Aurora Highlands close to agreement with Conoco Phillips on oil development near future homes; area roads plan affected

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AURORA | Oil development on Aurora’s eastern edge threatened to derail the massive Aurora Highlands housing development, but it seems Conoco Phillips and the housing developer are near a solution that they say will benefit both sides.

The two entities said during a city council meeting Monday they could likely reach an agreement within two weeks to move existing oil and gas ground operations to a different plot of land, where it won’t be near future homes.

If constructed, The Aurora Highlands would span 2,900 acres southeast of Denver International Airport near Interstate 70 and the E-470 toll road. In later phases, the sprawling development would encompass nearly 5,000 acres and could one day be home to 23,000 families.

Conoco Phillips currently has surface rights on the land the operation is on, but Carlo Ferreira, the developer behind Highlands, told the Sentinel in a statement last year he was hoping to work out an agreement that would balance “the rights of the mineral rights holders with the rights of residents to live in a healthy, safe environment is our top priority.”

Those discussions came after a gas line caused a home near Firestone to explode, killing two people.

Nearly a year later, that might finally be the case. If negotiations go according to the discussion at the city council meeting, Conoco Phillips would move those ground operations to a nearby plot of land, into what the city is calling an “energy corridor” included in the Highlands development. 

The oil company would still have access to the gas and oil it’s drilling for. It’s so far unclear what that move might entail or how much cost it will be — that’s all part of ongoing negotiations.

Councilwoman Nicole Johnston, who represents that eastern portion of the city, said that edge of the development could also be home to solar and wind energy, too. 

“It’s a creative, innovative strategy especially in undeveloped areas,” she said, noting that Aurora would be the first to do something like this. 

Johnston said Aurora, which could be the state’s biggest oil-producing area, has an advantage in balancing home development and oil drilling because it has ample land.

“We’re in a unique opportunity to say let’s come together and do this. It could be a model and other communities could do it,” she said. 

Monday council members approved a framework development plan on the Aurora Highlands on the condition an agreement is met between the home developer and Conoco Phillips. Some members said they were uncomfortable voting for the plan without a set time for an agreement to be met. Johnston said she didn’t want to limit possible negotiations by assigning a deadline.

The measure passed unanimously, but the master-planned community is running into other snags, related to the oil development.

Last week an investor pulled its unsolicited proposal for financing roads in the Aerotropolis and Aurora Highlands regions. 

The investor told board members of the regional transportation agreement the uncertainty of oil and gas development was a factor in that. 

Amy Larson, a spokeswoman for Aurora Highlands, said having a lender for those infrastructure projects is critical for future development. 

“It is a big deal, if we can’t come to an agreement with Conoco Phillips, it really impacts the depth of what the development will look like,” she told the Sentinel. 

Deputy city manager Jason Batchelor said the city’s main focus right is getting an agreement from the two entities.

That proposal was not yet accepted by RTA board members. 

— Brandon Johansson contributed to this report