Council member absence delays decision on Macy’s redevelopment

A proposed small-vendor marketplace at the current Macy’s on Twenty Ninth Street Mall.

Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020

A decision on plans to redevelop one of Boulder’s larger retail spaces was pushed to early 2021 by a council member absence — and the revelation that officials don’t know exactly what would happen in the event of a tie vote on a development project that needs city approval.

Councilwoman Mirabai Nagle missed Tuesday’s meeting due to an unspecified emergency, leaving open the possibility that the eight remaining members might split 4-4 on a vote for or against the proposed reuse of Macy’s on Twenty Ninth Street Mall. Issues of growth and development often narrowly win approval; Planning Board’s conditional green light was 4-3.

“The code is not clear” on if a tie vote can be considered a legal approval or denial of a project, City Attorney Tom Carr said. “There’s no provision for what happens if you don’t make a (majority) decision. … I could argue it either way.”

“There is no precedent for this, so there is some risk.”

Council agreed to move the entire proceeding — presentation, public hearing and a final vote — to Jan. 5, when Nagle indicated she would return, according to Mayor Sam Weaver.

Citing the changing retail environment, Macy’s owners want to reuse the building as office space and a small-vendor marketplace for retail and restaurants, à la Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, formerly an airport hangar. “Having collaborated with Staff … we anticipate continuing to work in partnership with the City as we seek to implement an approach to maintaining this space as below-market commercial,” Macy’s wrote in its application materials.

The office space is of bigger import to elected officials who have been critical of bringing more jobs to Boulder. Council can’t technically disallow offices on the site, as the use is not up for review.

But plans are, because developers are seeking a height adjustment. A portion of the building will be taken from two to three stores, roughly the city’s 55-foot height limit. An existing “mechanical penthouse” elsewhere on the structure rises to 55 feet.

A nearly 12,000-square-foot addition is proposed as well, and the west side of the building will be “pulled in” to “daylight” the basement level, creating a plaza space along the western facade and a roof deck.

A rooftop terrace is proposed for the redeveloped Macy’s on Twenty Ninth Street Mall.
A proposed plaza, created by “daylighting” the current basement level.

The plans were submitted in 2018 — just under the wire of a temporary timeout on such projects meant to curb the use of a controversial federal tax credit program in designated “opportunity zones.” Macy’s is not utilizing opportunity zone funding mechanisms, project managers have said in the past.

Since that time, Boulder’s regulations for shopping centers changed to allow more housing and retail ground-floor retail. Yet based on density and zoning, 64 dwellings could be built on the site, according to Macy’s.

“Even with the Use Table changes that were enacted during the moratorium period,” wrote Jessica Fraser, Macy’s development director, in a letter to city planners, “the challenges of this site preclude the development of a meaningful and economically viable residential development. Due to unique site and zoning constraints and Macy’s commitment to adaptively reuse the existing structure to create a more sustainable project and reduce carbon emissions, it is not feasible to incorporate residential uses into the proposed project.”

Macy’s asserted that adding office space does represent balance: It would bring the predominantly retail area closer to city goals for mixed-use development, representatives wrote, with residential uses provided by nearby Two Nine North apartments.

Mix of area uses with proposed reuse
40.5% retail
26.7% residential
23.5% office
5.2% restaurant
4.1% theater
Total area square footage: 1.18 million
Source: Macy’s application materials

The retailer is offering to pay the full commercial linkage fee, not taking credit for existing uses on the site. That represents a difference of $3 million to fund affordable housing.

Two Nine North residents are unhappy with the planned height and possible traffic impacts. A traffic study projects 1,542 fewer daily vehicle trips, but with a 91-vehicle increase during the morning rush hour.

Planning Board asked that employee Eco-Passes be provided in its September approval, along with a shadow analysis and more detailed plans for utilities, landscaping and outdoor lighting. Macy’s was initially scheduled for a March Planning Board hearing but delayed in the hopes of an in-person meeting.

The project was also rescheduled once before by council, moved from Nov. 10 to Dec. 1. Macy’s agreed to waive a regulatory time limit on council’s decision in order to have all nine members present.

Nagle has missed 10 meetings this year, including the spring board and commission interviews. She will not attend council’s upcoming mid-term retreat due to a work conflict. At least three of Nagle’s absences this year were attributed to medical issues, including a mid-August surgery. 

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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