History of Sterling Ranch

Sterling Ranch is rooted in Colorado families. Established after the Civil War in the 1860s by the Sterling Family, the land was ranched for more than 100 years. Originally, an underground artesian aquifer allowed for farming and ranching cattle. By the 1970s, the water had dried up, and the last member of the Sterling family passed away without any inheritors. 

Frank and Joy Burns purchased the original 2,200-acre Sterling Ranch from a Denver bank in 1980. The Burns’ were a prominent business and philanthropic Colorado couple who defined Denver real estate during the last century and left an indelible mark on Denver. After adding Sterling Ranch to their extensive real estate portfolio, they had plans to build an innovative mixed-use community for 21st-century residents. Unfortunately, the project could not go forward for several reasons, especially after Frank’s passing in 1997. 

Many real estate companies unsuccessfully tried to buy the land, but Joy Burns would not sell it because she wanted to continue Frank’s and her vision for Sterling Ranch. Joy worked with her friend, Diane Smethills, to define this vision as a legacy project for present and future Coloradan generations to enjoy. In 2004, Joy sold the ranch to Harold and Diane Smethills, both multi-generation Colorado natives with extensive experience in real estate, water, and business. The Smethills also purchased two smaller neighboring land holdings to make Sterling Ranch the size it is today. 

Joy remained an advisor and confidant on Sterling Ranch until her death in 2020. To honor the Burns’ legacy, a park on the ridgeline will bear their name. It will be a place where people can enjoy walks, runs, and the splendor of the land around them. It is a place where joy resides.

The Smethills’ vision for Sterling Ranch was to create a multi-generational, master-planned community that lived in harmony with nature, nurtured the local ecosystem, and incorporated smart technology. Unfortunately, the land was overgrazed and had almost no wildlife when it was purchased. The land was reseeded, and cattle were reintroduced to aerate and fertilize the land. A Prairie Management Plan was created with the help of local attorneys, land stewardship professionals, and The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. We now have a thriving ecosystem that includes a wide range of local wildlife and our protected burrowing owls. 

Diane, Harold, and their son, Brock Smethills, spent over 12 years working with a wide range of organizations, including several environmental groups and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, to learn how to revitalize the land and create a water system. They participated in the Chatfield Basin Conservation Network to map wildlife corridors. The water sense landscaping system was developed with the Denver Botanic Gardens. The family also visited some of the most sustainable water systems in the West to learn how to design and develop Sterling Ranch. 

 Technology was central to Smethills’ vision for Sterling Ranch. Brock and Harold visited many communities with smart technology, including a sister city in Austria, to explore technology, transportation, and sustainability strategies. A partnership with Siemens involving IBM, Corning, and others was formed to develop and design the initial fiber optics system now used at Sterling Ranch. Sterling Ranch, to our knowledge, is only the second largest master-planned community in the US to have a complete fiber optic grid that brings fiber into the home. Water, power, security, and modern lifestyle are tied into this system.

They also held more than 450 neighborhood meetings and collaborated with dozens of organizations on environmental and living standards over a 12-year period. The Smethills  worked closely with One Roxborough to share future outdoor trails and recreation centers so that any community member could access the trails on the once-private Sterling Ranch land.

In 2015, twelve builders applied to build homes in Sterling Ranch, and five were approved with Colorado design-inspired homes. The groundbreaking began in 2016, with 800 house lots closing on the first day of construction. These homes were built in Providence Village, which now houses nearly 800 single-family homes in clustered designed neighborhoods surrounded by open space. There are now two additional villages, Ascent and Prospect, under construction with single-family homes, townhomes, and apartments.

The Burns’ and Smethills’ dream has become a reality. Brock Smethills now leads Sterling Ranch. He and his family have made it one of the largest mixed-use communities in Colorado that honors the legacy of the land and spirit of the West. Although only 16% complete, it is a $4.4 billion multi-generational, eco-conscious development that will take 20 years to finish. Sterling Ranch will have 12,050 homes with more than 33,000 residents on 3,400 acres with 30 miles of trails and open space, a variety of amenities in commercial centers, and the latest in technology and water management to keep pace with the demands of our residents and a rapidly changing world.