BOULDER, Colo. –
Neighbors, an architect and city officials are hoping that a new plan to put more than two dozen houses or a senior-living center on the site of the former Boulder Junior Academy won’t follow the same old script.
Would-be building projects in Boulder often play out like this: A developer buys a piece of property, draws up a plan for it and presents it to the Planning Board. Outraged neighbors show up and express their concerns — often forcefully.
Appointed and elected officials either approve the project — eliciting howls of outrage — or turn it down, sending architects and planners back to the drawing board with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted.
Hoping for a smoother path, architect Stephen Sparn and city officials have been meeting with neighbors of the 2641 Fourth St. property to work on an “area plan” at the 5.8-acre site. Located at the foot of Mount Sanitas, the property was home to the school since the 1950s but has been vacant for years.
Susan Richstone, long-term planning manager for the city, said this is the first time an area plan — a smaller-scale guiding document for development — has been written for a single property.
But the property’s history as a school, its transition to new ownership and a technical discrepancy between its city zoning and the land-use designation in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan make it a good candidate for the process.
“There’s a few unusual pieces to the puzzle, and it felt like there was an appropriate role for the city to take, to do an outreach process to provide an opportunity for the neighborhood — and all interested parties — to provide input for their issues and concerns,” she said.
This is the third attempt to develop the former school in the last five years. The previous proposals –the first of which called for 26 large houses, the second for a mixed-density, 42-unit development — were rejected by the Planning Board in 2004 and 2005.
Kim Keech, who lives right across Fourth Street from the site and is a member of Friends of Mount Sanitas, said she and her neighbors want to make sure any development takes into account the “unique” nature of the property, which she said provides “a quiet transition into open space and the foothills of the Rockies.”
Previous projects, she said, didn’t take those characteristics into account.
“We’d like to see a creative and modest use of this site, low impact on the neighborhood, sensitivity to the Mount Sanitas gateway and viewshed — nothing like earlier proposals,” she said. “Earlier concepts were too big, too much, too dense, incompatible and insensitive, and we know we can see something better.”
Sparn, the architect who’s representing property owner Fourth Street LLC, said he hopes working with neighbors ahead of time will be more productive than previous efforts. He said he’s not trying to build anything that’s too large or dense.
He says a senior-living center, for example, would probably be less dense than the Academy senior facility at 970 Aurora Ave. on University Hill.
“I think we’re trying to learn from the past and create a real open and inclusive process,” he said. “Having practiced in and around Boulder for so long, I definitely have been keenly aware of other projects that have been going on around town and I’ve noted very carefully the conflicts that have occurred.”
Sparn said he wants to try and fit into the neighborhood — and, he said, he’s wants to hear what neighbors have to say.
“We have the needs of the landowner, the needs of the neighborhood, and we have the technical requirements of the city,” he said. “That’s what makes my job so fun, is taking all those things and trying to come up with a solution that stands on its own two feet.”
Contact Camera Staff Writer Ryan Morgan at 303-473-1333 or email@example.com.