Back almost 30 years ago, when I was on the City Council, we engaged in a very detailed study of the major drainages that flow through Boulder, and the likely damage that could result from floods. Our objective was to come up with appropriate risk mitigation standards. Council member Spense Havlick and I even went to CSU and tried to walk across their artificial flume at various flow rates and depths to test our ability to walk through a flood.
In the CU South debate, there’s one pesky fact that keeps getting buried. Well, actually, there are dozens, but the one that boggles my mind the most is this: In 1996, CU knowingly purchased 220 acres of unincorporated, open space-designated land on the South Boulder Creek floodplain. (They also purchased 88 adjacent acres designated low- and medium-density.) CU knew very well that this land was prone to flooding, rich in wildlife, and zoned for rural/open space uses. They bought it anyway.
Despite numerous public comments from CU about being the “fabric of the Boulder community,” CU continues to ignore public concerns about capping enrollment numbers, development of CU South, capitalizing on their tax exempt status, and a lack of true community engagement. While many residents would agree that CU is an important fabric of the community, we must also recognize CU is causing our community to bust at the seams. To illustrate this, on May 1, CU released a draft concept plan for CU South to build a south campus consisting of faculty and student housing, research buildings, and sports fields. The 1,125 housing units proposed by CU could house 3,000 or more residents (based on dual occupancy of smaller units and 2-4 occupants in townhomes). This proposed development would increase the population of the south Boulder sub-community by 20 percent or more. This scale of development would not only change south Boulder forever, it would change the entrance into Boulder by significantly increasing traffic at the intersection of three of the busiest roads in Boulder (U.S. 36, Foothills Parkway, and Table Mesa/South Boulder Road). Neither CU nor the city has done adequate transportation studies to look at the impact of this proposed development on roads, bridges, or traffic. No mention of traffic mitigation has been made at any of the public hearings. In addition, if the proposed development of CU South occurs, taxpayers would continue to pay for the infrastructure needed to support CU’s growth. Currently, the intersection of U.S. 36 and Table Mesa is already at max capacity during rush hour; imagine adding 3,000 more pedestrians, cars and bikes to this system. There is only so much mending that can be done to our cities seams before the integrity and intent of Boulder is forgotten.
At the heart of opposition to CU’s south campus expansion is the regard and stewardship of Boulder’s public good. Both the city and the university have adopted business plans that emphasize constant growth over refinement and quality of life. Capitalizing on its tax-exempt status, the university has transformed itself from an institution of higher learning into essentially a corporate rental empire with an ever-increasing administrative overhead. There is nothing in its south campus plan that will improve the quality of education offered nor make it any more affordable. What it will do is add more traffic and stress on the city’s infrastructure and carbon footprint. Historically, the site was a natural wetland. Gravel mining further lowered its elevation and left three ponds fed by groundwater. By no means pristine, it presents a clear example of the natural world healing itself from human scarring and, by definition, is still a wetland that will require drainage and massive infill before construction can begin. As it stands now, with vistas in all directions, it has value beyond any future income for the university. Paving and building over it would be a loss for us all.
There are viable options to consider other than the controversial development of CU South. Why not cap the enrollment of CU, so that additional housing, classrooms, and playing fields are not necessary?