February 17, 2020

Re: February 25, 2020 CU South Study Session

To members of the Boulder City Council:

PLAN-Boulder County regards the issues related to flood mitigation and annexation of the land known as CU South as inextricably linked. This is due to the fact that the University of Colorado (CU), the property owner of this parcel, continues to hold the safety of residents downstream hostage by demanding that annexation of its property under its own terms be completed before allowing any flood mitigation efforts to be undertaken. Because CU is a state entity, its position is that it does not have to abide by any of the City of Boulder’s regulatory and land use requirements; therefore, the only real control Boulder will be able to exert over flood protection, and the development of this flood prone land with complicated transportation access and impacts, will be through the agreements that are codified in the Annexation contract.

PLAN-Boulder remains opposed to the annexation and development of CU South except for flood protection. Most of the residential area downstream of CU South is in the floodplain and in hindsight, should never been developed. While there is nothing to be done about this situation now except to try to provide as much flood protection as possible, the mistake of developing in flood prone areas should not be repeated as is being proposed by CU.

The 100-year and 500-year floods are losing their meaning due to climate change. The nature and frequency of flood events is changing, and the magnitude of flood water generated during such events is forecast to increase. Putting residential and/or classroom development on the CU South property within the 500-year flood plain is irresponsible given this increasing uncertainty. We believe CU should look to alternative locations to carry out the programmatic requirements they plan to achieve by developing CU South, whatever those may be, since CU has been unwilling to be open about its plans.

Should City Council decide to move forward with annexation of CU South in order to implement flood protection, we believe that the following issues must be addressed related to any development prior to annexation.

  1. CU and the City should aggressively pursue alternative locations for CU Expansion.

CU should enter into good faith negotiations for alternative sites for development and allow flood mitigation to proceed immediately on the CU South land. CU must drop its insistence that it retain 129 acres for development under any flood protection scenario the City chooses. Rather, CU and the City should jointly explore other options for CU’s development. This could include sites in the city, added density on land CU currently holds, land in the Planning Reserve, and a cap on CU enrollment at the Boulder campus.

  1. CU and the City should aggressively pursue a trade of CU South land for Area 3 property in the Planning Reserve.

Area 3 property in the Planning Reserve would be out of floodplain/flood risk area and adjacent to 28th Street corridor making it more suitable for development. The site is only 1 mile further than CU South from Main Campus and the City must decide if it is worth making a trade for this important piece of land reserved for the future needs of the City.

  1. CU must provide a definitive commitment Identifying what uses would be located at CU South, beyond indicating there might be 1,100 Dwelling Units, which would likely not consume the entire 129 acres.

At various times, CU has indicated that in addition to 1,100 units of housing for upper class members, graduate students, and faculty, over 1 million square feet classroom and/or research/administrative offices may be located on the site. CU should provide a definitive development plan that is acceptable to the city for inclusion in the annexation agreement.

  1. The critical South Boulder Creek open space values and property acquired with open space funds adjacent to CU South must be protected, and any impacts associated with either the flood mitigation or CU South development must fully mitigated.

The South Boulder Creek watershed is one of the most critical wildlife corridors in the county and features federal, state and locally protected species. Any activity on, adjacent, or related to either flood mitigation or CU South development must fully protect these critical features. OSBT must be convinced that this will be the case, starting with formal responses to OSBT’s July 2018 Terms and Conditions, and OSBT’s memo of September 2019. OSBT must agree to any disposal of Open Space, and the City should not proceed thinking this is a given only to find out at the last minute that this is not the case, similar to what happened with CDOT’s willingness to allow the project to use its right of way.

  1. Before annexation, land uses must be agreed upon and documented, transportation impacts identified, performance standards specified, necessary transportation network planned, and infrastructure and services identified. Funding and timing of commitments should be required to ensure implementation of the agreed upon infrastructure, services, etc. Clearly, associated opportunities for public comments are mandatory.

There has been no substantial analysis of transportation impacts, performance standards, infrastructure, or commitments towards mitigating or accommodating transportation impacts of CU South development, nor opportunity for public comment on any proposed development.

Transportation issues to be resolved and defined before annexation include:

  • How much traffic would be allowed to be generated on the site.
  • Where and how traffic would access the site.
  • How the transportation system would relate to/impact adjacent neighborhoods and any necessary mitigation measures.
  • Clearly defined performance standards identifying how much traffic, of what type, may generated over specific time frames.
  • A specific plan documenting how students/staff/others would move between CU Main Campus, East Campus, access from regional destinations, etc. and the services and infrastructure necessary to facilitate such movement consistent with the performance standards.
  • Who would build and pay for the necessary infrastructure and services to comply with these performance standards?
  1. Most importantly, the City must immediately start involving the residents who will be impacted by whatever happens to CU South.

To date there has been no outreach to residents adjacent to the CU South site beyond the Frasier Meadows group advocating for immediate flood protection. No other annexation and development of this magnitude would ever receive approval without such information, analysis and included a final annexation agreement.

  1. The annexation agreement should not be approved until all such requirements are included since it is the only mechanism available to legally bind CU and to document such commitments.

Given the impasse that the City finds itself in, with CU insisting on extorting an annexation agreement before allowing any action on flood mitigation to proceed, perhaps it is time for the City to seriously consider condemnation. PLAN-Boulder is confident that there has been legal investigation of this option and that the pros and cons are known, if not public.  Alternatively, the citizens of Boulder could initiate an ordinance or Charter amendment to restrict this site upon annexation limiting the development to recreation facilities and flood mitigation.

The flood event that damaged the downstream neighborhoods occurred in 2013. It is now 2020. PLAN-Boulder recognizes that the City is in the position of having to contemplate extreme measures to achieve a reasonable solution to providing flood mitigation in the face of CU’s intransigence, and we recommend taking whatever action is necessary to provide effective flood protection, but not at the cost of annexation without the conditions that would be required of any other development project in Boulder.


Peter Mayer, Co-Chair

Allyn Feinberg, Co-Chair

PLAN-Boulder County