Skip to content

Breaking News

Tom Babb, of Boston, takes photos of Boulder from the Flagstaff Road overlook on Monday afternoon. Fifty years ago today, Boulder voters overwhelmingly approved the Blue Line â   a wandering boundary that more or less follows the 5,750-foot contour line north from Eldorado Springs. The new rule made it more difficult for developers to build in the foothills, providing the first sweeping protection for Boulder's mountain backdrop.
Paul Aiken
Tom Babb, of Boston, takes photos of Boulder from the Flagstaff Road overlook on Monday afternoon. Fifty years ago today, Boulder voters overwhelmingly approved the Blue Line â a wandering boundary that more or less follows the 5,750-foot contour line north from Eldorado Springs. The new rule made it more difficult for developers to build in the foothills, providing the first sweeping protection for Boulder’s mountain backdrop.

BOULDER, Colo. –

In the 1950s, while Boulder was in the middle of a massive growth spurt, two University of Colorado professors met outside the Norlin Library, paused to look up into the foothills and — concerned by what they saw — formed an alliance that would lay the foundation for the city’s now-famous open space program.

Mathematician Robert McKelvey was riding his bike by the library, when he noticed Albert Bartlett, a physics professor, walking home.

“He said, ‘Al, we have to do something about all of the houses that are being built up in the foothills,” recalled Bartlett. “I can remember thinking to myself, ‘Bob, you’re out of your mind. What can we do?'”

As it turned out, they were able to do a lot. Bartlett and McKelvey launched a campaign that ended with an amendment to the city charter, against the will of the city council, forbidding Boulder from pumping water uphill. Fifty years ago Tuesday, Boulder voters overwhelmingly approved the Blue Line — a wandering boundary that more or less follows the 5,750-foot contour line north from Eldorado Springs — west of which the city would no longer provide water.

Effectively, the new rule made it more difficult for developers to build in the foothills, providing the first sweeping protection for Boulder’s mountain backdrop. Some development plans, such as a subdivision planned around what is now the National Center for Atmospheric Research facility, were scrapped.

But Bartlett and McKelvey knew that stricter rules would soon be needed since the Blue Line did not make it impossible to build. People could put in wells or secure water from elsewhere, Bartlett said.

In the fall of 1959, many of the people who had campaigned for the Blue Line decided to form a more permanent group to address these concerns, and PLAN-Boulder County was born.

“The Blue Line was really the thing that formed PLAN-Boulder, and PLAN-Boulder was instrumental in starting the whole open space program,” said Susan Peterson, a board member for the group, which is celebrating its own 50th anniversary this year.

Eventually, PLAN-Boulder County spearheaded the campaign to pass Boulder’s open space tax, the first in the country, in 1967. Today, the city owns more than 45,000 acres of open space, which attracts 5.3 million visitors a year.

Even with so much land, PLAN-Boulder County hasn’t let down its guard, Peterson said.

“We’re still really vigilant about the whole preserving of our open space,” she said. “There’s a tendency for people to be a little lackadaisical about it.”

Archived comments

Prescient that Boulder Junior Academy is on the agenda for City Council 50 yrs. to the day from the Blue Line victory. And in the year of reflection of the Sesquicentennial.

Yeah, it’s within the Blue Line.Just barely, however, darn close, and Boulder’s bursting at the seams in the last 50 yrs.

6 PMCity Council Chambers.

The devil’s in the zoning.

NO CHANGE.

Simple. Follow the rules and you be fine.

lynn_segal_aka_lds

7/20/2009 11:40:40 PM

It is people like these professors and the early PLAN-Boulder that have helped make Boulder such a wonderful place.Thank you!

republican_ecologist

7/21/2009 7:17:14 AM

Fabulous, smart, first-in-the-country, the envy of the sprawl towns…..congrats to those who were responsible.

NOW, let’s understand that we have enough open space, do not buy in OTHER counties, do not buy anymore land.Preserve and maintain what we already own.Change the funneled portion of the sales tax that is forbidden from anything but Open Space.Give them a budget to operate on for maintenance, etc., but do not aid in the continued downfall of the budget problem by keeping valuable monies diverted for this now, unnecessary cause.

comcast777

7/21/2009 7:38:11 AM

lynn – “bursting at the seems?” you keep advocating for affordable housing, but it’s simple supply and demand. this community has some very hard choices, and there are only three ways to go out, up or in.

the recent shut down of the proposed development at Robb’s by Liquor Mart was because people seem to be saying we’ve gone to high? no one i’ve talked to or heard from wants to grow out. we all love the concept of the open space program and the value of this shared space.

some of the city’s most successful communities built in the past decade have been urban infill communities – steelyards, holiday neighborhood, and while I think it’s an eyesore, dakota ridge. there is limited space in boulder, and spaces like the boulder academy are highly valued because of their proximity to open space.

all the nimbies in your group cannot see past your own noses. as a good buddy recently said to me: it’s the last one on the boat that pulls up the ladder. the biggest whiners and complainers have theirs. it’s no different than the pops and scrapes debate. the fact that the little folks – folks with smaller homes on smaller, sloping or irregular lots will be hurt.

as many have pointed out on this forum, lynn, you seem to think you are the decider. as you say, “it’s within the blue line,” and what that means is that the land can be developed. why folks get so upset is that they invest in their home, their family, their future, the future of this community with their taxes and children and business, and then a selfish few who already have their home, their view, their dream want to pull up the ladder.

go back to seattle lynn and bring your whole group of whiney, mommy, fascistswith you.

MarkGelband

7/21/2009 7:42:26 AM

Thank you, Al Bartlett!

cath803@aol.com

7/21/2009 8:08:30 AM

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Professors McKelvey and Bartlett! Thank you for the open space and for being part of a culture where it is possible to be heard and to make things happen.

monkeys

7/21/2009 8:12:42 AM

I approve of urban growth boundaries and the Blue Line is a great idea that adds to the pedestrian qualities of Boulder–unfortunately something that is subjective.If anyone wants to know what it would look like not having the Blue Line can travel South to Evergreen and then imagine even cheaper money-generating shell buildings for student housing that have shelf lives similar to fresh produce.

nealos

7/21/2009 8:17:15 AM

The blue line has helped preserve the mountains and views, though some with enough money have just drilled as deep as it took to find water. Al Bartlett – who I had the great fortune to hear lecture at CU, clearly understood the implications of logarithmic growth.

The blue line also helped, along with the green belt, to drive the desirability of living in Boulder and created the limited housing stock situation that is a significant driverthe price of housing in Boulder.

You constantly speak about affordable housing. And now here you are saying-

No change – work within the rules, don’t rezone – keep density low and housing costs high! All the real estate investors in town thank you.

Without higher housing density there can’t be any meaningful kind of affordable housing.It’s the law of supply and demand. Currently demand outstrips Boulder supply, and regulations on house occupancy also contributes to demand for housing that drives prices up.

If you want low density – then accept that prices will be high. If you want lower prices then accept that density will need to increase.

You can’t have it both ways – low density and affordable. Too many people want to live here, and have more than enough money to buy their way in, Boulder certainly hasn’t seen price drops during the recession that other Denver metro locations have.

jafi

7/21/2009 9:22:02 AM

Densify in the core. Legitimize ADU’s, REQUIRE smaller residences since large single families with two occupants further drive up the cost by taking up desirable land that more could enjoy. Want a big family — PAY for it– buy two lots. Al finally gets his way!

Jafi, you are misinterpreting and misusing Al Bartlett’s prescient message about over-population.

Density is a much unspecified and misused word.

lynn_segal_aka_lds

7/21/2009 10:34:55 AM

MarkGelbrand

I don’t know how to make myself clearer.

Follow the rules. The zoning is there. Leave be.

INCLUDE THE VIRTUAL FLOOR, REQUIRE BASEMENTS, 3007 10th actually FILLED IN their basement. Read Sarah Susanka’s book.

If this is NIMBY, it’s because the oceans are gone and the backyard has become the whole world.

Less is more. More is less.Relax.

lynn_segal_aka_lds

7/21/2009 10:45:11 AM

Mark

You said:

“”it’s within the blue line,” and what that means is that the land can be developed.”

I understand that. That is why I said it. The DEVELOPABLE land has protective zoning up at BJA that was there for a purpose. Public 30% to RL-1 70%. Adrian Sopher wants to change it to Public 80% to RL-1 20%

Public zone allows three to every one unit.Some, like myself advocated for more Public because the word is misleading.Now I know. I will retract my testimony before Planning Board at City Council tonight. The process is lousy. It should have been made clear to the citizens in the presentation before the hearing at Planning Board what exactly was going on within density in the zones.

Zoning @ BJA should not be changed. It will not be changed.

The Blue Line defines Boulder.It has a buffer. You don’t build skyscrapers up to the border.It was hard enough to get NCAR to violate. My parents family friends fought that vehemently after we’d moved to Salt Lake way back in ’60.

lynn_segal_aka_lds

7/21/2009 11:07:51 AM

Dr Barlett’s website is:

http://www.albartlett.org/

Stan_Weekes

7/21/2009 2:13:04 PM

Bartlett and McKelvey…we need a statue on the mall to ’em!

waylonhlewis

7/21/2009 4:27:37 PM

Join the Conversation

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.