Locals eager to speak out as Jefferson Parkway plans progress

On all sides of debate, community members get involved

Posted 8/1/19

When Arvada resident Brett Vernon learned the Jefferson Parkway project was moving forward, he began to learn as much as he could about the incoming road. The parkway, a roughly 10-mile toll road …

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Locals eager to speak out as Jefferson Parkway plans progress

On all sides of debate, community members get involved

Posted

When Arvada resident Brett Vernon learned the Jefferson Parkway project was moving forward, he began to learn as much as he could about the incoming road. The parkway, a roughly 10-mile toll road that would run southwest to northeast between state highways 93 and 128, will divide Vernon’s neighborhood of Leyden Rock in two.

Map of the proposed highway in hand, Vernon set out to learn just how far the road’s edge would sit from nearby houses. After positioning himself at the center of the road’s 300-foot-wide right-of-way, Vernon paced his way to what will be the edge of the road, and then to the houses. His findings: many of the houses would be 65 yards away from the road.

“I wanted to have some kind of input into how this parkway was going to go through our neighborhood,” he said.

MORE: Parkway Part I - The long-planned road

Vernon, who moved into the small community near Highway 93 west of Arvada in late 2014, became involved with the project as a member of the Jefferson Parkway Advisory Committee (JPAC), a citizen committee to make recommendations for the highway. He also helped establish a Leyden Rock community group called Neighbors of the Parkway.

The organizations have served as two of many groups that regularly communicate with the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA) and Arvada, Broomfield and Jefferson County leaders, hoping to determine the parkway’s future. From group to group, the answer on what that future should look like varies — with some praising the road’s potential to accelerate development, some criticizing it for safety and financial reasons and some caught in the middle.

“Neighbors of the Parkway wasn’t going to oppose it,” Vernon said. “That doesn’t mean we think it’s a great idea, but opposing it would be muddying our message of ‘we can build this right.’”

Residents make recommendations

Vernon, along with Ian Owens, Chris Woodley and other Leyden Rock residents, formed Neighbors of the Parkway to keep residents informed of parkway progress and ensure the community’s voice is heard throughout the project.

Vernon and his fellow members of the JPAC — which was created by the parkway authority to collect community input on the project — say they made several recommendations about the project’s design.

According to Vernon, JPAC has asked the authority board to include “maximum and creative sound mitigation” in the parkway’s design, such as sound-absorbing asphalt or berms, and a pedestrian bridge to connect the two divided portions of Leyden Rock, which would encourage residents to continue walking through the community.

“If people walk, they talk to each other,” Vernon said. “It creates community. These recommendations will maximize the benefit to our neighborhood.”

Voicing opposition

Just streets down from Vernon lives Jeff Staniszewski with the group Movement to Stop Jefferson Parkway.

“I became very much opposed to the concept,” Staniszewski said. “This affects a lot of people, and it’s an action the people will have no choice in.”

Through his group, Staniszewski keeps people informed about the road as they seek to put a stop to the project. He cited several reasons for his opposition, including concerns the project will stir up carcinogenic waste buried at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons site, just north of the Candelas and Leyden Rock areas.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has stated that construction of projects like the parkway, which will skirt the eastern side of Rocky Flats, will not pose a public health risk. But many residents and community organizations, such as the Rocky Flats Downwinders and Rocky Flats Right To Know, share in Staniszewski’s apprehensions that nearby residents will inhale potentially cancerous particles while the project is underway.

“There will be plutonium in that dust, and people will breathe it in,” claims Bonnie Graham-Reed, who has lived in Arvada for 40 years and co-founded Rocky Flats Right To Know. “This will be the biggest health impact on Arvadans since the plant was in operation. Why can’t we care about the precautionary principle and not build this highway?”

Opponents like Staniszewski also feel a more substantial study should be done to prove the toll road will pay for itself and will not require cities like Arvada to pay the difference.

He disapproved of Arvada city council members’ decision to move ahead with the project and continue funding its development in spite of opposition. He says he feels the city has ignored concern citizens, including himself.

When Staniszewski moved to his home in 2017, he was told by the homeowners the parkway would not be built, he said. Later learning the project would move forward, he went to a city council meeting to question why more had not been done to ensure incoming homeowners knew about the project. Staniszewski said the city never addressed this complaint.

“Folks will say ‘you should have known better,’” he said, “but it’s not a question of whether you knew or didn’t know. It’s a question of if you would want to be treated that way.”

Despite feeling like the city hasn’t been responsive, Staniszewski said the parkway authority itself has answered the more than 70 questions he has asked.

Debate continues

JPPHA chair and Arvada city council member David Jones said the city and the authority have worked to honor the community’s perspectives, including through the authority’s formation of JPAC.

“Rightly so, these neighbors are concerned,” he said, “and we have tried to work with them and understand all of those concerns.”

Jones has heard from a good number of citizens who will be affected by the new road, each with their own reasons for support or opposition.

“You hear a lot from the people who don’t want it,” he said, “and a lot from the people saying, `I can’t wait for the parkway to get here,’ because they currently use Northwest Parkway or C-470.”

Many supporters look to the economic gains specified in 2017’s Jefferson Parkway Economic Impact Study, produced by the JPPHA and Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation and prepared by independent consultant Development Research Partners. The study found the road would yield an economic benefit — which includes “construction activity, business, employees, and resident spending at study sites,” it said — of around $8.4 billion between 2018 and 2037. This includes a net fiscal benefit, which measures government revenues after government expenditures, of nearly $138 million.

More detailed parkway plans will eventually be available to the public on jppha.org, said authority communications manager Sheryl Machado. “We anticipate a release later this summer,” she said.

As the process continues, all sides said they planned to keep working toward their very different goals.

For the Movement to Stop Jefferson Parkway group, this means volunteering with city council campaigns for those opposed to the parkway, Staniszewski said. The group is also considering taking legal action, especially surrounding the potential danger of Rocky Flats waste, to stop the construction, he said.

“We speak out,” he said. “As long as there’s someone speaking out, the opposition will continue.”

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