Shut Up and Deal

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

Like Frey, Butcher wonders if antigrowth sentiment in Boulder has reached a point where even a project as quintessentially Boulderish as a women's Western history museum (motto: "Her place in history") can't find its home on the range. "I think if we'd come in two years earlier [to apply for annexation], we'd be up and running by now," she says.

Critics of the Gateway purchase contend that the museum has other options, including relocating in communities closer to Denver that are clamoring for such a facility. And they argue that CU hasn't adequately explored other sites around town that might be suitable for storage and service functions, taking some of the pressure off the main campus. As they see it, the combined pressure of the museum and university development will have a snowballing effect on growth in the surrounding area.

"The need to expand Table Mesa Drive, that's the least of the problems," says county commissioner Danish. "Depending on the kind of development CU has in mind, you'd need major improvement of roads and possibly an extension of the Foothills Parkway south through the property to [U.S.] 93. This has been talked about for years in Boulder. If that link gets built, you then have the right-of-way from Golden to Longmont for a belt highway. That would entail not only huge traffic impact, but enormous growth on the west side of the area."

Others question whether the university should be trying to expand in Boulder at all. Guy Kelly, the only member of the Board of Regents to have come out publicly against the purchase, believes CU shouldn't be pinning its future plans on a city that has become too expensive--and obstreperous--to accommodate them.

"I question the strategic importance of this land," Kelly says. "The community has decided to limit growth, and we can't afford to pay professors what it costs to live in Boulder, so they have to live twenty miles away. This land acquisition exacerbates that."

Kelly says his eight fellow regents--including four from Boulder--are still pursuing an "anachronistic" vision of a large, central campus as the heart and soul of a state university system rather than working to enhance a statewide campus network, similar to the California system.

"These people are committed to acquiring that large tract of land, even though it's probably more expensive than it should be," he says. "You could take that $11 million and invest it in a lower-cost community like Colorado Springs, which could handle the impact a lot better because it's bigger to begin with."

Instead, he adds, "we're expanding into a community that's not even friendly to us. It makes no sense to me. Why create grief?"

Two weeks ago Boulder's city council decided to put a sales-tax increase on the November ballot. If it passes, the money could be used to buy the Gateway and another parcel of land that's generated a squabble over development in north Boulder.

The initiative has generated mixed feelings around town, since citizens are already taxed for the existing open-space fund. Ruth Blackmore spoke in favor of the proposal, but she also feels the city should have moved more quickly to purchase the Gateway before CU entered the picture, rather than try to extract open space from Frey through the annexation process.

"It was a cat-and-mouse game, and the city lost," says Blackmore, who ran for city council last fall and fell short of victory by only nineteen votes. "Why aren't they out buying the crucial pieces of land?"

Even if the university quietly withdraws its offer and the parcel becomes available for an open-space purchase, many observers expect the city and Flatiron to be miles apart on a price. Whether CU will be able to proceed as planned or the city will pursue condemnation proceedings may ultimately have to be resolved in court. The city recently ordered another appraisal of the property for its own use; reportedly, so has the university.

All of the political maneuvering comes too late, though, for the only historical artifact of note on the property. For years, residents of the Majestic Heights neighborhood had been able to look out at a two-story farmhouse sitting in the middle of the gravel operations, a lonely reminder of the days when most of the surrounding land was populated by cattle, horses and wilderness.

Called the Deepe Farmstead after one of the more recent owners of the land, the stone house was actually built around the turn of the century by Timothy Shanahan, son of one of the county's earliest pioneer families. Preservationists say it was by no means the oldest or the most significant building in the area, but it was unusual, with its hand-laid rough stone foundation and its Lyons sandstone walls, partially hidden under a concrete addition.

Too precarious to move, too interesting to ignore, somehow it managed to survive for decades, even as the mining operation excavated huge chunks of ground around it, until it sat like a trophy on a grooved pedestal of earth. When Flatiron brought its annexation proposal to the city last year, planners saw a possible opportunity for the "historical structure" to be incorporated into the site design.

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