Ball’s Boulder expansion proposal expected get first public hearing in next 3 months

An artist’s rendering shows the proposed new buildings within the Ball Corp. campus in Boulder. (Boulder planning documents/Courtesy)
An artist’s rendering shows the proposed new buildings within the Ball Corp. campus in Boulder. (Boulder planning documents/Courtesy)
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Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.’s planned expansion at its Boulder campus is sailing its way through the city’s review and approval process, and residents likely won’t have to wait more than a couple of months for the opportunity to have their thoughts on the proposal heard by Boulder leaders.

The first two big steps toward approval — working with consultants to draft a development application and the submission of a conceptual plan for review — have already occurred.

Prior to approaching city planners, “an applicant would typically engage consultants, including engineers, architects and land-use attorneys. They would prepare a general proposal that’s typically presented to city staff formally during the application process, which is ongoing now,” Boulder planning and development services director Jacob Lindsey told BizWest. “That process begins with a pre-application meeting, then a formal application is submitted in the form of a concept plan. Staff review that concept plan and provide comments to the applicant. Then that plan is reviewed during a public hearing by the planning board.”

Ball filed its concept plan on Jan. 25.

“Any concept plan that’s filed is a matter of public record, and anyone can view them just by going on to [Boulder’s city government] website,” Lindsey said.

According to the plan, Ball is proposing to add 375,000 square feet on the roughly 27-acre site at 1600 Commerce St. The expansion, which is expected to be built in phases over the next decade or so, could more than double the campus’ workforce to nearly 2,000 employees.

City planners are set to return their comments to Ball on Feb. 12.

Between now and mid-February, the concept plan could be reviewed by Boulder’s Development Review Committee, an internal board made up of city staff that meets weekly “should there be a complex item of interpretation or a need to coordinate with other departments,” Lindsey said.

So long as the concept review doesn’t reveal major issues with the application that need to be revised — which can, and does, happen — the Ball proposal will go before the Planning Board for a public hearing “most likely in March or April,” Lindsey said.

The Planning Board reviews the project to ensure that it meets city building and design criteria and issues its recommendation. From there, the approval process is in the hands of the Boulder City Council.

“An interesting facet of Boulder’s city government is that our councilmembers have the ability to ‘call up’ many of the decisions that are made by the lower boards, and that’s certainly the case with the Planning Board,” Lindsey said.

The Council could call up the project and review it more. Should the Council approve the project, Ball would be free to begin applying for building permits. If the Council nixes Ball’s proposal, the project goes back to the drawing board so long as Ball doesn’t appeal.

Ball’s campus is a bit unique in that construction on the site is regulated not only by normal city land-use regulations, but also a planned unit development, or PUD, that exists in perpetuity. A PUD is a “customized piece of land-use zoning that imparts special rights and obligations to a parcel that go above and beyond what the city’s standard zoning categories would impart,” Lindsey said.

Sometimes provisions of a PUD will be more restrictive than city code and others they will be more flexible, he said. “The key is that the PUD is highly customized in describing the kind of land use that occurs on a property.”

In Ball’s case, it’s most recent PUD was approved in 2005 and allowed for “significant expansion of their campus,” Lindsey said. The approved expansion was only partially implemented, and the currently submitted concept plan does not exceed what was approved in 2005.

“Should Ball’s current proposal involve any changes to those entitlements, then they would have to modify their zoning, which has yet to be determined and is something the Planning Board or City Council would look at through the review process,” Lindsey said.

Part of Ball’s PUD allows it to build up to 55 feet in height. The current concept plan calls for new construction up to that height but not exceeding it.

“The 55-foot [height restriction] is a big deal here in Boulder,” Lindsey said. “They have not requested to exceed that height” and are unlikely to do so given the extremely high bar for getting approval of such a request.

“The city of Boulder prides itself on its 55-foot limit, which preserves views, preserves light and air and the overall small, human scale of the city.”

From pre-application meeting to ground-breaking, the approval process “can take anywhere from months to years, and right now [Ball is] just at the beginning of this process,” Lindsey said.

Just because Ball’s current proposal includes a certain element doesn’t necessarily mean that that particular element will be included whatever project ultimately gets built.

“Projects do often change significantly from concept plan to construction,” Lindsey said.

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