Opinion: Yes on 2F: Facts, science and a win-win

Photo by Mike Chiropolos

Friday, Oct. 21, 2022 (Updated Nov. 18)

Learn more about 2F: Repeal CU South annexation

Get a second opinion: No on 2F: Boulder needs flood protection, not more negotiations

By Mike Chiropolos

Mike is a long-time supporter of Save South Boulder’s efforts to reduce flood danger and restore the natural ecosystem at CU South who has testified, submitted comments and written op-eds throughout the public review process

Voting YES to repeal the Annexation Agreement for CU South is a vote for a win-win solution for public safety, flood protections, open space, climate science, CU and housing solutions. 

If annexation were as great a deal as the city and annexation supporters claim, why don’t they provide all the facts on their CU South website and FAQs, including the limitations of Annexation-100 and comparative advantages of a land swap combined with 500-year flood protection (“Swap-500”)?

Opponents of 2F offer three reasons to approve annexation on yard signs:

  • Assure flood protections
  • Establish open space
  • Provide affordable housing

Do these reasons hold water?

On flood protections

Annexation (which I will call “Annexation-100” here) settles for 100-year flood mitigation on South Boulder Creek. 

According to the city: “Due to its geographic location and features, the city of Boulder has the highest risk of flash flooding in the state of Colorado.”

Annexation-100 would protect 260 residential structures, 1,100 housing units and 2,300 residents against floods. The city stopped pursuing 500-year protections that would protect 730 residential structures, 1,900 housing units and 4,100 residents against 200- and 500-year floods.

City staff and consultants have asserted that 500-year might face insurmountable permitting issues, but the city’s own engineering consultants’ 2020 Report stating that 6% increased flows under the U.S. 36 bridge from a 500-year flood project may not cause negative impacts or that the impacts could be mitigated. However, council’s reversal meant that further hydraulic modeling was not conducted.

Swap-500-year is far more cost-effective than Annexation-100: roughly double the protections for approximately 10% in the total project cost ($69 compared to $63 million). The difference could be only $6 million if CU develops an alternative location. 

On open space

The city settled for 119 acres. Annexation would salvage barely half of the 220 acres envisioned by the Open Space Visions and Greenway Plans going back to the 1970s. The 1998 South Boulder Creek Area Management Plan provides for restoration, acquisition, and preservation, specifically for “past aggregate operations.” 

CU intends to “comply” with local wetlands ordinances by “mitigating” acres lost on the property’s north side with newly created wetlands in the southeast quadrant. Almost all wetlands were lost from the gravel mine and CU’s berm that deliberately kept the floodplain dry, reneging on the original reclamation/restoration plan that included 38 acres of lakes and open water.

Annexation allows far too much development on far too many acres of a site that is generally unsuitable because of environmental constraints including floodplain, wetlands, springs and topography. Under Swap-500, a future Parks and Rec component at CU South might contribute to a global resolution.

On affordable housing

CU expects continued enrollment increases; past increases exceeded past projections. 2022’s 36,430 students exceeded the 2030 projection from the 2011 Master Plan. The question is the degree to which planned development at CU South either alleviates or exacerbates housing issues and in-commuting. Because the numbers tend to establish it will be a wash at best, it’s not the “solution” touted by annexation supporters if we look at the full picture. 

The annexation agreement caps the number of homes the university can build at CU South to 1,100. It also allows CU to build 750,000 square feet of non-residential space.

Looking beyond CU South, the university’s newly approved Master Plan includes increasing density on Main Campus with a buildout of 550,000 square feet, and doubling the planned squared footage at East Campus to a total of 4 million square feet. Looking at annexation in the context of the Master Plan, CU’s overall footprint in the next ten years is likely to bring in far more students, staff and faculty than can be housed in the aforementioned 1,100 units. That means that today’s estimated 26,000 in-commuters will grow, rather than be reduced after the planned buildout. 

The 500-acre Planning Reserve in North Boulder includes 240 acres of city-owned land  — far more room for future CU growth and housing with far less environmental constraints, making that location potentially far more suitable for CU’s future needs. A thriving North Campus integrating trails, green spaces and cultural and recreational offerings could be a substantial benefit for North Boulder. 

Annexation is like proposing to raise taxes for a new library district that would close more than half the existing libraries and stock barely half the books. Whether or not you support the library measure, at least they’re offering improved facilities and guaranteed funding to serve all residents of the new district.

Instead of settling for half-full shelves, we should be pursuing a land swap. No development is planned at CU South during the next ten years anyway, and university officials have stated they are open to negotiations if the city takes steps to annex land at the reserve, which seems a reasonable request

If Swap-500 ultimately doesn’t pan out, we can go back to 100-year. Because it promises a compelling win-win outcome, Swap-500 should get a hard look. 

When supporters of Annexation assert that there is “no Plan B,” the answer is that Swap-500 is feasible and it should be Plan A. The hidden truth is that the city has no “Plan B” if annexation and development proceed — and future storms reveal that we should have planned for 200- and 500-year floods. The stakes are high: thousands of lives and hundreds of homes, in an era when climate science tells us to expect more frequent and severe extreme weather events such as floods, wildfires, heatwaves and drought.

If you’re more interested in facts and science than talking points, you can send a message to city council that they should take a harder look at more protective solutions by voting YES on 2F.    

Mike Chiropolos, a member of Boulder Beat’s Opinion Panel, aspires to find common ground at a location with higher ground. Learn more about Mike.

Editor’s note: This op-ed has been edited to remove a serious allegation from the author against city staff. The piece was initially published with the allegation and an editor’s note allowing city staff to respond — standard journalistic practice. Upon further reflection, including this allegation did not meet our editorial standards for evidence and inclusion. In our bid to balance freedom of speech with journalistic best practices, we erred in our judgement. We will work to continually improve our decision-making in the future, and thank you for your patience as we learn.

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Beat, its writers, editors or contributors

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