Despite poor cost/benefit analysis, flood mitigation and open space recommended for Hogan Pancost

Hogan Pancost property, in orange. Courtesy City of Boulder.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Council on Tuesday will consider plans for flood mitigation and open space at the hotly contested Hogan Pancost property in southeast Boulder, despite analysis that shows the high cost of such uses will reap few returns in terms of public safety and ecological benefit. If approved, 22 acres of land near recreation, schools and major transportation corridors will be removed from possible development, ending more than three decades of battles over proposed housing at the site.

Boulder bought Hogan Pancost in April 2018 for $5 million, after plans to build homes there drew the ire of neighbors concerned with flooding and congestion. The property borders East Boulder Community Park near 55th Street, South Boulder Road and South Boulder Creek; Dry Creek Ditch No. 2 runs along the western edge.

Council in October considered a myriad of possible uses for the land, including athletic fields and creative housing such as tiny homes or a trailer park. Staff was instructed to pursue options for a purchase or conservation easement of 3 acres as open space, and to study flood mitigation options before other potential land uses were discussed.

If it simply doesn’t work to put flood detention here,” councilman Aaron Brockett said at an Oct. 9 study session, “we really need that information before taking a real next step.”

“Get the results,” added councilwoman Lisa Morzel, “and then we (can) have another conversation.”

The item is scheduled for vote Tuesday, with staff recommending that council designate the land for flood mitigation and open space. Just 45 minutes has been allowed to the issue, despite the days-long decision-making by boards and council in the past when housing was being considered.

Five, 10- and 12-acre detention areas were considered to protect against a maximum 100-year storm event. Detention would cost between $2-$6 million and protect 26 nearby homes. The project’s efficacy is dependent on a flood mitigation project being completed at CU South, which will also be discussed Tuesday night.

Staff said in its memo to council that the cost/benefit analysis of Hogan Pancost detention was “not favorable.” The “return would be low” based on the $90,000 to $272,000-per-dwelling cost of protection.

The 26 homes that would benefit from the project could potentially be more cost-effectively protected using other means such as modifications to individual structures,” the memo stated.

A detention project at Hogan Pancost also falls below the threshold Boulder typically uses when deciding which flood mitigation efforts to fund. The cost/benefit analysis ranges from .01 to .17, not including the costs of property acquisition. “Flood mitigation projects with a benefit to cost ratio below 1.0 are not typically pursued by the city,” staff noted.

And yet, staff is still recommending that council move forward with flood mitigation at the property. They are also recommending that 3 acres south and east of 55th Street be designated as open space. The Open Space Board of Trustees in May voted unanimously to support that recommendation.

The city’s open space department has for years ranked Hogan Pancost a low priority for acquisition, mainly due to the quality of the land. It is overrun with invasive weeds and prairie dogs, and the proximity of so many homes limit its potential as wildlife habit. Per the memo:

City staff has considered the open space values of this property several times over the past couple of decades, and it has consistently ranked low and not been a priority for acquisition by OSMP. … The context of these neighboring land uses negatively influences both the existing ecological condition and its long-term potential through direct and indirect impacts to wildlife as well as its proximity to potentially invasive, non-native plants. The property’s highly modified landscape and neighboring land uses limit available habitat to most wildlife species except for generalist species that are capable of existing across a wide range of the landscape.”

Despite that prognosis, the 3 acres has the “highest potential” for reclamation. It will cost $5,000 to $10,000 upfront to restore and $500 to $1,000 annually to maintain, according to the memo.

Councilwoman Cindy Carlisle in October said a potential buyer had come forward for the acreage who pledged to protect it via a conservation easement. Staff was instructed to explore that option, but no mention of it was made in the council packet.

None of the other potential uses outlined in October were discussed in the packet. Flood detention would take up 14 of the 19 available acres, but the layout of the plan would not leave land available for other uses.

Taking development off the table dramatically decreases the land value. Boulder paid $5 million for Hogan Pancost, $227,000 an acre. Assuming no housing can go there, today the land is worth $8,000 an acre, or $182,000 in total.

If council approves flood mitigation and open space uses, the respective city departments would pay that for the property. Stormwater and flood management utility would purchase 19 acres for $152,000. Open space would purchase 3 acres plus water rights for $30,000. The money would be paid into the general fund.

Preventing housing from being built on the property will put an end to 30 years of failed housing proposals and corresponding pushback from neighbors. Past hearings on various projects were packed to capacity with area residents. Carlisle in October said that the city’s purchase of the property was motivated, in part, by a desire to “allay the concerns of the neighbors” over development there. Staff noted as much in the memo.

And yet also in October, Carlisle and other council members listened with interest to a lengthy presentation from housing director Kurt Firnhaber over the potential for housing at the site. Given the proximity to the East Boulder Recreation Center, senior housing would make sense, Firnhaber said. Hogan Pancost could also present an opportunity for a new mobile home park. Mobile homes have emerged as a council favorite as a desirable, affordable option in a community suffering from an acute affordability crisis.

Tiny homes were also floated: 20-25 could fit on just one acre. Carlisle was among the council members who inquired of staff how such dwellings could be made legal in the city. Currently, they are restricted by building codes governing minimum floor area and fixed foundations.

The site’s potential for housing was not discussed in the packet. There has been no public engagement on Hogan Pancost since possible uses were made public in October. Council’s vote Tuesday will include a public hearing.

City council meeting, 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 16, 1777 Broadway

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

Governance Growth and Development Open Space

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