ELBERT COUNTY — A group of petitioners in Elbert County is trying to recall the entire board of commissioners over their handling of development in the area.
Colorado has seen its fair share of recall petitions in recent years. From Elizabeth to Arvada, state lawmakers have faced multiple recall attempts, as has Gov. Jared Polis. Most of the recall efforts have failed and have been criticized for being hyper-political or a way to raise money. A few, though, have been successful.
The tension in Elbert County started over the construction of a road near the county’s border with Douglas County.
Initial plans called for the road to be built a mile to the north, but that decision changed about two years ago, and the road was constructed in an area right behind some of the petitioners’ properties.
The road involves the construction of a T-shaped intersection that the petitioners believe can be dangerous. They say the county should have stuck with the original plan.
The commissioners contended that the road was necessary to help ease the traffic on Singing Hills Road and would help emergency services achieve faster response times.
The vote to move the road was unanimous among the three commissioners, who said they understand some residents will be upset but that the decision was best for the county as a whole.
Then, the petitioners started to raise concerns about two new, high-density developments in the county. One of the developments, Spring Valley, was originally approved 20 years ago.
“There’s a wave of houses that are coming up here and they’re starting to come over the border into Elbert County,” said Chris Hatton, one of the recall organizers. “We are, as a county, really ill-prepared for this kind of development on a lot of different levels.”
Hatton is a longtime Elbert County resident and civil engineer who insists the group is not anti-development. He says he wants the development to be appropriate for the rural nature of the area and sustainable in the long run.
Hatton says he has attended the public meetings to voice these concerns and became involved in the lawsuit and recall effort when he felt that commissioners were ignoring his voice.
One of the big concerns was over the availability of water for residents.
“What we have directly under us as a community and as a subdivision is what we have, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. And Elbert County has not made plans to actually procure a sustainable water supply,” Hatton said.
Another concern of the petitioners is over the development of new roads to accommodate all of the new residents and who should foot the bill for construction.
Petitioners want the developers to pay for the roads and say the county commissioners have allowed these companies to skirt around doing so.
Two of the commissioners that are facing a recall were reelected in November. Hatton says the group tried to give them a chance to make good on some of their campaign promises, but now they see a recall as their only option.
“We’ve given them ample opportunity to respond and to reflect on our concerns and they have chosen not to,” Hatton said. “If we don’t do something now, if we don’t get people signing this petition now, if we don’t take action now, we’re going down a road that we will never recover from.”
The disagreement over the growth of Elbert County has gotten so contentious it has led to lawsuits. Some of the same petitioners trying to recall the commissioners are also suing them for some of the decisions over the roads.
On their petition website, the group laid out 10 reasons for the recalls of commissioners Rick Pettitt, Chris Richardson and Grant Thayer.
They are now holding a series of signature-gathering events to try to qualify for the recall.
None of the commissioners were available for an interview with Denver7 due to ongoing litigation, they said.
But Commissioner Chris Richardson said in a statement, "Like all other metro area counties, Elbert County is growing. As Commissioners we understand this upsets some citizens but, it doesn't change the fact that it is the reality. The Board has an obligation to manage this change as it happens and prepare for the future. This is what the voters elected us to do.”
In their recall rebuttal statements, the commissioners also accused the petitions of intentionally misleading the public about the recall, saying they lacks context.
Richardson disputed some of the claims in his rebuttal, saying the board gave no preferential treatment to development and has safe-guarded long-term water availability for the area. He went on to point out that only 7% of the county is developed and that the growth projections have actually slowed down as compared to a 2015 projection.
Richardson and Pettitt also questioned the intent of the petition, saying recalls are only supposed to be used in serious cases of wrongdoing and not over disagreements about decisions they made.
“Disagreeing with a decision that is legal, moral, and ethical is not justification a recall,” Richardson said in an email. “It is a disservice to their fellow citizens and disruptive to harmony in the community.”
The petitioners have until Sept. 24 to gather and turn in roughly 5,000 signatures to try to trigger a recall election. If they are successful, it will be up to the voters of Elbert County to decide whether they want to keep their current board or find a new one.