Move Now on the CU South Annexation

CU Boulder South Campus
CU Boulder South Campus.
Photo credit: University of Colorado – Boulder, IT Services

With risk hanging over us, shifting players at the table, and genuine benefits ahead… the city council needs to act now to accept the University of Colorado’s “best offer” for annexation of its CU South property.

Let’s start with the life/safety issues that are of most immediate concern. In public testimony and in my personal conversations with Frasier Meadows residents, along with other neighbors in direct line of the South Boulder Creek floodplain, the mounting fear of another devastating flood is palpable. These residents also express deepening frustration, as they sense their personal security is being held hostage to attempts to curtail CU South property development.

I share the same status as an armchair flood control expert with our city council. In this capacity, I thank council members who have challenged the science and engineering behind the optional flood control plans for South Boulder Creek. Testing freeboard standards and the need for certain physical structures is a legitimate role for publicly elected officials. I don’t even question their authority to review the advice of “experts.” However, at a certain point, you own the delay and the risk you’ve created through your intransigence.

And then there’s the change in University of Colorado leadership. Some might recall that I began my career in Boulder working in the city manager’s office on intergovernmental issues. In that capacity, it fell to me to represent our community in arguments against the University of Colorado’s purchase of the CU South property. Though voters rejected a city-wide ballot initiative to fund the land purchase, some in the community wanted to preserve the area for open space. Yet, for good reasons, the University of Colorado ultimately purchased the old gravel mining site for future development purposes and the sale proceeded.

Ever since those contentious days in the late 1990s, the University of Colorado has permitted our community to freely traverse the CU South property for recreation, of the human and canine varieties. They also responded to the city of Boulder’s urgent request for an agreement to control flood waters along South Boulder Creek that incorporate sections of the CU South property. Those efforts have resulted in adoption by a previous council of guiding principles for development of CU South as part of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan and an annexation proposal that includes the generous allocation of land for flood mitigation purposes. The proposal also specifies a priority focus on housing for University faculty, staff and graduate students.

As CU’s Frances Draper and Derek Silva penned in a recent column, their proposed development plan “reflects three years of negotiation between the university and the four bodies engaged in the approval of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan and, subsequently, directly with the city. It represents significant work and the university’s best offer to meet the needs of both the university and the city in an equitable manner.” The process of negotiating this agreement has occurred under the direction of Chancellor Phil DiStefano and with agreement of University President Bruce Benson, who leaves office this summer. When Draper and Silva speak of “best offer,” then, it’s unclear if that same offer will be on the table this fall.    

Finally, just as community needs change, so has my own perspective on the University’s purchase of CU South. I reflect on the legacy of our community as a college town, with faculty and staff infusing our public discourse with innovative ideas on everything from our response to flooding risks to open space protection. As a result of high housing costs, though, we increasingly see University employees entering Boulder in the morning for “work” and heading “home” at night to communities far removed from here. This migration pattern represents a terrible loss to the fabric of our community — as if the town is being ripped out of our “college town.” The dedicated faculty and staff housing our university proposes for CU South is designed to reverse that trend and I am all for it.

So, what are we waiting for?

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