us has crossed before.”

However, Mark Stutz, Xcel spokesman, said the utility does not believe such a district would be legal.

“What he wants to do can’t be done by law,” he said. “All utilities are given certified territories. No other public utility or group or individual can operate within that territory.”

Stutz said Xcel currently has the 190-acre Prairie Star site in its service area. “We have the right and duty to serve that area if it’s ever developed.”

Backup needed

Sarbaugh admits the solar farm could not provide all of the subdivision’s energy needs and would need a backup agreement with a utility provider.

Hart said that could be the “biggest obstacle” for the project as it’s now designed. “His difficulty is to find a utility backup for when the sun doesn’t shine,” he said.

Susan Perkins, an attorney representing Prairie Star, said that’s still being determined. “It’s not clear who would provide that,” she said. “But this could provide Xcel with a remarkable opportunity to provide energy-balancing service to a net-zero community. This would be a lovely way for them to partner with Prairie Star and Berthoud to create a real community of the future.”

Perkins cites state law that she says supports the concept of creating a municipal utility district, which has been done in other states but has virtually no track record in Colorado.

“The city (Berthoud) would need to be a strong ally and supporter, but the city wouldn’t be at any financial risk at all,” she said.

Hart said Berthoud is willing to try to make the project happen. “Right now, Berthoud welcomes any kind of commercial or retail activity. We missed the boat on the last economic boom, and now we’re trying to get ready and say we’re development friendly.”

Sarbaugh said Berthoud’s small-town charm, friendly people, gorgeous mountain views and location midway between Boulder and Fort Collins make it a perfect site for Prairie Star.

“We think it’s a sleeping gem that’s about ready to blossom,” he said. “We’re excited to be in Berthoud.”

Other articles from this issue:

A-B in talks with city about selling land

E-bike maker test drives Old Town shop

Eco-friendly burials take recycling to logical end

Green Summit set for April with new features, awards

PVHS starts on Water Valley medical fitness center

Riverwalk could also include ice arena

RMI2 welcomes three new companies

What’s next for NextMedia? Restructuring under Chapter 11

Who ya gonna call? Don’t worry about it

Why did the doctors cross the road?

BERTHOUD – A proposed mixed-use subdivision in north Berthoud is touting a variety of innovative features, including a resident-owned solar farm to slash utility bills – and perhaps break new legal ground.

The 900-home Prairie Star is the brainchild of Boulder developer Scott Sarbaugh and his partner, Richard McCabe. If successful the development would offer a unique living space on a 190-acre site that straddles the U.S. Highway 287 Berthoud bypass.

“What occurred to us was a need to launch into a new age of development and (we) determined that Berthoud and this site would be on the cutting edge of that,”…

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