As Colorado Springs' population rockets toward the half-million mark, long-anticipated developments are slated to transform tens of thousands of acres of prairie on the city's eastern side into suburban sprawl.
The biggest of these projects, Banning Lewis Ranch -- a 24,000-acre colossus near Falcon that's expected to increase the city's size by at least a quarter -- grabbed headlines again this week when City Council postponed construction approval. Wrangling continues over how much the developer will pay for utilities and city services.
But Banning Lewis is just one crest in the wave. A row of other huge projects flanks Banning Lewis in El Paso County, including a large new satellite community east of Falcon called Santa Fe Springs.
"You can't go much to the north, you can't go much to the west, you can't go much to the south," says Wayne Williams, an El Paso county commissioner. "So growth goes east."
This pressure comes from an unwillingness to increase urban density, he says. "Nobody's really in favor of higher density near their house."
The market for creating new subdivisions out east is red-hot, with home construction, sales and prices reportedly setting new records in 2005.
According to El Paso County Development Services planner Carl Schueler, these are the major projects lining up to join Banning Lewis in transforming the plains (listed from north to south):
Falcon Hills expansion. Some 1,000 homes are expected to be added to this 1,200-acre development a few miles north of Falcon.
Santa Fe Springs. Project includes 5,400 homes on 6,420 acres east of Falcon.
Meridian Ranch. Starting at the corner of Meridian Road and Stapleton Drive, 2,650 acres could welcome 3,200 homes.
Woodmen Hills expansion. A 2,500-home development bordering Meridian Ranch to the south is partially complete.
Rolling Hills Ranch. Currently only a sketched plan, it would bring as many as 8,500 units.
Lorson Ranch. Plans call for 6,750 homes on nearly 1,400 acres east of Fort Carson.
All except Rolling Hills have been met with some degree of county approval, Schueler says.
Still, much of the growth is contingent on the availability of water resources, leading growth watchdogs to beseech city and county leaders to proceed with caution. Banning Lewis Ranch, for example, likely will require the city to build the controversial Southern Delivery System, a major water pipeline from the Pueblo Reservoir.
Outside of the city, a chorus of citizens says there simply isn't enough water underground.
"Our concern is that there's a big difference between water rights and water availability," says Fred Herman, president of Protect Our Wells, a group that advocates for private well owners.
"We're solving the water problems," maintains Ray O'Sullivan, land owner and project manager for Santa Fe Springs.
Once water is pumped up, he says, it will be treated and used twice in homes, first for human consumption and then, through a separate tap, for irrigation. O'Sullivan says the project also will stand out from typical suburban sprawl because it will be 50 percent open space with "huge trail corridors."
Commissioner Williams says developers have to meet a strenuous water availability test, and that many of these new developments are paying a high share of costs for sorely needed road improvements out east.
-- Dan Wilcock