Wheat Ridge subdivision planned for east end; tension likely with hopes of new flying mission at Malmstrom

The tension between economic development and protecting the airspace around Malmstrom Air Force Base is likely to tighten as a new proposal works through the city process.

A request for annexation of 20 acres behind the east side Walmart has been submitted to the city. The action would also include a planned unit development zoning.

The plan for the first phase of what’s been dubbed Wheat Ridge goes to the city planning board on Feb. 27. The first phase includes plans for 37 single family lots and three mixed use lots.

The proposal will likely go before the City Commission for a first reading at their second March meeting and a public hearing in April. If approved, developers say construction could start as early as this fall.

Most of the first phase is not in the Accident Prevention Zone identified in the Joint Land Use Study with the Air Force, but the land to the south is just outside the clear zone and mostly within the APZ off the Malmstrom runway. Much of that area is included in plans for later phases of Wheat Ridge.

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Roughly 200 acres are included in the larger master plan for Wheat Ridge, but outside of the first phase, those plans are preliminary. The land is currnely owned by Kyso Corporation, or Dan Huestis.

Spencer Woith, one of the developers, told Neighborhood Council 5 on Monday that the plan is for larger lots to accommodate larger homes with views of the mountains to the west.

NC 5 voted unanimously to support the Wheat Ridge proposal.

Woith said they are working with the city to address issues related to infrastructure and especially stormwater for the larger development area.

Woith said that when they started plans for the area in 2005, there was discussion of a southern arterial. That road loop seems to be shelved for now, but Woith said they were designing 57th Street South as a wider than usual main street through the development and in a way that could connect with a southern arterial if it materialized in the future.

Since the developers are requesting annexation, they will bear the cost of extending utilities to the development.

But extending city services further is a concern to city officials, especially in terms of public safety, said Tom Micuda, deputy city planning director.

The fire department continues to be strained as they have to cover more ground without similar growth in their staffing or stations.

Another city concern is storm water since there are already issues in that area and the city is dealing with litigation related to flooding in the Gibson Flats area.

City officials are also worried about the potential noise from C-130 and helicopter operations at the base and its impact to the proposed residential development, Micuda said.

That area has been tricky and development has been stalled for years, in part due to market forces, but in part due to a reluctance on the part of city and county officials to allow development there and risk a future flying mission.

The city has notified both Malmstrom and the 120th Airlift Wing of the proposed development.

For at least two decades, the conversation has been the same, but so far, no flying missions have been added since the KC-135 tanker mission left and the runway was deactivated in 1997.

In a statement to The Electric, Malmstrom officials said, “the Air Force does not have any plans to reactivate our runway.”

The 120th of the Montana Air National Guard has been using the area for cargo drop training and is working on plans to develop an assault landing zone there for training. Those are unimproved runways and critical to C-130 training since crews often land in areas with limited or nonexistent aviation facilities. The unit has been developing such a landing zone at the airport, but is hoping to expand training facilities for their unit and C-130 units throughout the country.

There is no timeline for when that landing zone will be developed at Malmstrom, but “we are continuing to evaluate an environmental assessment supporting this concept,” according to the Air Force statement to The Electric.

The Air Force did mention some concerns in its response to The Electric.
“Light pollution from the proposed development may impair the ability to monitor our aircraft in formation during nighttime operations and aircraft noise can pose a nuisance to the proposed development’s residents,” according to the Air Force.