Applewood vs. Molson-Coors

Author: Gannon Kehe
Source: Gannon Kehe / Place Project

With the growing popularity of the Colorado suburban lifestyle, and high rates of individuals moving to the state, the rate of expansion of the real estate market has risen accordingly; making the controversy over the future of Applewood Golf Course a heated debate between a frustrated community and a private owner, who’s capitalization of the land has evoked the members of the Applewood community to fight for their nature, way of living, and ideals that have resonated in the community for over 100 years.
A Bit of History:

The birth of Applewood originated from the Homestead Act and a family of farmers making their claim and pursing the American Dream. In the mid 1880’s the Bunger family came to Colorado as, “part of the wave of farmer emigrants from Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and other eastern states”[1] They arrived from Indiana and homesteaded in Wheat Ridge to raise their nine children and began a farm of their own. “Growing wheat began as early as 1862 but soon gave way to the cultivation of apples, strawberries, raspberries, peas, carrots, onions, potatoes, and other vegetables. To supply the many customers in Denver, Fred Bunger would visit farms to gather produce to sell on commission along with his harvest”[1] due to the harsh road conditions and traveling by wagon. This began to establish a sense of community in the area as a helping hand in transporting crops allowed the Wheat Ridge/Golden Farms to flourish. Shortly after, his son, “Myron Bunger, the family’s entrepreneur, opened Bunger’s Cellar–Wheat Ridge’s first real fruit stand—on West 38th Avenue”[1], which the family managed for years. During the harshest point of the Depression, in 1932, “two of the brothers, Myron and Howard, and a sister, Berness, scraped together an $8,000 down payment for 80 acres centered on West 26th Avenue and Youngfield Street. The land was crossed by a creek that provided good water rights. Today this is the location of Maple Grove Reservoir.”[1]
MapleGroveReservoir
Image obtained from bcsprosoft (WordPress upload) “Maple Grove Reservoir”

The origin of the name “Applewood” however, originated a few years later from a savvy trade made by Myron, the entrepreneur, where he was paid for one of the family horses in apple seedlings. When it came time to plant the seedlings, plowing was a futile endeavor as the ground was too hard to break the top soil. However, with a little determination and knowledge of soil fertility, the Bunger family developed an innovative method of aeration and fertilization in which, “they pounded a crowbar into the ground and shoved in a stick of dynamite. After the explosion, the ground cracked enough to plow so they could plant the seedlings. The cracks aerated the soil, and the nitrogen from the gun powder provided a powerful fertilizer. The result was a productive orchard.”[1] With the success of the community farms and excess of open space the land was becoming a much more valuable commodity for the real estate industry than for farming. Developers began to see the untapped potential and soon privately owned land was being purchased for housing developments. The first of nine was the 160-acre Creighton Airport landing field that was developed into 450 Hutchinson Homes and a stretch of I-70 in 1962. Finally, “in 1954, the area was named Applewood, after the Bunger apple orchard at 18th Avenue and Youngfield Street”[1] and encompassed an area large enough to be a city in itself. “Applewood has changed from farms supplying the early gold seekers, to large-acreage ranges, to homes which became the ‘city’ of Applewood. This 4.8 square-mile area, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, is home to 7,120 residents, many of whom are involved in the life of the greater Denver Metropolitan Area.”[1]

One of the other largest contributors to the development of the Applewood/Golden community and its ideals was a 21 year old brewing apprentice named Adolph Coors, who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1868 and arrived in Colorado in 1872. Coors, while broke and not knowing hardly any English, worked hard as a gardener and manager of a bottle plant in hopes of saving enough money to open his own brewery. His dream came to light in 1873 when he went into business with a man named Jacob Schueler and they purchased an old tannery building in the Golden valley and named it the Golden Brewery. Adolph Coors took over as owner of the company in 1880 and renamed it the Coors Golden Brewery. As he began to build his global beer business, the widespread success of the brewery resulted in an economic growth in the Applewood/Golden area as water sources from the Rocky Mountain snowmelt were harnessed and allowed for residential development. The profits of the brewery flowed back into the community as the brewery provided jobs and owned large parcels of land that were allocated for recreation and water storage such as Applewood Golf Course. The ownership of the Brewery remained in Coors family hands for over 100 years as it was passed down through his family of Golden natives who embodied similar ideals to Adolph and shared his mutual respect for the Applewood/Golden Community and the inherent beauty of the landscape.
Old coors factory
Image obtained from cityofgolden.net “S191 Castle Rock and Adolph Coors Golden Brewery. Golden, Colo.

However, in 2005, The Coors Brewing Company and Molson merged to become the world’s 5th largest brewery and the ownership transferred hands to Molson along with the plethora of land that Coors Brewery had owned. This effectively shifted the responsibility to Molson, to maintain a relationship that was both beneficial to the community and the brewery business. The Brewery—Community relationship remained on good terms until just recently, as a developer’s sites have turned towards a 145-acre lot owned by Molson Coors called Applewood Golf Course.
Molson Coors History
Image obtained from WordPress (jdcteam). “History of Coors Molson”
Present Day Land Use:

Applewood Golf Course; known to natives as lush, green, and chemical free, represents the connection between the descendants of the founding farmers and the nature that the present day residents hold so significance to their way of life. The course spans a 145-acre lot in the Golden valley and lies on Molson Coors property. The course has served as a source of recreation for Applewood natives for decades as a way to experience nature and has preserved the suburban lifestyle that has attracted so many to area by remaining unmolested by the rapidly growing real estate market in the surrounding Denver Metro Area. Applewood Golf Course, being on Molson Coors property, has embodied the ideals set forth by the brewery on environmentally friendly practices which ensures no use of hazardous chemicals for course maintenance and no use of pesticides. The course maintenance mostly revolves around allocation of water which is provided by the Molson Coors water rights (Snow Melt from Rocky Mountains).
Applewood Golf Course
GOLDEN, CO – NOVEMBER 13: Golfers use the driving range at Applewood Golf Course on November 13, 2015, in Golden, Colorado. At the beginning of the month voters approved a tax increase to help Prospect Recreation and Park District purchase Applewood Golf Course in an attempt to save it from development. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post)

What can be seen from this image are the water sources and trees that line the majority of the holes on the course and provide an enclosure to the outside world. Although the course itself is manicured and slightly changed within, it retains its inherent beauty of nature, and serves as an escape from the industrialist world we live in. Yet, with the merger of Molson and Coors into an even larger brewing industry, the course is being subjected to the industrialist ideals of real estate developers who are viewing the land as a commodity that can turn a profit. The fate of the course could be sealed within the next year or so and could possibly turn into the next large housing development; attributing further to the decline of nature in our 21st century.
The Rezoning—Redevelopment Debate

Aldo Leopold’s perspectives on Conservation and Land Ethic in “A Sand County Almanac”[2] have appeared to resonate in the Applewood Community as the developer has backed out of the redevelopment process. After months of protesting and opposition, the Applewood community can rest easy for a short while as “the application for rezoning the property also stalls out”[3]. By viewing this controversy through the eyes of Leopold, a series of parallels begin to unfold which offer insight to the community’s opposition and why they are outraged with Molson.

With the rapid expansion of the Highlands area in Denver and its progression into the valley and foothills of Golden, the prevalence of open space and outlets for isolation and change-of-scene have greatly declined for the Applewood community, resulting in a demand for conservation. From Leopold’s perspective, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land”[2]; yet, what land will remain if the continuous pursuit of commodification of resources persists unchecked and without any ethical basis to follow. Leopold alludes to the idea that this necessary ethical baseline is defined within the community and reflects what is important to the individuals apart of it. The Applewood Community emulates these ideals as they have fought hard to conserve the open space and way of life they pride themselves in. Ironically, the land they are fighting to conserve is one of the aspects of Applewood that makes it so appealing to developers.

Similar to the push for conservation of the land, the Applewood Community is concerned with the preservation of their way of life. Present day Applewood is home to mostly upper—middle class families with young children and active lifestyles. When news of an application for rezoning the course for redevelopment reached the community members, they saw the new development as more than a loss of nature, but as a threat to their way of life. This stirred a large scale opposition as the public has rallied together over the past 8 months to fight for the course. Between community meetings with lines out the door, yard signs, email lists, and pressure from the natives on the County Commissioner to reject the application as he approaches re-election, the Applewood Golf course debate has become a lengthy struggle between an industrial powerhouse and a strong cohesive community.
No rezoning
Image obtained from Scoopnest “drive to Applewood Golf Course”

Neighborhood organizations such as SAGC (Save Applewood Golf Course), AVA (Applewood Valley Association), and APOA (Applewood Property Owners Association) were formed and assisted community members in making their voice heard. They distributed information pamphlets and contact information for those involved in the approval process as well as opposition registration forms where community members could voice their opinion and explain their specific reasons for opposition such as the form attached here. The largest concerns seemed to revolve around the addition of 400 new families to the community and the traffic and children that come along with them. The group president of the APOA, Brian Hansen, helped elaborate on this concern as he explains the already crowded and competitive school system. Hansen states, “We have three schools in the neighborhood—Litz Preschool, Maple Grove Elementary and the Manning School. These schools are already in high demand—parents line up at Litz Preschool at 2a.m. on registration day to get one of their limited spots.”[4] I can personally attest to this concern as I went to Maple Grove and Manning, yet, despite growing up directly across the street, it was still quite difficult to get into the schools and has become increasingly difficult every year since. This hit home with the Applewood residents as many of them have moved to the suburbs to begin a family and be able to provide their kids with a sound education. Likewise, community members were worried about preservation of their open space and loosing, “a long-standing community gathering and recreational place.”[4] As one resident, Robin White puts it, “People bring their children and their grandchildren [here]. It’s more than just golf. It’s a gathering place.”[5] It’s not difficult to see that the land represents a whole lot more to the natives of Applewood than just a golf course. There has been a land ethic that has developed over the past century where, as Leopold describes, “In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”[2] There is an implied respect between the citizens of Applewood and the land that surrounds them and a mutually beneficial relationship between the two.

Finally, the Neighborhood organizations took a legal stance against the application as they opposed, “the rezoning application through the public rezoning process.”[6] They believed, “that the developer has ignored the mineral preservation statute that precludes residential development on this property and that this statute will be upheld by the courts if rezoning is approved.”[6] In an email from SAGC to community members[7], the grounds for a lawsuit they filed to block the housing development were explained as well as a new ballot measures to protect the course. Primarily, SAGC believed that Colorado Law states that no one can build houses on this property due to a large quantity of valuable gravel under the course. If the lawsuit went in favor of SAGC, there were new measures on the fall 2015 ballot allowing the incurring of debt in the District to finance the purchase of the property through the Prospect Recreation & Park District (PRPD). Not too shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the developer who was pursuing the purchase of the course backed out and the property returned to the market for sale. In a more recent email from SAGC, they explained that “Molson-Coors reached out to the PRPD and an informal meeting took place to discuss the sale of the golf course property.”[7] Hence, the next milestone to achieve conservation will depend on Molson-Coors and the PRPD negotiating a fair price for purchase. The initial $16.2 million asking price is just far too outside the means of the Parks Department; however, if the lawsuit goes in favor of SAGC, I am sure the price will drop immensely if the land cannot be commoditized by real estate due to zoning laws. The future of the course lies in the hands of Molson and I hope the united voice of the Applewood community will be loud enough for Molson to hear.
Final Thoughts

Where Molson went wrong, was he viewed the course as an economical commodity as opposed to an important part of a conservative community. Although Molson is not a part of the Applewood community and environment, he still has the ability to greatly influence them. Despite his “ownership” of the land, the course belongs as much to Molson-Coors as it does the Applewood residents and they are prepared to fight for it. There was a lack of mutual respect for the land and community by Molson and he failed to identify the symbiotic relationship between them that far surpassed more than just the dollar sign. “If the private owner were ecologically minded, he would be proud to be the custodian of a reasonable proportion of such areas, which add diversity and beauty to his farm and to his community”[2]. Instead, Molson-Coors explains, “We understand that some in the community would like to preserve the property as open space. However, we reiterate that we are not in the golf business and any decision we make with regard to the property will be consistent with our efforts to invest in our global beer business, which is our top priority.”[3] Unfortunately, this has been a reoccurring theme throughout the history of industrialism where the industry takes priority over the individual and communities suffer as a result.

There is still a long road ahead for the individuals of Applewood and the future of the golf course. However, by taking an ethical and legal stand against Molson and personifying the ideals of Leopold, Adolph Coors, and the Bunger family, by working as a community with mutual respect for each other as well as the land they inhabit; the residents of Applewood may be able to conserve their course and way of life.
Historic Golden Valley
Image obtained from Pinterest…. Elizabeth Trala “Colorado My Home”

[1] HistoricJeffco.org. “Historically Jeffco.” Issue 33. 2012 https://historicjeffco.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/historical_jeffco_2012_web.pdf.
[2] Aldo Leopold. “A Sand County Almanac.” New York. Ballantine Books.
[3] Melissa Blasius. KUSA. “applewood-golf-course-buyer-backs-out”. 9news. web. accessed 11/11/15. Published 11/6/15. http://www.9news.com/story/news/investigations/2015/11/06/applewood-golf-course-buyer-backs-out/75329770/.
[4] Josie Klemaier. YourHub Golden. The Denver Post. Web. Accessed 12/2/15. Published 2/12/15. http://www.denverpost.com/golden/ci_27513608/applewood-golf-course-sale.
[5] Kassandra Lau. “Hundreds pack meeting to rezone golf course.” 9News. April 8, 2015. KUSA-TV. Web. Accessed 11/1/15. http://www.9news.com/story/news/local/2015/04/08/hundreds-fill-golf-course-rezoning-meeting/25448061/.
[6] Reader Clarke. “Applewood Golf Course Rezoning Moves Forward.” Wheat Ridge Transcript. Thursday, July 2, 2015. Web. Accessed 11/1/15. http://wheatridgetranscript.com/stories/Applewood-Golf-Course-rezoning-moves-forward,192968.
[7] SAGC Neighborhood Organization email list: saveapplewoodgolfcourse@gmail.com.

 

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