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After more than a year of negotiations, the Douglas County commissioners and school district came to an official agreement on June 28 to sale two parks to the county.
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According to the approved agreement, the county will pay the school district around $1.1 million. The total includes $675,000 for the school district’s interest in Toepfer Park and another $461,000 in compensation for Sweetwater Park.
Toepfer Park, in Highlands Ranch, and Sweetwater Park, bordering Lone Tree, will be dedicated to the Highlands Ranch Metro District and South Suburban Parks and Recreation to use for recreational purposes.
Last year, the parks became a subject of controversy when the Douglas County School District decided to sell the land to potential housing developers. The 10 acres at Toepfer and 31 acres of land at Sweetwater were originally donated to the district by developers for future school sites.
When the school district decided they did not need the land for future schools, the process to sell the property created concerns from nearby residents who did not want to see more housing in the congested areas.
When citizens began to complain at school board meetings and to the county, commissioners directed staff to negotiate an agreement for the county to purchase the land. In 2021, commissioners stressed that they agreed with citizens and the two park sites should be kept open and used for recreational purposes.
The process took more than a year as county staff and school officials argued over the value of the property. Originally, the school district argued the land was worth more money if the potential for housing development was considered.
The county argued the increased price was not realistic since the Highlands Ranch property and Lone Tree park were not zoned for housing development. If sold for development, potential land buyers would have had to go through the county for rezoning approval, which commissioners said they would not grant.
In taking ownership of the land, the agreement states the county will now pass the ownership on to the Highlands Ranch Metro District and South Suburban Parks and Recreation to manage the properties moving forward. Through a quit-claim deed, both the county and school district will turn the two properties over.
Sweetwater Park, located at 13170 Mercury Drive, currently offers a playground, baseball field, basketball court, multipurpose fields, restrooms and a picnic shelter.
Toepfer Park, located at 9320 Venneford Ranch Road in Highlands Ranch, currently offers a playground, basketball courts, sports fields, a picnic shelter and restrooms.
According to the approved agreement, as the Highlands Ranch Metro District and South Suburban develop master plans for each site, public participation will be a key component.
To celebrate the completed agreement, the county is planning two public celebrations.
The Toepfer Park celebration will be held on Saturday, July 9 between 5:30 and 7 p.m. The county will officially dedicate the 10 acres of land to the Highlands Ranch Metro District. While residents are encouraged to bring folding chairs and dinner, the county will be paying for ice cream via a dessert food truck.
The Sweetwater Park celebration will be held Saturday, July 9 at 3 p.m. Just like the Toepfer Park celebration, the county will provide dessert.
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