Thornton Topgolf put on hold in zoning dispute after judge rules council abused its authority

Judge rules in favor of neighbors
Posted at 4:04 PM, Jul 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-05 22:54:22-04

THORNTON, Colo. -- Topgolf's second Colorado location, in Thornton, has been put on hold after a judge ruled in favor of neighbors that the land is not zoned properly for the project.

It's a success story for a group of neighbors who banded together to stop the project they felt would be a bad fit for their community.

"You can't change the rules in the middle of the game," said Thornton homeowner Sandy Steigerwald, who lives across the street from the proposed Topgolf location.

Topgolf wanted to turn the land directly behind some homes at the corner of I-25 and 136th Avenue into a 65,000 square-foot golfer's paradise.

Neighbors have always worried about the bright lights and late hours, but Steigerwald said they also knew the land wasn't zoned right.

"The fault really should go to city council because they, in my opinion, tried to put something through despite the zoning," she said.

Steigerwald also said they presented their zoning concerns directly to council during the public hearing for the project, but said the concerns were essentially ignored.

Following that meeting, a homeowner who lives in the neighborhood filed a lawsuit.

At the center of the issue is the definition of a "private recreation center."

Topgolf argued you must buy a membership to play at its facilities, making it a private venue allowed under the city's business park zoning. Thornton City Council agreed by issuing a permit to build the project.

"They were manipulating us," said homeowner Joe Martinez.

The Adams County judge ruled, "The Thornton City Council abused its discretion in approving Topgolf's permits," and found Topgolf is not a private venue.

"We're pleased about the ruling here, but we still hope that Topgolf goes in somewhere up north," said Steigerwald.

This isn't the first time neighbors have fought back and won. More than a decade ago, they stopped a Walmart from being built in the same spot.

"It was kind of forced down our throat too -- Walmart -- but we did our research," said Martinez.

Martinez said the neighborhood knows at some point the land will be developed, but it's about more than that.

"It really is a zoning issue and not, 'oh we're not going to be able to see the mountains,'" said Steigerwald.

Topgolf told Denver7 it received the ruling over the weekend, and is still evaluating its options.

City council could revise the zoning map, but it would require another public hearing. A city spokesman said the city would only consider that option if Topgolf asks them too.