LONE TREE, Colo. —
This Colorado city that was just 1.5 square miles when it was incorporated in 1995 has since grown to nearly 10 square miles -- and more development is coming in the next decade.
Back in 1995, when it first became a city, Lone Tree wasn’t home to the giant mall that it’s now known for. In fact, as recently as 1992, one real estate broker joked to the Rocky Mountain News that “there were still cows grazing on that land.”
It’s not too much of an exaggeration: the area that’s now the 1.5 million-square-foot Park Meadows mall used to be a field surrounded by some stores (that's according to the same Rocky Mountain News report).
Lone Tree annexed the mall in 2006, and it now accounts for half of the city’s tax revenue and employs hundreds of people.
"We're celebrating our 25th anniversary as a city next year, which is really amazing when you look at what's been achieved over the last quarter of a century and how the community's changed," said Jackie Millet, the mayor of Lone Tree.
The civil engineer first moved her family to the community in 2018.
You can check out a timelapse of Lone Tree's growth from 1984 to 2018 by hitting play below:
To put that into context, the city's population was around 1,400 people in 1995. That's grown to more than 14,000 people as of 2018 -- and is expected to swell to between 30,000 and 40,000 as additional developments fill in currently empty swaths of land, according to Lone Tree's planning department.
Keep reading for a look at Lone Tree's history -- and what's next for one of the state's fastest-growing cities.
This story is part of our weekly #9Neighborhoods series. Join us at noon on the 9NEWS Instagram for a photo tour of Lone Tree. Have a recommendation for a community to check out next? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
A suburban destination
Lone Tree is essentially at the crossroads of Interstate 25 and C-470 -- a well-traveled area about 18 miles south of downtown Denver.
"I don't think we can be considered an outer-ring suburb anymore," Millet said.
So many people pass through or work in Lone Tree that its daytime population is nearly double the 14,000 people who actually live there, according to the city.
Not too long ago, the rolling hills that accommodate the city's thousands of relatively new homes were just ... rolling hills.
The city's bluffs against the backdrop of the Front Range have been occupied by Native American tribes for hundreds of years.
In more recent history, families like the Schweigers settled in the late 1800s, farming and raising cattle in at-times harsh conditions.
The Schweiger Ranch complex in Lone Tree was designated as a historic landmark by Douglas County in 2004, and is now open in the Ridgegate area as a living history museum for what the high plains around the south metro area once was.
"I like the juxtaposition in the area," Millet said. "One of my favorite pictures shows the light rail station on one side then the historic house on the other."
As Denver grew in the late 1990s, Lone Tree followed, calling itself in its latest comprehensive plan a "national model for responsible growth and development."
Niche, a real estate website, ranks Lone Tree as the second best place to live in Douglas County (neighboring Highlands Ranch is No. 1). It's also ranked as the 21st best place to live in the state, based off of an analysis of crime, jobs, nightlife and schools.
A city with more visitors than residents
You might remember above how we mentioned Lone Tree's population nearly doubles during the day. That's largely due to the fact it's home to the state's largest mall -- and in addition to thousands of visitors, hundreds of people happen to work there and at the surrounding businesses.
In recent years, Lone Tree has also become more accessible. There are now five light rail stations serving the city -- the newest opened as recently as this spring.
"I think one of the best decisions made by Lone Tree's early city leaders was to include themselves in the RTD district by a vote of the people," Millet said.
She said her efforts as mayor have included making the city more accessible through public transportation and additional bike lanes.
One of the newest developments on the way is the Lone Tree City Center, which is slated to become Lone Tree's de-facto downtown.
This 400-acre area is supposed to be east of I-25 and south of Lincoln Avenue off Ridgegate Parkway and serve as Lone Tree's "urban core." Developers say the city center could have 10,000 new residential units by the time it's done.
"My goal would be position the city so that there isn't an east and a west," Millet said. "There's one Lone Tree, and I think it's an important concept for leaders to make sure they embrace as communities are growing and changing."
The city isn't just trying to be a transit-oriented development. Instead, it's working to bring in its own businesses, including the construction company Kiewit, which chose Lone Tree for its new regional office.
Charles Schwab also has a big office near I-25 and Lincoln.
But this isn't the biggest news to come out of Lone Tree in recent months. That honor can only be granted to California burger chain In-N-Out Burger, which has gotten approval to build a 3,867-square-foot restaurant near Park Meadows.
A landscape beyond malls
There's more to Lone Tree than just development. Right on the edge of the urban sprawl is Bluffs Regional Park, a 253-acre area with about four miles of trails that offer 360-degree views of the Denver metro area.
“You’re not going to get acreage of land in Lone Tree, but we have phenomenal mountain views," Millet said.
The city has numerous greenbelts and parks -- many of which are connected by the Willow Creek Trail, which continues onto Centennial.
Just a few miles away is the Highlands Ranch Backcountry, which has 26 miles of trails right on the edge of the city.
The Lone Tree Arts Center, meanwhile, is a 500-seat venue that features everything from plays to holiday concerts.
Living in Lone Tree
The city's population is affluent, with a median household income of around $105,000, according to the Lone Tree plan.
This means that the majority of the population owns their homes, which have a median value of $521,200 -- well above the Denver metro area's median of $426,200.
Rent isn't cheap either: the median in Lone Tree is around $1,600.
“I don’t think our future is a dense urban community," Millet said. "I think it’s a variety of houses and employment options with an area with a great deal of amenities."
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