Redtail Ridge hits another stumbling block at Louisville Planning Commission

LOUISVILLE — The three-years-and-counting process of getting the Redtail Ridge project in Louisville off the ground has been anything but smooth for its developer, Brue Baukol Capital Partners LLC, and the hits kept coming Thursday night when the city’s Planning Commission opted not to support the firm’s application for a final plat on the site.

Rather than recommending approval by the Louisville City Council for the plat — a mechanism for setting the broad strokes of a development prior to the submission of more-specific development plans or a planned unit development — the board voted 3-2 to request that planning staff draft an ordinance of denial, which will specifically spell out the reasons the commissioners believe the proposal doesn’t meet Louisville’s standards and will be presented at a future meeting.

Commissioners Jeff Moline and Steve Brauneis voted against directing staff to draft the ordinance of denial. While it’s unclear whether the pair would have voted in favor of sending the plat application to Louisville City Council with a favorable recommendation if it were to have come to a vote Thursday, they were generally more optimistic about the merits of the Redtail Ridge project than some of their colleagues on the board. 

Ordinances of denial have been fairly rare occurrences in the Boulder Valley in recent years, but Thursday’s decision marks the second time this month that Louisville officials have employed the measure. 

Staff was directed to draft such a measure for Denver-based LCP Delo LLC, which was attempting to secure approval for a plan that would double the number of homes it had already received the go-head to build at the southeast corner of Griffith and Cannon streets.

“Bringing back a resolution of denial allows staff to draft language based on feedback from City Council during the hearing and present it to them for their consideration at the next meeting, rather than trying to draft new findings in the resolution during the hearing,” Louisville planning manager Lisa Ritchie told BizWest after the LCP Delo decision. 

The Planning Commission’s decision Thursday is just the latest in a series of setbacks for Brue Baukol, which bought the roughly 400-acre, long-vacant, former Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX) site off of U.S. Highway 36 in 2020 for $34.93 million.

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 property for a proposed clean-energy research park that was expected to generate 7,000 jobs, but the subsequent spinoff of Phillips 66 halted those plans, and the property was put up for sale.

Brue Baukol’s initial plans, which began taking shape in 2019 before the developer had secured the land, 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.

Brue Baukol brought forth a scaled-back plan, which was eventually approved last year by the Louisville City Council, which applied a dozen conditions to its approval to further limit the scope of the project. 

After Redtail Ridge’s plans were approved, Centura Health’s Avista Adventist Hospital confirmed that it is under contract to purchase land in the Redtail Ridge development for a new hospital on the site.

Almost immediately upon the city’s approval of Redtail Ridge, opponents of the project cried foul and set about gathering 780 signatures, nearly double the amount required by the city, for a petition to force the Louisville City Council to reconsider.

Rather than reversing its decision to approve the Redtail Ridge plans, the council opted to send the matter to the voters in an April special election.

In a result that surprised some observers, the project’s opponents prevailed, and the approved land uses on the site reverted to what was set forth in a 2010 ConocoPhillips development plan. 

That 2010 agreement allows for significant development on the site, however not as much as Brue Baukol previously envisioned.

Again, Brue Baukol pivoted, bringing on board Chicago-based Sterling Bay LLC and Harrison Street LLC to help turn Redtail into a 2.6-million-square-foot, commercial-only development with a focus on biotechnology facilities and more than 100 acres of public-space dedications.

Sterling Bay, as part of a July real estate transaction conducted by a series of holding companies, paid Brue Baukol nearly $128 million to help get the project off the ground. 

“Our vision for this campus is for the most innovative companies in the world to complete next-generation [life-sciences] and manufacturing facilities,” Brue Baukol senior vice president Jay Hardy told the Louisville Planning Commission Thursday. “The ability to bring a new home to Avista is an incredible opportunity, and we’re providing the second-largest public land dedication in the city’s history.”

Concerns from residents and commission members — mostly centering around flattening of the site, traffic, the size and location of public spaces, sustainability and economic viability — persist, however. 

Because of the property’s acreage and prominence, it serves as an unofficial “gateway for Louisville,” Planning Commission member Keaton Howe said, and must be evaluated holistically and thoroughly based on long-term impacts to the community at large.

“It feels like I’ve taken a bite of a huge apple and it’s hard to chew it up. There are so many details on so many levels,” he said. 

Not everyone at Thursday’s plat hearing opposed the project.

“This current plan only improves on earlier plans,” said Louisville resident and former member of the city’s Open Space Advisory Board Mike Schantz, which, he noted, were recommended for approval and ultimately approved by a series of elected and appointed bodies over the past several years. 

“Given that Avista has an agreement in place to purchase 40 acres at the Redtail site, it’s critical to support this project to provide a home to what will be a new state-of-the-art medical facility to the region.”

Seeming to sense what is likely to be frustration on the part of the developer over the prolonged and winding path Redtail has taken toward approval and groundbreaking, Moline said, “Everybody in this room wants what’s best for our town.”

Source: BizWest

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