Judge sends Top­golf Thorn­ton pro­posal into bunker

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By John Aguilar

A pro­posed 65,000-square-foot golf en­ter­tain­ment com­plex in Thorn­ton has hit a ma­jor bump, af­ter a judge ruled that the city failed to fol­low its own zon­ing laws when it granted a per­mit to Top­golf to move for­ward with the project.

The rul­ing by an Adams County district judge late last week rested on how Thorn­ton de­fines pub­lic ver­sus pri­vate busi­ness: Only the lat­ter ar­range­ment would be le­gal at the site on the south­east cor­ner of In­ter­state 25 and 136th Av­enue.

A law­suit filed by a res­i­dent in the nearby Rolling Hills neigh­bor­hood con­tended that the project — which would boast a three-story, 102-bay driv­ing range as well as a restau­rant, bar and rooftop ter­race — is in fact pub­lic and that Dal­las-based Top­golf and the city had mis­char­ac­ter­ized the project.

District Judge Michael Good­bee agreed and over­turned res­o­lu­tions that Thorn­ton City Coun­cil ap­proved last sum­mer that granted Top­golf its per­mit.

Top­golf of­fi­cials ar­gued in the case that hit­ting balls at one of the com­pany’s fa­cil­i­ties re­quires the pur­chase of a mem­ber­ship card, mak­ing Top­golf a pri­vate venue al­lowed un­der the city’s busi­ness park zon­ing des­ig­na­tion. But Good­bee said the mem­ber­ship re­quire­ment “is nominal” and that the card is “ef­fec­tively a player’s club card which keeps track of your score and credit for the driv­ing range.”

“This pro­posed fa­cil­ity is oth­er­wise open to the gen­eral pub­lic and there­fore is not pri­vate,” he wrote. “The court there­fore finds that the Coun­cil’s de­ter­mi­na­tion that Top­golf is a ‘pri­vate’ fa­cil­ity was an abuse of their dis­cre­tion.”

Top­golf has 30 lo­ca­tions open across the coun­try and 10 more in the works. It opened its first Colorado location in Cen­ten­nial two years ago. Thorn­ton had ap­proved $3.75 mil­lion in in­cen­tives for the project, which Top­golf said would gen­er­ate 475 jobs.

Ef­forts to reach a Top­golf spokesper­son were un­suc­cess­ful Mon­day. Thorn­ton spokesman Todd Barnes said the city didn’t have a com­ment on the rul­ing as it hadn’t yet had a chance to fully re­view the de­ci­sion.

Lotte Radoor, the Rolling Hills res­i­dent who filed the suit against Thorn­ton in 2016, said she was “thrilled” the court ruled in the neigh­bor­hood’s fa­vor.

“It’s not just an in­no­cent out­door driv­ing range — it’s an out­door night­club and amuse­ment cen­ter,” said Radoor, who lives just a few hun­dred feet from where the Top­golf fa­cil­ity would be built.

Neigh­bors came out en masse last year to protest the pro­posal, ar­gu­ing that Top­golf would bring bright light­ing and late-night noise to the pe­riph­ery of a quiet neigh­bor­hood that hugs the Thorn­creek Golf Course. They also said the 170-foot-tall nets de­signed to catch golf balls at Top­golf pose a dan­ger to the bald ea­gles and pel­i­cans that live in the area.

“I’m very hope­ful that this is the end of it,” Radoor said Mon­day.

Top­golf’s trou­bles could im­pact other planned devel­op­ment in the area, namely a 14,500-square-foot ViewHouse sports bar and restau­rant, which is slated for land ad­ja­cent to the Top­golf site.

ViewHouse spokes­woman Rachel Reida said Mon­day that the restau­rant would love to be a part of the “syn­ergy that Top­golf cre­ates,” but she said ViewHouse’s plans in Thorn­ton aren’t “that con­tin­gent” on what ul­ti­mately hap­pens with Top­golf.

She said there is no “con­crete sched­ule” for con­struc­tion of what would be ViewHouse’s fourth location in metro Den­ver.

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