After nine public meetings, spirited campaigns pro and con and a vigorous debate across town, Superior's leaders early Tuesday, Aug. 20, approved the Superior Town Center -- a controversial mixed-use development slated for one of the last prime real estate parcels in town.

The 6-1 vote came shortly past 1 a.m. after an often lively hearing in Superior Town Hall that nearly ground to a halt when the developer, Ranch Capital LLC, and the Board of Trustees got temporarily hung up on a legal issue that was resolved after a round of phone calls to attorneys.

Otherwise the trustees spent most of the evening peppering Ranch representatives with detailed questions about the 1,400-home community -- with a town square, recreational and athletic fields, up to half a million square feet of commercial space, possible new civic buildings and road connections to the rest of town -- at the southeast corner of U.S. 36 and McCaslin Boulevard.

The meeting room was packed Monday evening, with the town hall's foyer acting as overflow for the crowd of about 100. Public comment was not permitted, but about 50 people were still in the room when the early morning vote was cast.

"Ever since the development of Rock Creek, I think tonight is the most important decision we've made in the last 20 to 25 years," said Trustee Elia Gourgouris, who voted in favor. "Tonight's vote will have a huge impact on the next 20 years in Superior."

Trustee Sandy Pennington, who was perhaps the most dogged in forcing the developer to answer questions and explain discrepancies, said she felt now is the time for the long-sought development of Superior's town center.

"If we don't proceed with it, we will have missed our timing," she said.

But Trustee Lisa Skumatz, the lone board member to cast a no vote, said the project was too heavily residential and was not the best the town could have courted.

"It's an okay development, but it's not the right development, it's not the best development," she said. "We can do better."

Culmination of months of debate

The vote brought to an end a contentious and drawn-out process that has spanned multiple public meetings, one of which had to be held in Monarch High School because of space limitations at Superior Town Hall. Two distinct camps developed and elected leaders were besieged with hundreds of emails.

The 157-acre Superior Town Center was first proposed in March by Ranch Capital, and immediately ran into opposition from those who felt it was primarily focused on bringing more housing to the town instead of additional commercial and retail opportunities. They also decried Ranch's design for a town center, claiming that the 1.2-acre site bounded by stacked retail and residential buildings isn't the kind of public gathering space that will attract residents from all parts of town.

Much debate was also had over the wisdom of allowing Ranch Capital to pursue tax increment financing, which uses sales and property tax revenues generated by new development at the site to pay for roads and utilities, as a funding mechanism for the project. The board considered a separate resolution Monday specifically concerning the implementation of tax increment financing through the Superior Urban Renewal Authority, but tabled a vote on it until its next meeting on Aug. 26.

Backers of the center, who wore matching dark green T-shirts proclaiming their allegiance to the project, said the $700 million proposal is an elegant and well-planned neighborhood that will inject much-needed diversity into Superior's housing mix, which is primarily made up of single-family detached homes. Ranch Capital is calling for urban style cottages, townhomes and urban villas in Superior Town Center -- units that top out at 2,500 square feet.

There's also the likelihood two hotels, with a combined 375 rooms, will be part of the center's buildout along with space for civic buildings and a Pearl Street Mall-style walkable promenade, surrounded by restaurants and boutique stores. The project would also be home to a two-sheet Boulder Valley Ice facility and a four-story medical complex.

Proponents point out that Superior has been trying to figure out what to do with the town center site for at least 15 years and Ranch Capital is the first developer that put a realistic proposal, with hard and fast costs and a financing plan, in play.

The town calculates Superior Town Center will generate $3.9 million in revenues for Superior annually while costing it $1 million a year. Overall, the town projects that it would take in more than $100 million over 25 years as a result of the project being built and allow its utility operations -- which now have to be subsidized from the general fund to the tune of $1.5 million annually -- to become self-sufficient.

The trustees have gone back and forth with Ranch on the smallest details of the project over the last few weeks, with the developer making changes to the original plan to satisfy the board.

Parking, commercial space

Trustees spent part of the evening discussing the amount of parking that would be available in the town center core. Trustee Sandy Pennington said Ranch's parking ratios -- ranging from just over one space for a one-bedroom unit to 1.35 spaces for a two-bedroom unit -- were lower than what the town code requires and risked endangering the attractiveness of the project.

"The core is significantly underparked," she said. "We need to deal with these big issues that can make or break the enjoyment of the town center for both the resident and the visitor."

Trustee Elia Gourgouris agreed, saying inadequate parking would be the "worst thing" for Superior Town Center.

"If people are frustrated driving up and down looking for a space, there are other places they can go," he said.

Ranch's director of real estate, Randy Goodson, said the proposed parking ratios are based on voluminous research for a transit-oriented development like Superior Town Center, where many residents will be young professionals and empty-nesters with only one car. Even so, Goodson said he'd be willing to push up parking ratios in the town center core slightly to ameliorate the board's concerns.

Another discussion point Monday was Ranch's proposal to restrict 25 percent of the ground-level space in the town core for commercial use. Several trustees urged Ranch to increase that proportion, but Goodson said a higher threshold could risk leaving the town center with vacancies. There is now 80,000 square feet of retail -- consisting of 30 to 40 shops and eateries -- planned for the town square, Goodson said.

Mayor Andrew Muckle warned his colleagues that upping the amount of required commercial space in the core could land the town in the same trouble it finds itself in with Superior Marketplace, where empty storefronts sit side by side, especially in interior buildings.

Ranch Capital CEO Larry Hershfield said his team hopes to start work on Superior Town Center in the next few weeks. The first phase will include building the Boulder Valley Ice facility and the medical complex, known as Cornerstone, by late next year. Then Ranch will begin to construct homes, followed by the town square.

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