Residents of a southeast Boulder neighborhood are pleading with city officials not to pave over a section of the East Boulder Community Park because the prairie dogs, raptors and foxes who call the area home would have to move out.
Boulder planners are entering the second phase of improvements to the city park, a $3.9 million project to add artificial turf fields, a dog park, a 2,500-square-foot restroom, two ponds for ice skating and paddle boats, and lighting for night tennis matches.
But parking at the site -- located along 55th Street between Foothills Highway and Cherryvale Road -- has been a contentious issue since the park was first conceived of in 1989.
While the original plans called for 159 parking spaces to accommodate the anticipated heavy use of the park, subsequent traffic studies have whittled down the estimated need to 73 asphalt spaces.
The construction plan calls for installing those spaces along 55th Street at the southwest corner of the park, near the multi-use fields and a dog park.
Residents of the nearby Greenbelt Meadows neighborhood say that`s unacceptable.
"It`s got native wildlife -- prairie dogs, raptors, foxes, lots of waterfowl," said Jessica Sandler, who lives near the park and works with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "Let`s come up with an alternative that doesn`t devastate a natural area."
According to city documents, there were about a dozen prairie dogs living on the site of the proposed parking lot last year. Now, there are about 30.
Kirk Kincannon, director of Boulder`s Parks and Recreation Department, said the plan is to capture and relocate the rodents to a state-owned site somewhere off U.S. 36.
He said years of studies have shown the only area appropriate for a parking lot is the one that`s been selected, and even that has been scaled back and pushed away from a wetland area in an effort to minimize the environmental impacts.
Kincannon also said suggestions submitted by residents to instead install on-street, angled parking isn`t a good alternative because 55th Street has the potential to see 10,000 vehicles a day and would be too dangerous for people to back into.
"While (neighbors) may not agree with the decision ... we did look at everything," Kincannon said.
Mireille Key, another Greenbelt Meadows resident, said she`s concerned that those efforts aren`t good enough.
"The fact of the matter is that the prairie dogs, they do no harm in our neighborhood -- they do good," she said. "What has not been understood is that they`re all part of the ecosystem. The raptors and the foxes that live in the open space need the prairie dogs."
Kincannon said removing the 30 prairie dogs now living on the site of the planned parking lot is "not going to have a significant impact on the overall population" or its predators.
"There is significant open space to the east of the properties where we have prairie dogs," he said.
Steve Bauhs, vice president of the neighborhood homeowners` association and co-chairman of the Sierra Club`s Boulder energy committee, said he doesn`t think the city should be spending money on parking improvements when it faces a $5 million budget shortfall next year.
He also questioned the overall need for more parking at the site, saying there`s already on-street parking and public parking at a nearby middle school.
"It`s money we don`t need to spend, and it`s a need that`s not proven," he said.
Some of the neighbors suggested that the city should offer them a chance to sit down with planners and redesign the parking area, much like a recent effort that saved some trees from being cut down for a 30th Street bicycle underpass.
But city officials say the park`s design process has been going on for years and included more than five public hearings. They say the money for the improvements comes from a fund dedicated to park use only.
The parks director said he plans to meet with the neighbors to hear their concerns again -- and to explain how the city reached its decisions -- but construction on the parking lot could begin as soon as this fall.