Cluster development moves through infrastructure constructionWritten by Christy Hemken
Contrasted with 40-acre ranchettes across the highway, the Sand Creek Ranch’s houses will be “clustered” in neighborhoods of three or four, with each neighborhood on its own and seemingly disconnected from the other 99 planned home sites on the ranch, which covers 836 acres against the eastern slope of the Bighorns.
“Essentially every homeowner on the place will have great visual separation that will always be there,” says Sand Creek Ranch Conservation Community President & CEO John Jenkins of his plan for the ranch, which was set in motion in September 2007. “We took the time to use the topography so every neighborhood is by itself.”
As the ranch continues to come together, the most recent project to be completed was a local effort to restore the Hopkins Producers Irrigation District water transportation infrastructure, which serves four other ranches besides Sand Creek.
“An area that was teetering on the edge of rural sprawl and unsustainable agriculture is going to work now for another 100 years,” says Jenkins of the improvements, estimating the district will cut its water losses in half in converting from open ditches to pipelines. “We fixed something that was 125 years coming apart, and I think we’ve stabilized agriculture for a long time.”
In early June the district had charged the new infrastructure with water for the first time.
“There are five big pillars to preserving the ranch, and one was to get a transportation system on the ranch that would work for agriculture and the limited future development,” explains Jenkins of the roads, which are complete, noting the second was the Hopkins irrigation project.
The next big project on the ranch, and the third aspect, will commence this fall, after irrigation season, and will reconstruct the water infrastructure on the ranch’s property. Plans include six pivots and 400 acres of K-Line irrigation. “For the first time in years we’ll fully utilize the water on the ranch,” says Jenkins of the project, which is funded in part through a cost-share with NRCS.
Accompanying the isolated nature of the small neighborhoods is a 1/99 ranch interest for each person who buys into the ranch, which includes the irrigated hay meadows in the bottom land as well as several community pastures for horses and 4-H livestock.
Following the irrigation, Jenkins says the next piece of development is a rural electric backbone running throughout the ranch, and the last piece is telecommunications, although that one has a unique solution.
“It turns out that a local communication company now does a lot of rural voice-over-internet phone service, and they have a wonderful system with high speed broadband three miles from us that covers the whole ranch,” says Jenkins. “We think we’re going to go completely wireless at the ranch. I had always thought the gold standard was the landline, but I’m not so sure that’s true anymore.”
One challenge currently facing the ranch is property tax assessment, so Jenkins says he’s been focusing on adding more improvements to the ranch and bringing the agriculture operation back into full production while that gets sorted out.
Of the ranch’s future residents, Jenkins says the ranch’s conservative covenants determine who will and will not buy into the ranch. So far there are 16 individuals who have bought shares, which makes it about 20 percent purchased.
Each one-acre home site contains a quarter-acre building envelope, and there’s a 28-foot limit on house height to keep visual impact low, says Jenkins.
Home construction has yet to begin, as shareholders don’t have the option to take their sites out of the ranch land until the electricity and irrigation is complete. Jenkins expects the first homes to begin construction sometime in 2010.