A community meeting was held on December 5th to discuss what will and won’t be built on the CU Boulder South property along U.S. 36. Roz Brown reports that the issues goes back almost 45 years to 1972, when cattle roamed the 300-acre property now known as CU Boulder South. Even then, the City of Boulder wanted to keep the land open space for all time. But the city couldn’t get the land owner to sell and in 1973 threatened condemnation of the property. Five contentious years of negotiations passed, and the property owner sold the land – not to the city – but instead to the Flatiron Company for gravel mining. Gravel was mined but the property remained mostly empty – mostly open space and nearly another 20 years went by until the Flatirons Company – watching Boulder’s lucrative growth – approached the city about annexation in 1995 – hoping to build 80 luxury homes and a museum on the site. Neighbors loudly opposed the development. Then, about year later Boulder residents opened their Daily Camera to discover the CU Board of Regents had struck a secret deal with the Flatirons Company to buy the property – saying the University might want the land for future growth. The history behind the 300-acre parcel of land makes resident Charlie Johnson worry about what CU might eventually build on property.
“CU will do whatever it wants to do,” said Johnson. “If it wants to build a Williams Village-type building there, it will. They are not beholden to the city and they never have been.”
Boulder resident Bruce Iden is more resigned about what might eventually be built on the property.
“I’m worried because my house sits on the slope above where building would occur. I guess I’m happy they haven’t done anything yet, but it will probably happen. Things get more crowded everywhere from what I can tell.”
CU’s Vice Chancellor for Strategic Relations Francis Drapper was on hand to make a presentation at the community discussion on Monday. According to Drapper, CU doesn’t plan to build a new football stadium at the city’s entryway, or tall skyscrapers to house students like the Williams Village towers built at the City’s entrance in 1966.
“We haven’t said what’s going to be developed there, we don’t know. But we probably won’t build a football stadium there. We have a football stadium that we’re repairing. But we will do long-term planning that will be on our records and any building plans will be laid out within public forums that will allow plenty of opportunity for community and city input. What we’re now evaluating is what housing we’ll be able to put there, to help our employees or graduate students, or limited instructional research buildings. Those are the sorts of things we’re thinking about, but “thinking about” is the operative word. Real, major building is probably going to take a number of years – 5-to-10 is the range.”
Many of those attending the meeting like Frasier Meadows retirement community resident Al LaBlang are less concerned about what’s built on the property than what the city does to address flood mitigation by using the property for water overflow to prevent what nearly happened to him during Boulder County’s catastrophic flood in 2013.
“I went into the Frasier Meadows underground garage to move my car and someone just coming out told me everything was O.K. down there. So, I went back inside. Fifteen minutes later eight feet of water came through and if I’d been down there, who knows what might have happened – because all 80 cars were destroyed! We’re talking about life and limb, and that has more priority and could harm Boulder more than anything. In 2010 they predicted the flood, in 2013 it happened and who knows when it will happen again.”
Before any flood mitigation can happen at the CU South site, the City needs to change the property’s land use designation and begin annexation. There are three land-use designations in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan: low-density residential, medium-density residential and open space. Low-density allows six housing units per acre while medium-density allows up to 14 units per acre. Should CU exercise either one of those designations, it could be a lot more than the 80 homes originally proposed in 1995.
Future opportunities to learn more about the CU Boulder South site as the plan moves forward include a Jan. 17 Planning Board meeting; a Jan 24 City Council and Planning Board study session, and a Feb. 15 County Commissioners meeting. City staffers plan to make a land-use recommendation in March and make a decision in May.