CU South Campus Versus Flood Mitigation Debated at Boulder City Council

It’s been nearly seven years since the 2013 historic flood killed four Boulder County residents, put many more in harms way, destroyed 350 homes and damaged another 550, many in south Boulder. Since then, as KGNU’s Roz Brown reports, the city has been trying to solve flood mitigation for that area and again tackled the issue at a city council meeting last night.

Listen to the report below:

The south Boulder flood mitigation has been likened by some to a hostage situation. In order to do flood mitigation to protect lives and property, Boulder needs a portion of property owned by CU. CU is happy to oblige, but only if the city offers necessary annexation of its land at U.S. 36 and Foothill Parkway so it can eventually become the CU South campus. But the city has never annexed property without knowing what a site plan will look like, and CU says it won’t for know for several more years. Frustration led to a tense exchange last night starting with councilman Mark Wallach, who detailed CU’s changing position on what it will and won’t agree to.

From the South Boulder Creek Flood Mitigation Project presentation during the City Council study session Feb. 25th, 2020

“I want to suggest that a lot of the uncertainty in this process has come from CU,” said Wallach. “Is this simply the ‘proposal de jour’ or the one you really mean and how are we to judge the difference? My head is spinning like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. I have no idea what you’re actually committing to and that distresses me.”

CU Representative for the project, Frances Draper countered that a back-and-forth is part of any negotiation.

“I think we’ve been steadily at the table and I believe we’re well on our way to a good agreement,” said Draper.

Councilmember Rachel Friend lives in South Boulder and made finalizing a flood mitigation plan the centerpiece of her 2019 council campaign.

“As a person in harm’s way… it’s not CU holding anyone hostage,” said Friend. “If we move down this very non-compromising road it will be city council holding community members hostage and unprotected. CU is not the villain and we have to be reasonable negotiators.”

Like Friend, councilmember Adam Swetlik was elected in 2019 and also lives in South Boulder.

“I live on the corner of Foothills and Baseline in a sub-ground level unit and I’m extremely aware of our flood issues,” said Swetlik. “I still think it’s okay to take time to understand the holistic view of this because it takes hubris as a human to say, ‘I’m the most important, I must be protected right now.’”

Another proposal preferred by some Boulder residents is a land swap. The city could trade other land to CU and keep the CU south property, the gateway to Boulder, as open space with a flood mitigation project. Mayor Sam Weaver stressed the possible benefits.

“The land at CU South has been desired by this community for a very long time,” said Weaver. “It’s high-quality habitat in some parts and people love to go there and recreate. So there are benefits to making that a permanent amenity.”

CU, however, has said it doesn’t want a land swap, and city staff admitted it could take several more years to make that happen, while south Boulder residents continue to worry about their safety.
The next council meeting on the CU South/flood mitigation project is scheduled for May.