Boulder Begins Community Engagement Process for CU South Annexation

Boulder residents will soon be engaging on the merits of a huge land annexation without any idea of what might be built there. KGNU’s Roz Brown says Boulder City Council received an update on the CU South Annexation last night and plans for community engagement.

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Councilmembers discussed the CU South annexation after receiving what’s called a “briefing book” that includes “guiding principals” to be made available to the general public. That will be helpful for the citizen engagement process – which includes a survey to be launched next month along with small group discussions on five dates in December. Here’s the issue: CU has owned the vacant property – more than 200 acres – at Boulder’s southern gateway since 1996. The city wants to use a portion of the land for flood mitigation to prevent a repeat of damage done to homes during the historic 2013 flood. But CU won’t go along with that, unless the property is annexed, so it will have city services when it decides what to build there. During open comment last night, south Boulder resident Jon Carroll had positive comments.

“I live in the neighborhood adjacent to the CU South property and I’m excited to see this progressing and the numerous benefits it will bring to our community,” said Carroll.

If approved by council next year, the CU South annexation would be Boulder’s largest in modern history and the rare annexation without a site plan. That led Margaret LeCompte to ask why the annexation is being rushed.

“CU won’t develop this property for several years and its application makes it clear it’s not ready for authentic negotiations,” said LeCompte. “This is consequential and expensive proposal for the city and given the pandemic, more time is needed for authentic public engagement.”

CU is a state entity, and that means the university doesn’t have to follow Boulder’s building laws for height or density – although it has promised to do so. Councilmember Adam Swetlik said the citizen engagement process is critical for future council decisions.

“Annexation is not a bell we can unring,” said Swetlik. “So having the engagement process is critical – the worst thing we could do is have someone feel unheard,” continued Swetlik.

CU has said it would build about 1,200 housing units on the CU South site, eight academic buildings and recreational fields. But many Boulderites don’t want anything but flood mitigation to occur there – and prefer CU-Boulder do a land swap with the city for property elsewhere – leaving the area in its natural state, adjacent to open space and wetlands. Mayor Sam Weaver expressed concerned about that issue.

“So there’s the open space that’s already there and some that we will probably get as mitigation from habitat impingement from the flood wall,” said Weaver. “But how are those connections going to be made so wildlife can continue to move through the area – the relationship between the natural world and the buildings which are nearby,” said Weaver.

At the end of the meeting Council voted unanimously to have the city’s Transportation Advisory Board looped into future discussions because traffic could be a major issue in the future, depending on what CU decides to build on the site.

Boulder’s Board of Open Space Trustees will meet virtually Wednesday night (11/18) to discuss the issue with a chance for the public to weigh-in.