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Erie’s I-25 Development Dreams Will First Require Massive Infrastructure Injection, Study Suggests

February 2, 2019
Traffic on Colo. 52 at Interstate 25 last month. A recent study conducted by consulting firm Ricker Cunningham analyzed roughly 2,400 acres along I-25 between Colo. 52 and Erie Parkway and found blighted land conditions will have to be addressed before Erie's I-25 development ambitions can take shape.

In order for Erie’s Interstate 25 development ambitions to take shape, the region’s blighted land conditions will first have to be addressed, likely necessitating the injection of hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure before any growth can be realized, a recent study suggests.

That report, conducted over the last year and a half by consulting firm Ricker Cunningham, analyzes the roughly 2,400-acre site along I-25 between Colo. 52 and Erie Parkway.

Among the site study’s more notable findings: The majority of the area, characterized primarily as vast vestiges of agricultural and open space land, lacks an adequate number of roads to support the coming development.

The roads that do exist are either deteriorating or unable to handle the coming influx of traffic, according to the study, which adds that “with the exception of county roads serving the major sections which comprise the area, there are few internal roadways or adequate points of access. Further, along with a lack of internal streets, there is a lack of lighting, sidewalks, parking areas or other similar facilities.”

Such inadequacies will require massive amounts of urban renewal funding to install the infrastructure if Erie hopes to attract the big-name businesses that have migrated to the corridor in neighboring cities.

The town wanted to “make sure that when Amazon four or five is ready to come to (Erie), we weren’t automatically ruled out from an economic development standpoint because we didn’t have any water, sewer or roads out to this site in the next five to 10 years,” Erie’s Economic Development Manager Ben Pratt told planning commissioners in December.

Needed road improvements could cost the town upward of $140 million over the coming years, according to a December presentation; sewer and waterline improvements could bring the total to nearly $180 million.

Per state urban renewal law, projects hoping to secure funding under the urban renewal designation must first meet a set of findings that determine whether the area is “being adversely impacted by factors contributing to blight.”

When most think of urban blight they picture dwindling downtowns or abandoned buildings, Anne Ricker of Ricker Cunningham said last year, suggesting the conditions of Erie’s vast agricultural reaches along I-25 are difficult to comprehend as blighted.

“Some of the most costly conditions of blight lie horizontally within land,” she told town planners in December. “Whether it’s environmental contamination, a lack of infrastructure, that can be utilities, water, sewer drainage, streets that are ineffective or unsafe. It’s really kind of interesting.”

That study also identified “unsanitary or unsafe conditions” on the site, stemming from environmental contamination at brownfield land near Erie Parkway and Weld County Road 7. Brownfield is a term applied to a property where “its expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

An environmental assessment was conducted for the site, referred to as the Erie Gateway, in 2000, and to-date, no efforts have been made to commence cleanup activities, the report states.

Erie leaders last capitalized on proximity to the development-poised corridor in October, when trustees approved a $6.375 million agreement to purchase 255 acres near the corner of I-25 and Erie Parkway.

The surprise purchase was heralded as an unabashed success for a town keen on expanding its commercial reach and revenue; land along I-25 is prized real estate, offering visibility and traffic that attracts large-scale retail development and, in turn, big sales tax returns.

More than 1.3 million people live within 20 miles of the I-25/Erie Parkway intersection, and the region is near a long-awaited Regional Transportation District commuter rail station. Surrounding communities Thornton and Westminster have installed massive shopping centers along I-25 access points in recent years.

According to the town’s I-25 and Erie Parkway final master plan — approved by trustees last fall — the roughly 11,000-acre region is slated to host large-scale retail and denser housing typical of such a corridor.

Plans for the area also could include mixed-use, urban-style office space.

The town first will need to address the site’s conditions before any of that can materialize, according to the recent study.

Among their findings, consultants also identified a “mix of vacant and unimproved tract and residential properties, along with agricultural and industrial facilities. Evidence of deterioration within properties and in public rights-of-way include the presence of damaged signs, unscreened trash and debris, crumbling and broken asphalt surfaces, and remnant infrastructure.”

Lastly, while the report concedes that vacant tracts of land are not uncommon along the fringes of a municipality; for Erie, with its dwindling opportunities for revenue-generating commercial development, the area’s continued dormancy could be detrimental to the region’s fiscal health.

“Further, given the fact that several parcels located west of the area have already developed or are beginning to develop,” the report states, “there is obvious support for investment in the market.”

That that hasn’t yet occurred within Erie’s portion of I-25 suggests the land’s current uses and blights serve as an “obstacle to development and redevelopment,” it adds.

Erie’s urban renewal authority and trustees are poised to convene on the I-25 urban renewal plan in the coming months.

Anthony Hahn: 303-473-1422, hahna@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/_anthonyhahn

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