LOUISVILLE — Louisville voters sent a resounding message to Denver-based developer Brue Baukol Capital Partners LLC Tuesday evening when they voted to reject the company’s previously approved plans for the ambitious but controversial Redtail Ridge mixed-use project.
Despite a momentous fundraising disadvantage, thanks in large part to sizable in-kind donations of marketing and advertising services from Brue Baukol, opponents of the project succeeded in drawing 3,816 voters to the polls Tuesday, compared with 3,450 votes in favor of maintaining the land-use designations put in place last year by a split vote of the Louisville City Council, unofficial election results from the Louisville City Clerk’s office show.
So where does Brue Baukol — which has already spent $34.93 million for the site, untold thousands of dollars more on planning and lobbying efforts, and more than two years of sweat equity on the project — go from here?
Assuming those results are certified, the zoning of the roughly 400-acre, long-vacant, former Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX) reverts to a set of land uses, known as the the ConocoPhillips Campus General Development Plan 1st Amendment, that was approved by city leaders a dozen years ago.
“From the beginning, our commitment to the community and our investors has been to plan and deliver the very best project that we can. We are obviously disappointed that residents have rejected the superior sustainability and open space standards contained in the Redtail Ridge plan,” Brue Baukol said in a statement provided to BizWest through a spokesperson. “We will respect the will of the voters and, and therefore, we will not seek further zoning adjustments or amendments. Our next step will be to initiate the public review process with Planning Commission and City Council in order to redevelop this land according to the ConocoPhillips general development plan that was approved in 2010.”
In essence, Brue Baukol will be playing by a set of land-use rules that are more restrictive on the total number of square feet that can be built, but the company will no longer be beholden to certain open space and sustainability concessions it made during the now-overturned development plan approval process.
Redtail Ridge encompasses more than 400 acres along U.S. Highway 36 and Northwest Parkway. The site once housed Storage Technology Corp., which sold to Sun Microsystems Inc. in 2005 for $4.1 billion. Sun was acquired by Oracle Corp. (NYSE: ORCL) in 2010, and employees were shifted to Broomfield.
ConocoPhillips had acquired the site for a proposed clean-energy research park that was expected to generate 7,000 jobs. The zoning designation that the property has now reverted to reflects these prior ambitions for a research park.
Before the park could be built, a subsequent spinoff of Phillips 66 halted those plans, and the property was put up for sale.
Brue Baukol initially sought to turn the parcel into a 5.22 million-square-foot live-work development anchored by a new corporate campus for medical-device maker Medtronic Inc. and a roughly 1,500-home senior-living community operated by Erickson Living LLC. Additional planned components included offices, retail space and apartments.
Medtronic skipped town for a nearby site in Lafayette, and locals spoke out against the housing portion of the project, arguing that thousands of new residents would strain city resources and exacerbate traffic congestion.
Those concerns have remained pervasive for opponents of the project.
“In this election, Louisville voters chose to stand up for our values, our small-town character and reject the Redtail Ridge Master Plan,” opposition group Citizens for a Vibrant, Sustainable Louisville told BizWest in an emailed statement Tuesday night. “This plan was too big and would have brought too much traffic to our town. Citizens for a Vibrant, Sustainable Louisville look forward to re-setting the process and working towards a right-size development that preserves more land.”
In an attempt to assuage community concerns, Brue Baukol went back to the drawing board more than a year ago and brought back a scaled-back plan, which was eventually approved last year by the Louisville City Council, but only after the board applied a dozen conditions to its approval to further limit the scope of the project.
The approval allowed the developer to build as much as 3 million square feet of office, industrial and flexible-use buildings.
Now, that approval is no more.
Under the ConocoPhillips GDP, Brue Baukol has the right to build certain types of commercial buildings that can total up to 2.56 million square feet.
One type of building that is not permitted by right under the existing zoning: a hospital.
That could create a problem for Louisville leaders as one of the city’s key employers, Centura Health’s Avista Adventist Hospital, has signaled its intent to relocate and named Redtail Ridge as its primary target. The hospital even said last month that it has begun contract negotiations with Brue Baukol to acquire a portion of the site.
Officially, the hospital remained neutral in the special election, but Avista Adventist Hospital CEO Isaac Sendros donated $500 to the campaign of a pro-Redtail Ridge lobbying group.
The hospital’s options now are: continue moving forward with the plan to relocate to Redtail Ridge, which would require an additional zoning change from the city; or seek a new location for the hospital.
“We are looking at opportunities within the Louisville community to enhance our hospital, address our growing community’s health and wellbeing needs, and ensure our hospital is convenient and accessible to our neighbors and patients,” Avista said last month.
Centura spokesman Kevin Massey said last month that “if the referendum passes, the development will include land zoned for a hospital. If it fails, we would be willing to explore obtaining the appropriate zoning approval with the city directly.”
Should Brue Baukol follow through with its plans to build the project under the 2010 land-use standards, the developer could eschew more than half of the 93 acres of permanent open spaces and parks it had agreed to as part of the overturned approval negotiations.
The developer will also no longer be required to generate at least 3 megawatts of solar power on site, nor will buildings have to achieve certain LEED certification thresholds.
Other transportation improvements previously agreed to by Brue Baukol will also no longer be required.