Monday Matchup: RTD to Face Basketball Mom and 1,000 of Her Closest Friends

12/10/2010 03:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Maybe you've never heard of Kim Gillan. But you've certainly got a Kim in your life--that quiet crusader for the little guy who rarely seeks the spotlight. Her latest battle, to protect a tiny lake north of Denver from reckless development, could serve as a beacon of light for those concerned about the health of our government and property rights.

The married mother of five, Kim is active in school booster clubs, local politics, and rarely, if ever, misses one of her kids' sporting events. I know because when I catch her on the phone, there is constant background soundtrack of basketball games or kids running around.

I met Kim when she came into my law office looking for legal help. Armed with three-inch research binders filled with information on RTD's latest controversy, she alleges the transit agency, together with Adams County and a private out-of-state developer, may have violated administrative, state, and federal laws through their quest to radically transform her community.

At issue: While RTD had previously committed to locating a commuter rail station for its Gold Line on a blighted plot just east of Federal and 60th Avenue, the agency is now backtracking, also considering a site previously rejected for a multitude of reasons. The news hit just a little too close to home for Kim.

Should the the New Orleans-based TOD Group have its way, RTD's station would be located a quarter mile west of Federal and 60th, adjacent to Lake Sangraco, a wildlife haven Kim, her husband, Alan, and others have spent nearly two decades rehabilitating.

In just a few months, Kim's one-woman crusade has grown into Citizens for Compatible Development, a grassroots force to be reckoned with. The Gillans filed litigation against Adams County, RTD, and the out-of-state developer pushing for the move, alleging that the defendants violated local and state land use procedures. (Full disclosure: my firm does not represent Gillan in this litigation). The developments garnered a front page Denver Post profile. Gillan's group has gathered more than 1,000 signatures from supportive neighbors. They object to the county's preliminary approval of zoning changes that would free the defendant developer from existing rules, freeing the way for a high-density retail and commercial center to tower over Lake Sangreco. The new rail station would be the hub of it all.

The possible move is curious. After all, RTD had already rejected the lakeside location, doing so after completion of a multi-year, multi-million dollar analysis, at the completion of which it selected a site just east of Federal. This original site yielded strong community support, seen as a viable opportunity to revitalize a struggling commercial area.

Don't mistake Gillan as some anti-growth busybody. She's anything but, having recently earned the support of the Colorado Property Rights Coalition, well-respected engineers, transit specialists, federal environmental experts, and ordinary citizens across the political spectrum. They're upset that RTD, an agency proclaiming its commitment to environmentally and fiscally sound transportation policy, could now expose taxpayers millions of dollars in litigation and unnecessary logistical costs.

It's been nearly 20 years since the Gillans and their close friends and family took the real estate plunge by investing in the dream of what could become of Lake Sangreco, then nothing more than a run-down eye sore. Many said it could not be done, not there, not in that neighborhood. Today, Aloha Beach is a thriving middle class community, anchored by nearby the Berkeley and Goat Hill neighborhoods. The wildlife is immense, including falcons, pelicans, herons, cormorants, foxes, lesser black-backed gulls, beavers, and even the occasional eagle. For many area children from disadvantaged background, including those from the Mount Saint Vincent Home, the lake marks their first meaningful outdoor adventure.

While Kim's opponents see high density development as an opportunity to breathe new life into the area, Lake Sangreco has already achieved this goal. On Monday, Dec. 13th, the Adams County Board of Commissioners will take up this issue as part of a broader dialogue on county zoning policy. Many in Adams County and beyond will be watching, a testament to the passion and foresight of Kim and others like her who believe in the power of each of us to improve our communities, even if only one lake or one hearing at a time.

Jessica P. Corry, Esq. ( serves as the director of the Independence Institute's Property Rights Project and as special counsel to Hoban & Feola, LLC, where she regularly advises clients, including Kim and Alan Gillan, on land use public policy.