Boulder last week bailed on a crucial element of the Alpine-Balsam area plan.
After buying the former Boulder Community Health hospital site for $40 million in 2015, and proposing to create a vision to steer any redevelopment attempts from now to decades into the future for the approximate 70 acres surrounding the city-owned parcel on which Boulder envisions city offices and housing, city council on Wednesday shelved land use updates staff crafted following four years of work and public engagement.
The move to delay came after a majority of speakers during a several-hour public hearing Tuesday insisted their voices against the number of housing units envisioned for the former hospital site, and worries about land use changes for the rest of the swath, hadn’t been heard. It came despite a years-long effort by city officials to gain perspective from residents on the plan that council members acknowledged was thorough.
Boulder Alpine-Balsam Project Manager Jean Gatza said the land-use changes were aimed at potential other changes staying in step with the city’s vision.
“When there is a catalyst for change in an area, when there is going to be a significant redevelopment, sometimes we see a ripple effect in other properties wanting to redevelop,” Gatza said.
She said an area plan could help “get what we want” should the city-owned property’s transformation spur nearby land owners to propose change.
Instead of working to adopt updated land uses for the entire Alpine-Balsam area, generally encompassing a block east of Broadway between Portland Place and Balsam Avenue, to Ninth Street on the west, council for the time being is focusing only on the city-owned former hospital site.
The decision negates staff recommendations to ingrain rules into Boulder’s code that would have remodeled the control city officials could wield over any redevelopment plans for the hospital property’s neighborhood and adjacent shopping centers east of Broadway, known as Ideal Market and Community Plaza, until a future council takes up the issue and gives a go-ahead to staff-proposed building guidance.
Unintentionally driving interest in changing the shopping centers is of particular concern, but council had asked staff to include them in the planning effort.
“We’ve got the area plan on the table now, and that’s the most broad thing we could do,” Assistant City Manager Chris Meschuk said.
Also on the table Wednesday were pushing to a later phase plans for the area outside the city-owned site; removing the Ideal and Community Plaza shopping centers — for which staff-proposed land use changes from business-community to mixed-use confused council, since there is zero desire for the shops to be replaced — from the area plan’s purview; focusing only on the nearly 9-acre city-owned hospital site; or moving forward plans for just the building on the city-owned site known as the medical pavilion, which likely will, through either renovation or deconstruction, hold new city offices allowing Boulder to consolidate three city buildings into one structure.
Work not wasted
Council ultimately decided to “gray out” the staff-proposed land use changes outside the hospital property, leaving it up to a future council to adopt possible updates in a later planning phase.
Councilwoman Mary Young pushed to consider adopting the land use changes for the wider area, arguing against putting forward an area plan solely for the hospital parcel.
Mayor Suzanne Jones told staff its work doesn’t have to disappear, but could be incorporated into future land use discussions for the wider area around the hospital site.
Council’s action to drop land use from the conversation for now does nothing to prevent a redevelopment proposal from coming forward for the shopping centers or any of the private land outside the city-owned site. But the mixed-use designation shot down for the shopping centers would have encouraged housing to colocate, perhaps above, the retail spaces.
Ideal Market owner Stephen LeBlang on Tuesday testified to council there are no current plans to redevelop, but pushed for the chance to add housing to the area for employees at some point.
By keeping land use unchanged, multi-story office space could be erected in the area, which Young fears. Landmarking structures, which would likely be considered for the shopping centers during any redevelopment attempts, will be the only method to keep them the same, Councilman Sam Weaver said, but that designation would last in perpetuity and limit what could be done.
“It’s really difficult for people to imagine change on private property in places that they think have been stable for a long time and where there is not a perceived immediate need for redevelopment,” Gatza said. “That’s a difficult concept for people to imagine. And then when there is an application, people see, ‘Oh, this could be changing.’”
Some ideas moving forward
A joint public hearing between the Planning Board and council will take place Sept. 24, with a possible council adoption of the Alpine-Balsam area plan sans land use changes set for Oct. 1.
Urban design concepts drafted in the area plan to create transportation and walking connections from the hospital site to the broader area, which includes North Boulder Park, remain up for adoption even with the shelving of land use talks.
Those include creating better visibility for cross-street connection along Broadway at Balsam and Alpine avenues and North Street through intersection surface treatment and improvements; maintaining a visual connection from a public plaza on the hospital site to the park; and “reconnecting the existing street network and making smaller city blocks through the superblocks
west of Broadway,” the draft area plan states.
The latter goal would be done by adding a new 11th Street connection from Alpine to Balsam, and completing a 10th Street connection from North to Alpine.