Timnath fights Topgolf location with fence ballot measure

TIMNATH — Residents in this rapidly growing town southeast of Fort Collins have devised what some might say is an ingenious — or for others, a wily — way of trying to stop a proposed Topgolf entertainment facility from coming to town.

This week, a group of Timnath residents began gathering signatures for a ballot measure that would ban from town any fences that exceed 65 feet in height — a direct, if not overt, shot at the ball-catching netting Topgolf installs at its high-tech driving ranges, which easily stand taller than 100 feet.

The measure, which declares fences over 65 feet “harmful and contrary to promoting and protecting nature and wildlife within and around the town,” would effectively sink a Topgolf in Timnath.

“It’s the wrong business for that location and it’s wrong for that location because it’s part of the (Cache la Poudre River) National Heritage Area, with migrating bald eagles and other birds coming through,” said Bill Jenkins, a retired neuroscientist who moved to Timnath five years ago and is helping head up opposition to the popular entertainment concept.

Congress designated the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area in 2009, the first to be established west of the Mississippi River. It runs for 45 miles of the Poudre, from the edge of the Roosevelt National Forest in Larimer County to its confluence with the South Platte near Greeley.

According to an avian risk report published last year, 240 species of resident and migrating birds use the nearby Fossil Creek Reservoir, including bald eagles, great blue herons, ducks, geese, swans and cranes. It states that Topgolf’s nets pose a potential hazard to the birds as they move through the area.

Instances of birds flying into and getting hung up in Topgolf’s nets have occurred across the country, including an osprey that died after getting caught in a Topgolf net in Myrtle Beach, S.C. in 2019. Just last week, a hawk was rescued after getting tangled at an Orlando Topgolf.

Jenkins and dozens of other residents turned out at a community meeting Monday night put on by the developer of the 240-acre Ladera project, which sits at the southeast corner of Interstate 25 and East Harmony Road. Topgolf would encompass around 12 acres of the project.

“I don’t want it affecting a conservation area,” Chase Renick said at Monday’s meeting, during which a couple of Topgolf representatives were besieged by a crowd of dozens of Timnath residents condemning the proposal. “That’s a compelling argument.”

Renick and his wife moved to this town 20 miles from downtown Fort Collins two months ago, one of the thousands of new residents who have exploded Timnath’s population from just hundreds less than a decade ago to around 8,000 today.

Topgolf director of real estate development Scott Wetterling, one of the company representatives taking pointed questions from residents Monday, told The Denver Post the company is in the “preliminary stages” of planning its moves in Timnath.

“It’s a great up-and-coming community and we want to be a part of it,” he said.

Will Welch, project manager for Ladera, said the potential ballot measure changing the town charter to limit fence heights in Timnath is an example of “super bad land use planning.”

“It undermines the normal development processes,” he said. “All of these things are in place to get things done.”

The area alongside I-25, Welch said, “is an ideal location for commercial development.” It keeps traffic confined to the interstate corridor and out of neighborhoods. Timnath Town Manager Aaron Adams said the Ladera site “is designated as employment/regional commercial in our comprehensive plan.”

“The primary uses intended for this area are designated for community/destination retail, employment, entertainment and civic,” Adams said.

The developer, he said, would have to conduct environmental impact studies prior to any shovels going in the ground.

Colorado has three Topgolf venues, in Colorado Springs, Centennial and Thornton.

But the company hasn’t always gotten a warm reception from communities concerned about bright lighting and loud music. Topgolf locations feature dozens of hitting bays that come with a seating area where customers can eat and drink. All golf balls contain microchips that trace the flight path of the ball and can instantly show performance data on overhead TVs.

In 2016, Topgolf hit a roadblock in Thornton when its first proposed location ran into neighborhood opposition and spurred a lawsuit. The company chose a site farther north on I-25 and debuted in 2019. It opened its third location in the state in 2021, alongside I-25 in Colorado Springs.

Opponents must gather 651 signatures of registered voters over the next 90 days to get the measure on a special election ballot. The election would likely happen this spring or summer.

Jenkins said the approach he and other Topgolf opponents in Timnath are taking to the project — with a proposed limit on fence heights in town — could prove useful to other communities with reservations about such an entertainment venue in their midst, or who would accept one but in a different location.

“If we can collect necessary signatures and get it passed, we’ll be a model for how to deal with Topgolf when they want to put a facility in a place that is inappropriate,” he said.

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