Extinguishing some rumors on the Pillar of Fire land

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 9/25/19

The development proposal involving the 235 acres (“The Farm”) owned by the Pillar of Fire Church, which is for the most part between 84th and 88th avenues and between Lowell and Federal …

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Extinguishing some rumors on the Pillar of Fire land


The development proposal involving the 235 acres (“The Farm”) owned by the Pillar of Fire Church, which is for the most part between 84th and 88th avenues and between Lowell and Federal boulevards, is the largest single land ownership left in Westminster.

To better put it in perspective, there are approximately 1,066 acres left in Westminster available for development.

This is an ideal location with its wonderful view corridors and terrain. The land has a rich history as it is tied to the ill-fated Westminster University before World War I.

Obviously, our community gained its name from the university. Even back in the 1900’s, people involved with the establishment of the “Princeton of the West” knew there was a significant land development opportunity on the land owned by the Presbyterian Church.

With the demise of the university, it set the stage for the Pillar of Fire Church to purchase the main building and 40 acres of land for $40,000.

And now, it has set the stage for the current development proposal from Oread Capital Development.

Developer deliberate in their plans

As most readers of the Westminster Window know, Oread’s land development proposal has generated a lot of conversation and interest, some degree of angst among some neighbors in the area and speculation on the outcome of the developer’s proposal.

In case you were not aware, Oread planners and executives have been quite thorough and deliberate over the past two years in their due diligence and getting to know and understand the community. They are a Colorado-based firm which have planned and provided oversight on other large residential developments in Colorado.

In talking with them, I have been impressed with their knowledge and history of Westminster. Furthermore, their thought process on how to address home buying affordability for many who have been priced out of the market is downright smart.

Addressing the “Missing Middle” housing market

Even with mortgage interest rates at exceptionally low rates, owning a home is still beyond the reach of too many regular folks. Oread Capital has addressed this dilemma with its “Missing Middle” focus on house and lot sizes.

As I see it, the “Missing Middle” housing options would be like returning to the 1960’s in some ways when a lot of us purchased 1,000 square foot ranch model houses with unfinished basements on lots that were not overly generous.

The first two homes my family and I owned in Westminster were like that in the Appleblossom and Westminster Hills Subdivisions.

Today, such opportunities among new residential developments do not exist. What Oread is proposing would bring back some degree of affordability to couples and families which currently are forced to rent among the plethora of apartment complexes. I think that is exciting.

Addressing the facts

As Oread representatives have held community meetings way beyond what is required by the city, residents in the area have formed their own opinions about their plans.

With that comes rumors and speculation. There are some misstatements that I have heard floating around about the proposal which I would like to correct.

I am NOT a representative of Oread, the City of Westminster or any neighborhood group, but I am well informed and want the public to have the benefit of the facts.

Pillar Of Fire still owns the land

Rumor number one has to do with ownership of the property in question. I picked up the belief that Oread Capital has already purchased the land in question from the Pillar of Fire.

This is not true. Oread has an option to purchase the land which is quite normal in the land development business. There are various key decisions which the City Council will ultimately make which will tell the developer if the overall project is feasible from his business perspective.

Don’t expect City to purchase the land

The second rumor/myth bumping around has to do with the City of Westminster purchasing some or all of the 235 acres using its Open Space land acquisition program.

If you read my two previous op-ed columns, you know the city council does not have a focus to purchase hardly any additional open space. Furthermore, while I am not privy to the current price to purchase the land per the option, I can tell you that the last time a developer had an option on the same acreage approximately 10 years ago the price tag was $40 million.

Even if the city wanted to devote its entire annual $7.7 million in Parks, Open Space and Trails funds to acquire the land, it would consume at between five or six years’ worth of all Open Space funds. That is simply not in the cards. Nor should it be.

A timeline for final decisions is unknown

Rumor number three involves the timeline to get this large development to a final decision point by City Council. Such a plan takes numerous submittal reviews with comments, changes and negotiations. We all need to appreciate the magnitude of detail required in such a sizable endeavor by the developer.

There are a myriad of decisions to be made reflecting community input as well as many city requirements. Completing a set of plans for just the residential parcels (which is the bulk of the land uses) costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That cost does not cover detailed construction plans of the various house models which come subsequent to the overall development plan approval. While neither the city planning staff nor the developer can definitively say at this time when the plans would come before Planning Commission and City Council in respective public hearings, I would speculate that the proposal will not be decided yet this year.

“The Farm” has been unique in this suburban setting

The Pillar of Fire land has been unique for all these years with development surrounding their property on all sides. While the prominent redstone building on top of the hill and adjacent buildings remain to this day in unincorporated Adams County, the vast amount of farmland has been in the City of Westminster for more than 50 years. The farming of the land has been a unique, defacto open space for these many years.

And once again this year, watching the corn grow as we drive by each day is a special experience.

However, like every other property owner, the Pillar of Fire Church has the right to sell their land. Did you know that current city zoning would allow approximately 3,500 dwelling units? Oread Capital is seeking a reduction of 33% in density on some of the parcels to the extent that a total of 2,350 dwelling units are being requested for approval.

Perhaps, this is the right developer, the right time and right decision for a master planned site which would likely take 10-20 years to complete.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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