Where does growth stop? — Sally Schneider

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   02/20/2015 04:10:07 PM MST

Coming soon: 680,000 square feet worth of buildings called S*Park, short for Sutherland Park, on Valmont between 30th and Foothills. And you thought there was a new height limit ordinance? Guess again!

Twelve football fields fit into 680,000 square feet! It’s one-quarter the size of the huge IBM complex on the Longmont Diagonal. The plans for S*Park call for a mix of four- and five-story buildings in order to fit 680,000 square feet into the lots they have. S*Park will bring in another 2,000 workers!

Remember, within a few blocks of this are Solana’s four- and five-story apartments, and soon, the four- and five-story Googleplex with 1,500 employees, Reve’s four-story housing complexes, and the big glass hotel and low income housing complex next to the railroad tracks. All of these buildings will soon be flooding people and traffic onto 30th, Pearl, Valmont, and Foothills.

Boulder’s Comprehensive Plan specifically states that the impact on transportation and other city services must be studied and used to determine whether new development will occur. I’ve seen no data from any studies done on the impact of all this new development along 30th street. Boulder should not go forward with any new development until the transportation department provides Boulder citizens with an analysis of the impact on transportation and other city services. Citizens should be allowed to vote on whether they want all of this.

On Jan. 20, it was announced that Council would vote on a height limit ordinance that night. The ordinance defined numerous areas where zoning could change and height exemptions would be allowed. One such area is Boulder Junction, which is now defined as 30th Street from Pearl to Valmont and east almost to Foothills highway. That is why S*Park will be able to be so huge. The city planning department recommended the height ordinance, but a copy for public review wasn’t available until the day of the meeting. Nothing in the ordinance speaks to setback variances. When did we citizens vote on allowing all these exemptions anywhere?

The rapid announcement of the height ordinance was supposedly an “important response to citizens’ concerns about development.” However, it felt more like a giant surprise smoke screen. Some citizens scrambled to find and read the height ordinance and prepared to talk about it at the Jan. 20 Council meeting. However, most citizens left the meeting that night because Council didn’t take up the height ordinance until after midnight. Council also discussed allowing more big buildings to be built in more areas than the ordinance originally recommended; for instance, on Arapahoe between Folsom and Foothills.

It’s unknown when the next version of the height ordinance will be available for public viewing. But we finally know the dates the height ordinance will reviewed again. City Council’s second and possibly final reading of the height ordinance will be at a special meeting next Thursday, Feb. 26, in the council chambers at 1777 Broadway at 6 pm. Concerned citizens should attend and/or write letters: plannin[email protected] and [email protected]. Consider:

1) Boulder’s unemployment rate is currently 3 percent. This is historically low. Why, then, the need for so many new companies, all needing height and setback exemptions? All these new complexes will accomplish is to add to our excessive in-commuting and push up housing prices even further. If we’d stop the manic drive to attract more companies, we’d have less need for housing.

2) Do developers need to build four to five stories in order to “cover their costs and the risk of investment”? 29 North, the huge, boxy apartment building at Walnut and 30th, was built within the past 10 years. The developer was able to build it because he gave roughly $4.5 million to the city to build low-income homes in north Boulder. However, 29 North recently sold for $40 million more than it cost to build. Risk? This was a great 10-year return on investment. A reasonably-sized development would have still turned a handsome profit.

3) Last fall, the planning department produced a document summarizing building permits from 2011 to 2013. It showed 40 of the 43 large approved buildings received exemptions for height, density, setbacks, and/or parking.

Let’s manage growth and development in Boulder before it’s too late. This height ordinance needs serious revisions. As currently drafted it is a smoke screen to disguise all the huge buildings that are in the pipeline already, will be coming down the pipeline, and will forever change the character of our beautiful city. Our elected officials can and should do better.

 Sally Schneider lives in Boulder.