While Colorado Springs waits for the 29th consecutive year to see what will happen next in the saga of Banning Lewis Ranch, the area surrounding the 20,000-acre parcel owned by Nor’wood Development Group is hopping with homebuilding activity.
The building boom is going on around the parcel, and includes a community center operated by the YMCA of the Pikes Peak region and a charter academy, both of which draw new homeowners to the area.
Since Banning Lewis Ranch was annexed by the city in 1988, the majority of the sprawling prairie has remained untouched. That inactivity has been largely attributed to the stringent terms of the annexation agreement, which stipulates that the developer of the land is responsible for assets such as infrastructure and emergency service facilities.
But despite the continued stalemate between city and developer — in this case, Nor’wood Development, which purchased 18,500 acres of the former ranch in 2014 from Ultra Petroleum — neighborhoods in the vicinity of BLR continue to grow like a wildfire fanned by an increasingly hot local real estate market.
“Things have definitely improved at Banning as a result of the overall market improving,” said Grace Covington, who owns Colorado Springs-based Covington Homes with her husband Ron.
Covington is one of three homebuilders currently working in the current Banning Lewis Ranch development, which is spearheaded by regional developer Oakwood Homes.
As demand has grown for housing in the suburban areas of Colorado Springs, Oakwood has maintained a close eye on the market — investing in communities where it sees opportunities.
“I have also seen an improvement at Banning just simply for the fact that Oakwood is putting more resources and more effort into the community,” Covington said.
There have been 276 permits pulled for new residential construction at the development in the past 12 months, according to records from the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department. That development is symbolic of the more than a thousand homes being built in and around Banning Lewis Ranch.
Many of those have been Covington’s.
“We’ve always believed in the project and felt that it was a really good project,” said Covington.
The company began working at BLR in 2015 and laid its first foundation around two years ago. Since then, they have built 74 homes — the number of sites they started with — and are currently in the process of acquiring 50 more home sites from Oakwood. Covington said that the company plans to build 50 to 60 homes a year for the foreseeable future and that Oakwood’s BLR development probably has another eight to 10 years before reaching buildout.
“When the market cools down again, it will probably be around 30 to 40 [homes], but we think it will be another two to three years before that happens, and we begin another period of correction,” Covington said. “We’re not going to create the market; we’ll just respond to it.”
The Business Journal was unable to reach representatives of Oakwood, but Covington said that the developer is currently in the process of filing for permits two years in advance to avoid potential pitfalls with city government in the future.
“It’s not just with Banning — it’s with every development right now,” she said. “Things are moving; they’re just delayed.”
Recently, Oakwood has contracted the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region to help manage its clubhouse. It has constructed its own children’s water park, a large charter school and many other amenities.
“People see the things they’re doing for the community,” Covington said. “They see it; they get it; they want to be there; they want their friends to be there with them. Realtors are seeing Banning as a great place to be. We’ve seen a great turnaround in the past few years. It’s a great community with good home values,” she said. “The charter school, the amenities, the future growth that will be happening, the fact that it’s a community — not just a neighborhood. We’re not just interested in building houses — we’re interested in building community.”
“My grandkids’ kids could be building out there,” Covington said of future residential development at Nor’wood’s BLR parcel. “Nor’wood is one of our partners and we buy lots from them in Wolf Ranch and Meridian Ranch. So whatever Nor’wood may be planning for Banning Lewis Ranch in the future, we will definitely be a part of that and support them and help them with whatever they need to be successful.”
Another homebuilder at Banning Lewis is Colorado Springs-based Classic Homes, which started work at the development in May 2007. And company President Joe Loidolt said it has been a good decade.
“Since breaking ground in 2007, Classic Homes has built 252 homes in Banning Lewis Ranch and we currently have 18 under construction,” he said. “Banning Lewis Ranch represents 10-11 [percent] of Classic’s total homes built.”
Loidolt said the company’s BLR operations have been on a steady increase since the days of the Great Recession. Classic sold 44 homes in the development last year — a 30-percent increase over the 31 it sold in 2015 — and is on pace to complete 45 sales in 2017, according to Loidolt.
When Nor’wood finally begins development on its land, Loidolt said it will be a boon for Classic and other homebuilders in line to meet a growing demand for suburban housing in and around Colorado Springs.
“We will be interested in building in the Nor’wood-owned portion also,” he said.
The exact future of Banning Lewis Ranch is unclear, but the tone of developers and homebuilders has been growing increasingly optimistic. Nor’wood is currently in the midst of master-planning its future housing communities at the site, and the city indicated late last year that there might soon be a modification to the annexation agreement that might incentivize its development.