By Jane Reuter
A pedestrian bridge with an 85-foot-tall metal leaf sculpture likely will become part of Lone Tree's skyline by late 2016. Though Council member Kim Monson wanted to delay approval of the project another month, the rest of the city council voted June 16 to approve the $6.8 million span over Lincoln Avenue.
The bridge would extend over Lincoln at Heritage Hills Circle, west of the Charles Schwab corporate campus and Bank of the West. It would connect the Willow Creek Trail, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to get from city amenities like RidgeGate's Lone Tree Arts Center and under-construction Lone Tree Library to north side gathering places like the Cook Creek Pool and Entertainment District.
"This will really create a north/south trail through the entire city," public works director John Cotten said. "We (already) have east-west trials. It gives us sort of the grid system we like to create in streets."
City leaders say the physical connection also will give the community a more cohesive, unified feel. They believe it will help ease any sense of division between RidgeGate, the still-building development south of Lincoln that annexed into the city in 2000, and the older areas.
About $3.5 million of the bridge's cost will come from other entities, including South Suburban Parks and Recreation, Douglas County Government, the Park Meadows Metro District, Coventry Development and Omni Park Metropolitan District.
Monson moved to approve funding to secure property needed for the project, but hold off on a vote on all other aspects of the project to allow more community outreach. Her motion died for lack of a second.
The city held four community meetings, a business owners' meeting, homeowners association and seniors' luncheon presentations and conducted a telephone town hall on the project. About 370 people attended a meeting or listened in on the town hall. Most indicated support for the pedestrian bridge, and most of those favored the leaf design over the simpler arch structure.
Lone Tree resident Fred Hammer is among those who support the leaf bridge.
"It's going to be used much more than people think," he said. "All in all, I think it's a wonderful project for the city. It has to be done now or it'll never be done. The land ... is not going to be for sale forever. I think they accomplished their goal in coming up with something that's functional but very attractive and doesn't block the view of the mountains."
Hammer also praised the city's community outreach and the proposed financing.
"It's really great we have at least three major partners stepping up to contribute over $3 million," he said. "It's all local money, too. These are not federal dollars. It's Lone Tree dollars being used for a Lone Tree project."
Monson doesn't believe enough people know about the project or understand the financial implications.
"I certainly understand the importance of connectivity and community," she said. "My concerns were only 1 percent of the population has weighed in on this particular project. I feel we needed to have further study.
"At the rate we're spending money in Lone Tree, our capital reserves fund - which is at $8 million - is projected to go to $108,000 by 2018. Then it'll start to build back up. If perhaps we would go into another economic downturn, those projections are going to change. I think people need to understand that."
Monson also noted Lone Tree residents pay taxes to almost all the other contributing entities.
City Manager Seth Hoffman said the current five-year capital plan shows the reserve may dip to about $108,000, but immediately builds back up in 2019 and 2020. It's a conservative projection that doesn't assume revenue increases or typical annual contributions from Park Meadows Metro District, Douglas County and other entities, he said.
"The five-year capital plan is just that - a plan," Hoffman said. "We look at it several times a year and can adjust it based on changing priorities or economic conditions."
Lone Tree will be spending a significant portion of its capital reserves in the next few years, Hoffman said, much of it toward the light rail extension.
"In general terms, our capital reserve is our savings account for capital projects ... so we have the money on hand to pay for big projects, such as the pedestrian bridge," he said. "Projections show that being drawn down because we do have some major investments we're making in the next few years. That's the reason for the savings account, to use it for these types of projects so we don't have to issue debt."
The capital plan reserve is separate from the operating reserves.