Wednesday, July 30, 2014 • 06:34
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Safe from the sprawl, for now


September 16, 2013
Valley Center is facing a defining moment. Plans for Lilac Hills Ranch are taking shape, and if the planned suburb of 1,746 new homes becomes a reality, our community will be forever changed. The project does offer the potential for great economic growth and I suppose that's something worth getting excited about. Yet, we must be wary of what this expansion will do to our community.

I grew up in a sprawling suburb similar to the one planned for the Lilac Hills Ranch. Located on the southern edge of metro Denver, it was a very safe land of cul-de-sacs, identical houses, and sterile little greenbelts.

Each entrance to my suburb had a gold plaque that read, "Covenant Controlled Community," which I'll admit sounds a little like something out of the Spanish Inquisition. There were all kinds of rules for the things you could do. You had to repaint your house every 5 years, but it had to be chosen from one of the few covenant-approved colors. You were not allowed to build a tree-house in your backyard because it might obstruct your neighbor's view. Dumbest of all, you couldn't park your pick-up truck in your own driveway because it was considered "unsightly," even if it was a sparkly brand new one.

I'm not saying suburbs are evil or that Lilac Hills Ranch will necessarily share these characteristics. Plenty of people live in suburbs and are perfectly content with it. But is this development really true to the essence of Valley Center?

This town is great because we come together for school, for sports, for Western Days, and for all the events at Bates Nut Farm, but we also do our own thing. We are not a uniform people. I have met individuals of every shade and stripe here. We have enough to keep us together, but Valley Center offers us all the freedom to make home what we want it to be.

Lilac Hills Ranch will not change Valley Center overnight, but it will change us eventually. There will be more traffic, more chain restaurants, and more houses that look exactly the same. There will be more people living here who want a comfortable suburb first, a unique rural community second.

When I was a baby and my family first moved into that Denver suburb, ours was the last neighborhood before the open frontier began. My mother used to walk our dog out on the empty Colorado plains, just a few minutes away from our front door. It was the final edge of the sprawl.

Today, there are two more massive suburbs standing between my old house and the untamed land. There is a shopping mall where my mother used to walk. Instead of going on a ten minute walk to escape the houses, you now have to drive for 20 minutes to get into the open land.

Valley Center, thankfully, is not like that. We have room to breathe and to be ourselves. Escondido is close enough for me. Every time I come back on Valley Center Road and drive up the grade, I feel a sense of relief at leaving all the stoplights behind.

The suburban sprawl is going to keep marching on and getting closer and closer to us. Maybe that's just the way things are. But at least consider what we've got here, and appreciate how rare and precious it truly is.

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