What if …Highlands Ranch got it right? 37 years and counting for the biggest (and best?) Colorado PUD

APA Colorado Chapter


Thursday, October 5, 2017
10:30 a.m. - noon MDT

CM | 1.50

Add to My Log


In 1996, National Geographic published an article that sharply criticized growth along the Colorado front range, in particular the sterile suburban development patterns evidenced by Highlands Ranch in northern Douglas County.   As one of the largest PUD’s in the country approaches final buildout, this session will examine how Highlands Ranch was able to overcome its early profiling to become a vibrant, diverse, sought-after community to 100,000 Colorado residents - intent on staying in “The Ranch.”

Learning Objectives

The most important factors in successful large-scale, new community planning as evidenced by the Highlands Ranch experience.

  1. The differing, but complementary, roles played by the Master Developer, Metropolitan District, Homeowners Association, and Douglas County Planning.
  2. How to recognize and facilitate “good” suburban form and function.
  3. Strategies that respond to emerging trends in retail, housing, and employment markets.
  4. Effective use of use of readily available mapping tools (ArcGIS online) to provide visual context for a planning area or timeframe.


  1. Intro –  Highlands Ranch Background

·         Who, What, Why, When, How - it all started

·         What is it? (zoning, governance, demographics, basis facts – the biggest and fastest growing)

·         Early criticisms – monotony of design, loss of wildlife habitat, accelerated use of scarce water resources,  diminishing open space, lack of supporting activities and use mix, overbuilt infrastructure, reliance on automobile and lack of pedestrian connections

  1. Development over time  - Markets and Milestones

·         Walking through the decades of development

·         Growth – uses, rate, and pattern

·         Milestone projects (including discussion of economic and demographic impetus) - residential mix, major employers, Town Center/Town Center North, Brownstones and Civic Park, Backcountry, OSCA open space and east/west regional trail, Highlands Ranch Mansion, Park Central Mixed Use, Children’s and UC Health Hospitals, Highlands Ranch Mansion

  1. The Foundation for Success

·         Commitment to the Community Vision and PUD Plan (and role of County’s Comp Plan)

·         The Players - their initial and evolving interests and roles (Master Developer, Metro District, Homeowners’ Association, Douglas County)

·         Ability to adapt and flex (respond to market, regulatory, environmental, water, lifestyle changes) – designs, uses, housing types

·         Infrastructure and water investments

  1. What’s to Love – why 100,000 residents choose to stay within the community

·         Video testimonies from various citizens and business owners

·         Focus on rec center system, extensive open space and trail network, schools, public safety, retail and employment, housing diversity

·         Community Association governance model  - pros and cons

  1. What about water?  - Early aquifer recharge and renewable water acquisitions to reduce groundwater supply, water budgets, change in project designs (early LID), and landscape approaches
  2. The Latest – What’s next

·         Redevelopment of older commercial centers

·         The final centerpiece - Park Central Mixed Use (small lot single family, restaurant focus, hospitals and health care, public safety)

  1. Conclusions

·         Successes, missed opportunities, future challenges for Highlands Ranch

·         Most significant findings and applicability to other communities

·         The future of the large master planned community


  1. Question and Answer Period

Methodologies  and Technologies to be used to convey the session information

Panel members include representatives from those most intimately involved in the development of Highlands Ranch – the Master Developer (Shea Properties), Metropolitan District (Highlands Ranch Metropolitan District), and Douglas County (Community Development).  ArcGIS StoryMap (Spyglass and Swipe) will provide the graphic framework for the session to illustrate growth and development over the years and to highlight specific projects. Video, photos, article quotes, charts and other graphics will be integrated into the PowerPoint presentation.  Presenters will have a coordinated approach to the topic, focusing on each one’s area of expertise and perspective of development within Highlands Ranch  Panel members will engage in more back and forth discussion on specific topics, rather than sequential, separate presentations.  

CM Criteria:

1.The session materials, outline, speakers and format are designed to specifically address the planning objectives as outlined – to overview and evaluate one of the largest and most important planned community’s in Colorado as it now approaches final buildout (97%+).  Each panelist represents one of more of the interests in the development of Highlands Ranch over the last 37 years. Panelists are not promoting any business interest.  The public, quasi-public, and private sector presenters will provide for a balanced evaluation of the topic.

2.  The session will be led by local experts in the subject matter who have been directly involved in aspects of the Highlands Ranch development over many years, including:  planning, zoning, subdivision, site planning, construction management, sales and marketing, service provision, water development, park and open space management, community outreach, covenant control, design review, and local governance.  Panelists hold various professional degrees and certifications within their fields.  The session panelists will provide an integrated presentation focused on the key learning objectives.  ArcGIS StoryMap tools will be used to provide a visual context to and framework for the presentation, in addition to PowerPoint. Audience feedback, including sufficient time for questions and answers will be solicited.  No proprietary information will be presented or used.  The timing of the proposed session is consistent with the 1.5 CM credits offered for a 90-minute session.


3. The Colorado APA manages the state planning conferences and its CM credit component.  The session educators will keep a record of session attendance (as necessary), offer a course evaluation tool to session attendees (as necessary), and provide contact information in accordance with CM administration requirements.


Jeanette Bare, AICP

Confirmed Speaker

Name Jeanette L. Bare Certifications, Licenses, etc. American Institute of Certified Planners Title, Company/Organization Planning Manager, Current Planning Planning Services Division, Douglas County Department of Community Development Email Address jbare@douglas.co.us In her role as Planning Manager for the Douglas County Department of Community Development, Jeanette oversees ... Read More

Caitlin Zeiler

Confirmed Speaker

Caitlin Zeiler Senior Planning Technician Department of Community Development Douglas County Colorado As a Senior Planning Technician, Caitlin is responsible for the processing of development applications and the employment of ArcGIS tools for data management and mapping for the Douglas County Department of Community Development. She has witnessed the evolution ... Read More

Jeff Case

Confirmed Speaker

Jeff Case is the Director of Public Works for the Highlands Ranch Metropolitan District and Centennial Water and Sanitation District. He holds a civil engineering degree from Colorado State University and is a register Professional Engineer. He first worked in Highlands Ranch in 1981 as a Project Engineer before taking ... Read More

Curtis Weitkunat, AICP

Confirmed Speaker

In his role as Long Range Planning Manager for the Douglas County Department of Community Development, Curt oversees the County’s comprehensive master plan, planned developments, and zoning projects including Highlands Ranch. He has spent time as a substitute social studies teacher and a national park ranger before focusing on ... Read More

Dave Vasquez

Confirmed Speaker

David Vasquez has worked more than 35 years in the real estate development business, including land development, vertical construction, and sales & marketing. David has experience in surveying, planning, entitlement, engineering, and construction management that is both diverse and encompasses many engineering disciplines. He has successfully dealt with severe construction constraints ... Read More

Contact Info

Shelia Booth, sbooth@apacolorado.org