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Boulder City Council agrees to Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan update

A land-use change to property in Gunbarrel raised questions about process


The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan is inching closer to an update.

Boulder City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to move forward with recommended changes to the plan, which serves as a joint city and county guide to assist with long-range planning and help as development proposals are considered. The majority of the changes included in the update require a two-body approval and will proceed now that Boulder City Council and the Boulder Planning Board gave the OK.

Two changes regarding county-owned property will go to the Boulder County Planning Commission and the Boulder County Commissioners before returning to council for adoption in February.

While the update is smaller in scope because it’s considered a “midterm” update, it includes a number of land-use changes, including one that would change the zoning for land at 6500 Odell Place in Gunbarrel from mixed use industrial to high density residential. Doing so would allow Boulder Housing Partners to move forward with purchasing property to build a 100% affordable housing project.

This was the source of consternation for some Gunbarrel residents, who largely expressed concerns about the manner in which the Odell Place property was included. City staff recommended the change after the deadline for community members to do so.

Gunbarrel residents Kit Fuller and Julie Dye both shared their frustration about what they called irregularities in the process.

“It sets a very bad precedent. It’s unfortunate that it’s being considered under these circumstances and that’s even despite the fact that I do agree that this is a very good location for high density residential,” Fuller said.

Boulder Senior Planner Jean Gatza stressed that, while the Odell Place property was a staff recommended change, it went through a similar engagement process as the others. The city had information about each of the sites on Be Heard Boulder in October and held a community meeting regarding each change as well as virtual office hours with staff. It also notified residents within 600 feet of the proposals.

Interim City Manager Chris Meschuk confirmed that it’s typical for comprehensive plan updates to include both community- and staff-recommended changes.

This particular one was different because Boulder Housing Partners identified the property as a good candidate for affordable housing after the deadline for people to submit ideas, according to staff. Boulder City Council over the summer agreed to allow its inclusion after the initial deadline, so councilmembers took responsibility for the community’s complaints about the process.

Still, Gatza confirmed that the timing for community engagement was the same.

“When we were soliciting public comment, it was about all of the changes together,” she said.

Gunbarrel resident Donna George said the comprehensive plan update should have been postponed because of the pandemic and the fact that it was scheduled around the holidays. Like others, she was upset about the process and thought Gunbarrel wasn’t treated fairly.

“The rules apply differently to one area than they apply to Gunbarrel,” George said.

Council agreed that affordable housing is a huge need in Boulder and were supportive of the changes to the comprehensive plan. However, some worried about the process and wanted to avoid any scenario where people feel there is preferential treatment.

Councilman Adam Swetlik said he’s fully supportive of an affordable housing project in Gunbarrel but “how you get there, I think, is important for the public trust.”

Among the other land-use changes approved Tuesday are a switch from public to mixed use business and high density residential zoning on the city-owned Alpine-Balsam property as well changing property at 30th Street and Valmont Road that had been zoned mixed use industrial and service commercial to mixed use business.

In addition to the recommended land-use changes, Boulder City Council also approved a number of minor policy and text changes such as one that reflects the city’s goal that 15% of housing will be affordable for low- to middle-income families by 2035.

Further, council agreed to extend an intergovernmental agreement regarding the plan between the city and county until the end of 2042.