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Topgolf Thornton proposal lands in the bunker with judge’s ruling halting project

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 around 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 was 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 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,” she 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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