Editor's Note: This story has been changed to correctly identify one of the speakers at the meeting.
The redevelopment of the former Camera site in downtown Boulder took a big step forward Tuesday night when the City Council decided not to "call up" the project for further review.
By not calling it up for a public hearing and council approval, the City Council allows the previous decisions of the Planning Board and the Landmarks Board approving the redevelopment proposal to stand.
However, the council was just as divided as those boards were on the project, which could substantially change the look and feel of the west end of Pearl Street.
Los Angeles-based Karlin Real Estate wants to redevelop the properties at 1048 Pearl St. and 1023 Walnut St. into nearly 160,000 square feet of office space, retail, restaurants and movie theaters in three- to four-story buildings.
The Planning Board voted 4-3 to approve the project in September, though the board asked for design changes to reduce the mass of the building. A week later, the Landmarks Board voted 3-2 to approve the project.
The concerns about the project include the height and its effect on the view of the Flatirons, as well as how well the design -- which includes some contemporary elements -- fits the historic character of Pearl Street.
A half-dozen speakers urged the council to call up the project and consider denying it.
"I'm that guy walking down Pearl Street shivering and wondering why it's so cold and then realizing it's that big building," said Kent Young.
Valerie Yates of PLAN-Boulder County said the building would forever change the west end of Pearl -- and not for the better.
"There is nowhere else like it in Boulder, and we believe if it is approved, there will be nowhere like it in Boulder anymore either," she said.
Elizabeth Allen said developers had not listened to community members and weren't providing a building that offered public benefit.
But Sean Maher of Downtown Boulder Inc. said tech companies are leaving Boulder for downtown Denver, and the city desperately needs more modern office space to keep its competitive edge.
After more than three hours of discussion, the City Council voted 5-3 not to call up the project. Councilman George Karakehian recused himself from the conversation.
Council members Suzanne Jones, Tim Plass and Lisa Morzel wanted more review of the project.
"We've come a long way, but we're not there yet," Jones said. "This is an incredibly important building. This is an incredibly important block. This is a 100-year decision. We need to love this building."
Council members Ken Wilson, Macon Cowles, K.C. Becker and Suzy Ageton and Mayor Matt Appelbaum voted not to call up the project.
They said the view of the Flatirons is provided by the parking lot in front of the former Camera building, a feature that violates modern urban design principles promoting walkability by positioning buildings right next to the sidewalk.
More important, they could not find any issues with the building that justified rehashing the decisions made by the Planning and Landmarks boards.
"I don't know that we as a council are going to be any better at getting it right," Becker said. "Buildings tend to get worse when they're designed by consensus. I think you could get 10 architects in here and they'd come up with 10 different ideas of how to do it differently, and people would have problems with all of those ideas, too."
Cowles said the city's difficult processes had resulted in the "least objectionable" rather than the best buildings going up along Canyon Boulevard. He said he wanted to avoid that at the downtown site.
Ageton said it's important that the site not languish without being redeveloped.
"If our process is so challenging that we have to meet all varieties of desires and conditions and personal tastes, we will have a very hard time building anything there," she said. "I don't want to sit for another five years with a parking lot and an empty building."
Planning Board member Bill Holicky said the community should keep in mind that whether the building succeeds or fails in a design sense will depend on the execution.
The developer will still need to present its designs to a design review committee of the Landmarks Board to get final approval
A visibly relieved Vicki Canto from Karlin Real Estate said she looks forward to getting to work on the architectural drawings and moving forward with the project.
"Now we can actually get started," she said.
The Camera had operated at the Pearl Street site since 1891. The Camera and Colorado Daily moved their offices to 5450 Western Ave. in January 2011.