Opinion: Steve Pomerance: CU South – Huge, dense, expensive and wet

By STEVE POMERANCE | stevepomerance@yahoo.com | Boulder Daily Camera

PUBLISHED: August 23, 2021 at 12:19 p.m. | UPDATED: August 23, 2021 at 1:17 p.m.

It appears that no one has really examined what the proposed CU South development would look like. Would it be an open park-like setting, or dense like downtown, or what?

The current annexation agreement would allow CU or a private owner to build up to 750,000 square feet of non-residential development. Then to meet the annexation agreement’s 2-to-1 minimum residential-to-non-residential floor area ratio, 1,500,000 square feet of residential development would be required, for a total of 2.25 million square feet. And much more residential is allowed.

Compare this to downtown Boulder. The Downtown Boulder Inc. website indicates that the downtown Boulder Improvement District (BID) has about 2.5 million square feet of development. So the square footage of development would be about equal.

Downtown Boulder is about 125 acres. That’s the area from 8th to 20th Street, and from Canyon Boulevard to Spruce Street, with a few additions and subtractions. The CU South Development Zone, where all this building would happen, is purportedly limited to 129 acres. So they are about the same size. Thus their densities would be about the same.

Apparently some people are claiming that CU could not build out even their full 2.25 million square-foot allotment in the Development Zone. But Boulder’s downtown BID — the same acreage with 2.5 million square feet of development — has many areas that are completely undeveloped and many buildings that are much lower than 55 feet, the height limit for both downtown and CU South. So, even with some constraints, reaching or exceeding 2.5 million square feet on CU’s developable 129 acres would be pretty easy, even with the additional height restriction on the small part that is close to existing neighborhoods.

But it gets worse. In reviewing the annexation agreement approved at first reading by the City Council last week, it appears that the Development Zone could actually grow to more than 150 acres. The annexation agreement doesn’t actually impose a limit on the size of the Development Zone, but leaves it as the remainder after certain amounts of land, still to be determined, are set aside for flood control and Open Space. It’s a mystery to me why it is done that way.

Affordable housing is another sore point. The council’s ongoing concern for affordable housing seems to have evaporated in this annexation agreement. Only a tiny amount of real affordable housing is required to be built, limited to five acres, and even that is on an uncertain schedule. The vast majority of the housing CU will build (allegedly in sequence with the non-residential development, per the annexation agreement) is not required to be affordable. So CU can set prices based on the market, making it relatively expensive. And its effect on the supply/demand ratio will be fleeting, because CU’s rapid student population growth will use it all up in just a few years.

Why is there no cap on CU student enrollment in this agreement? That’s one thing that would really make a difference. The regents apparently see Boulder as their cash cow location. But the City Council apparently has no interest in even exploring the concept of an enrollment cap, a critical affordable housing issue.

Worse, there is no requirement that this housing become permanently affordable if the property is sold after the housing is developed. So a future owner is looking at some very valuable real estate, and CU is looking at a windfall profit.

In summary, my conclusion is that the CU South development could easily be about equal, both in size and amount of development, to downtown Boulder, and its housing will likely be quite expensive. So I cannot imagine that anyone on the City Council would think that this makes one bit of sense, or would want to claim this as a legacy. But that is what is likely to happen if this deal is signed. And this massive amount of dense development doesn’t include the fields, stadium, etc., to be built in the Flood Control Zone.

The final nail in the coffin is that the flood protection provided by all this sacrifice will be inadequate. Once the detention pond, only big enough to capture a “100 year design flood” fills up, the water will overflow and the flows will be like the pond wasn’t there. So this is a terrible deal in every way. Why our Council members, who generally are very smart people, are not willing to change their positions and reject this completely inadequate annexation agreement is quite beyond me.

Steve Pomerance is a former Boulder city council member. stevepomerance@yahoo.com