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Shut Up and Deal

CU's secret plan to expand has Boulder in an uproar-- and city officials eager to condemn.

Item: Not long after the Anderson appraisal was completed, consultants hired by CU discovered that considerably more of the property was situated in the South Boulder Creek floodplain than previous mapping had indicated. According to the consultants, Love and Associates, in a 100-year flood--a flood that has a 1 percent chance per year of occurring--roughly one-third of the Gateway would be under water.

Arguments about the seriousness of floodplain issues tend to be complex, esoteric and tedious. The university, the city and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District are currently reviewing Love's findings, but there seems little question that the floodplain could limit the scope and type of development possible on the property and affect its overall value. Yet a fact sheet CU prepared last April for legislative briefings states that the site has "limited flood way or floodplain implications and no obvious environmental constraints."

Item: Of all the documents relating to CU's negotiations on the Gateway, perhaps the most revealing are those in which Herbstreit, Park and others discuss how they intend to justify the purchase to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the legislature. For CU's strategy to work, Herbstreit wrote last December, "this acquisition needs to be viewed as [the Board of Regents'] long-range vision for the health and welfare of the University of Colorado." At the time, though, the regents had not yet been fully briefed on the proposed purchase--much less adopted its "vision" as their own.

Since CU's existing master plan contained only vague references to acquiring more land as needed to assure the viability of the campus, Herbstreit urged another official to "develop a long-range plan for land acquisition--similar to the one developed by CSU...one that would allow us to act on targets of opportunity." As for winning CCHE approval, "we can be relatively vague on the intended uses of the land, i.e. to serve the ongoing mission of the Boulder Campus."

The CCHE gave its blessing to the proposed purchase the day after it was publicly disclosed. Approval by the legislature's Capital Development and Joint Budget committees followed within a matter of weeks.

Item: "We have no particular immediate use in mind for the property but view it as a strategic acquisition for university purposes for the long-term future," Park announced to the press last spring. But the internal CU memoranda are brimming with possible uses for the land, for university purposes or otherwise.

Last year then-athletic director Bill Marolt was interested in turning the Gateway into a golf course, Herbstreit reports; other possibilities under discussion include parking lots, athletic practice fields, research facilities, offices, storage buildings, faculty and student housing "and perhaps even high-end investment residential [housing] around the golf course."

Officially, CU plans to do nothing with the land for twenty or thirty years, until the main campus itself becomes too cramped. But among the suggested uses listed for the Gateway is one area of endeavor in which the state's largest public university is already operating at capacity: "backroom business functions."

To Larry Frey, the hue and cry from city officials over CU's proposed purchase of the Gateway has a familiar ring. Many of the same objections were raised when he applied to have the property annexed to the city. As he sees it, the present situation is a direct result of the city's increasing unwillingness to consider even the most modest and reasonable development projects for annexation.

"I grew up in Boulder," notes Frey, who, in addition to being one of the owners of the Gateway site, is the managing partner of the Flatiron Park Company, the industrial park in which CU agreed to give up two parcels of land as part of the purchase price. "I don't want to see it get built out to where it's like so many other areas of the country. But you have to allow a place where existing businesses can grow and prosper and people who grew up here have a chance to continue to live here. I don't think they're giving much consideration to that right now."

Frey says that over the years his company has donated more than its fair share of land to the city open-space program, giving away more than 250 acres while developing 180. Flatiron's plans for residential development of the Gateway involved what's known as TDRs--purchasing and transferring development rights from agricultural land elsewhere in the county in order to permit a higher-density development at the edge of the existing city. Flatiron's 78 homes would have been "fairly expensive," Frey concedes, "but it was never our intention to build a luxury neighborhood. It was to build a neighborhood that would preserve open space elsewhere in the county."

A progressive city like Boulder should encourage such efforts, Frey figured. In fact, city planners had already designated the Gateway as a possible "receptor site" for just such a transfer of development rights. But when Frey brought his proposal to a community review hearing last year--"basically a process in which the owner has no opportunity to say anything," he says--he was confronted with a long list of the city's concerns about the project's impact on everything from traffic and services to wetlands (many of which were created by the mining process itself) and the survival of the Preble's jumping mouse, a candidate for the endangered species list.

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