By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Ruth Blackmore leads a few of her south Boulder neighbors on a field trip, down a path she's taken many, many times before. The excursion begins in a vacant field a few blocks from her home, where the trail is hemmed in by knee-high weeds and skittering grasshoppers; crosses a footbridge above a meandering stream, where a small boy studies the behavior of crawdads in muddy water; skirts a narrow, sloping pasture filled with moon-eyed cattle; and arrives, finally, at a bluff overlooking U.S. 36 and a gravel-mining operation just west of the turnpike--a sprawling 308-acre parcel known variously as the Flatiron site, the Gateway property or, simply, the Pits.
"This is it," Blackmore says. "This is what all the fuss is about."
If you head north into Boulder on the turnpike, the Gateway is the last sizable stretch of greenery you see before reaching the Table Mesa exit and the city proper. Framed on two sides by city-owned open space and South Boulder Creek, the site forms what planners describe as a "distinct southern city boundary." The site is hardly pristine, though; a building housing an indoor tennis club stands at the east end of the property, and at the west end, recent mining operations have gouged deep pits around a few remaining mounds of earth supporting telephone poles.
Still, the Gateway is something of a final frontier in Boulder County, a crucial battleground in the struggle between an aggressive county-wide open-space program and equally aggressive development interests. It's practically the last undeveloped parcel of any size along the Denver-Boulder corridor that hasn't been gobbled up by the likes of Broomfield, Louisville and Superior (which annexed the land for the Rock Creek subdivision, a high-density eyesore south of the Gateway) or preserved as open space.
For more than two decades, most of the Gateway has been designated as open space in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. Neighbors such as Blackmore, who moved to south Boulder in 1979, have waited patiently for the day when mining would cease and the city would acquire the land as a buffer on its southern flank. But the Gateway's owners had other ideas.
In the spring of 1995, the Flatiron Companies, a consortium of the tight-knit private partnerships that own the property, applied to have the land annexed to the city of Boulder. The proposal called for 78 high-end homes to be built on the property and for twenty acres to be donated to the fledgling Women of the West Museum. At public hearings, neighbors showed up in force to protest the development, and the project quickly stalled over city planners' concerns about the project's impacts on traffic, open space, wildlife and the quality of life in south Boulder.
Blackmore, a grassroots activist who'd helped form a group called Neighbors for a Livable Boulder to oppose Flatiron's application, felt as if she'd dodged a bullet. "It seemed pretty clear at that point that the city wasn't going to allow a developer to just build a bunch of homes out there," she says.
Last April, though, officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder announced that they had reached an agreement with Flatiron to purchase the Gateway site for $11 million. Although CU was vague about its plans for the land, it was clear that the property would be used for future expansion of the university, not open space. "CU-Boulder has a history of far-sighted land purchases that have allowed the campus, many years later, to meet the state's evolving needs," declared Chancellor Roderic Park.
The announcement took city planners by surprise--and left the neighbors wondering what CU was up to. "According to their own documents, CU has enough land to take them through the year 2027," Blackmore notes. "This is not an emergency, to buy this piece of land--especially since it's mined out, it's in the floodplain, it's critical to the open-space plan of the city. Why would they want this land?"
Why, indeed? The press conference unveiling CU's proposed purchase was a tightly scripted affair, offering little hint of the intense, behind-the-scenes maneuvering by which the deal was forged. As it turns out, the university had been in secret negotiations with Flatiron over the property for a year--practically from the moment Flatiron's 78-home proposal to the city began to fall apart.
It was a marriage not only of convenience, but one of rank opportunity. For the sellers, the deal presented a chance to unload the property without having to wrangle with Boulder's cumbersome annexation conditions--at a price far in excess of what the city was paying for open space. For CU's acquisition team, the Gateway was a once-in-a-lifetime shot at real estate speculation on a grand scale: Why not pick up a piece of turnpike property that was almost as large as the main Boulder campus? But crucial issues (such as whether the purchase was truly needed or whether CU could afford to ignore local zoning and planning decisions) would be addressed belatedly, if at all.
Administrators and members of the CU Board of Regents had been approached individually about the deal and briefed in confidence, the support of key legislators quietly enlisted to ensure that the purchase would be put on a fast track for approval. A consultant had been paid $10,000 to develop a strategy for defusing the anticipated local opposition to the acquisition. Contingency plans had been drawn up in the event of a press leak that never happened. And throughout it all, the architects of the deal labored to come up with a convincing rationale for the purchase, an explanation of how the Gateway would fit into CU's farsighted, long-range vision of expanding the Boulder campus.
City and county officials are openly skeptical of the university's claims. They suggest that the university rushed into the Gateway agreement with an almost imperial sense of arrogance--that the proposed purchase is little more than a well-orchestrated land grab dressed up as part of a long-range acquisition plan that didn't exist until CU was deep into the deal. "That land was nowhere in their master plan," insists Boulder City Council member Spense Havlick. "The university has made no effort to plan for growth on that parcel."
Havlick and other critics of the deal have raised a number of thorny questions about the transaction, ranging from floodplain issues and other environmental concerns to the impact the sale would have on neighboring communities and the rest of Boulder. They have challenged the appraisal that was done last spring, which valued the land at $16.4 million--allowing the sellers a potential tax writeoff of more than $5 million for letting CU buy the Gateway at a bargain price--and have charged that even the $11 million price is vastly inflated. And they have expressed outrage at CU's eagerness to pursue the deal behind closed doors, in defiance of the city's open-space program and stiffening antigrowth sentiment in Boulder.
"I think it's indicative of CU's rather cavalier attitude toward local government," says Boulder County commissioner Paul Danish. "Boulder is beginning to approach final buildout, and the day is past when the city and the university can act as though the other doesn't exist."
The city has tangled with CU over land-use issues before, but the "town-and-gown" relationship has never been more strained. A final vote of the regents on the purchase is expected within a few weeks, after the university completes its own due-diligence investigation of the property. The proposal has already produced testy words in city council meetings, with some members threatening to condemn the property and acquire it as open space to prevent CU from developing it. "I think there's probably enough votes on the council to do it," says councilmember Allyn Feinberg.
Havlick, who's on the faculty at CU, says the money could be better spent on improving facilities on the present campus. "The regents have a fiduciary responsibility not to invest in bad deals," he says. "They're not going to bully the city into giving them the farm."
CU officials did not return repeated calls from Westword seeking comment on the Gateway furor, but in other public statements, they've suggested a willingness to work with the city toward an amicable arrangement--provided the city backs off its stringent low-growth stance. And opposition to the project is by no means universal in Boulder; for example, Mayor Leslie Durgin and other prominent local supporters of the Women of the West Museum, which would retain its ground lease under the CU purchase, have found themselves caught in the middle of the dispute.
"They did a great job of lining up all these big players to counter the opposition they knew they were going to get," says Blackmore. "How do you fight this giant?"
While officials feud and fume, gearing up for an expected showdown that would pit CU's sovereign powers as a state institution against the city's right to protect itself from unwanted development, Blackmore and her neighbors have taken a different tack. They've spent long hours uncovering the university's game plan for the Gateway and bringing its more unsavory aspects to light. It's their fervent hope to sink the purchase under the weight of its own secrecy and expose the deal for what it is: a bid for empire at the expense of a few pesky neighbors.
Last spring, as CU's proposal to buy the Gateway was being presented to the legislature's Joint Budget Committee, members of Neighbors for a Livable Boulder decided to request a copy of the appraisal of the property. CU President John Buechner invited them to visit the campus and ask for a copy--little realizing what would come of it.
One member of Blackmore's group presented herself at the university the next day, only to be told she would have to file an open-records request. She decided if she was going to jump through hoops, she might as well ask for every document connected with CU's interest in the property.
"That's how it started," Blackmore recalls. "The funny thing is, we only wanted one piece of paper. We probably never would have dreamed of asking for more. But because they were so arrogant about handing over this appraisal, we just decided to ask for everything they've got."
The group soon learned that CU had over 1,100 pages of material relating to the Gateway purchase--and wanted $1.25 a page to make copies. Undaunted, Blackmore bought a portable copier and took it to the campus to make her own copies. Over the next few weeks, she and other volunteers painstakingly assembled a paper trail of handwritten notes, confidential memoranda and other internal CU documents laying bare the anatomy of the deal. Publicly, CU officials weren't saying much about the purchase, but the documents spoke for themselves:
Item: CU had been offered the property once before, in 1992, when the owners were touting it as "clearly the premier undeveloped site in Boulder." The university had rejected the deal as too expensive and fraught with unknowns, such as how much of the land would have to be devoted to open space in order to obtain city annexation approval. Although the asking price at that time was around $8 million, with certain rights reserved, one proposed financing arrangement would have required lease payments over thirty years totaling more than $21 million.
Item: When the deal was revived three years later, the asking price had risen to $11 million, according to a May 1995 memo from CU's then-assistant vice chancellor (now financial services director) Bill Herbstreit to Chancellor Park. After months of canny negotiation, CU basically agreed to meet the seller's price, which included swapping two parcels that the university owns in an industrial park, valued at $2.5 million, and paying the balance in cash.
Item: Secrecy was essential to the deal from the start. Chancellor Park has defended the furtive nature of the negotiations as necessary "so that no third or fourth parties would come to the table and up the price"--a peculiar assertion, in light of Flatiron's history of difficulties with the city over developing the property. But Herbstreit's memos make it clear that it was Flatiron managing partner Larry Frey, acting on behalf of the owners, who had sought to keep the deal quiet.
"Larry has asked...that we maintain as much confidentiality as possible," he wrote. "Larry is still in the process of considering several development opportunities with the City of Boulder and he needs to keep these discussions going."
Not that CU didn't have its own reasons for secrecy. "Given the absolute certainty that this will be [a] politically charged issue with the City and the neighbors," Herbstreit wrote, Park would have to seek "significant engagement on the part of the Administration and the Regents at a level we have not had to involve them in the past." The acquisition strategy would necessarily involve hush-hush meetings with regents and members of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, "as well as various influential state legislators," in order to smooth the way for the purchase and "minimize the possibility of the City or the citizens using these political bodies as targets for City/citizen politics."
Citizen politics was a horror CU wanted to avoid, if possible. And Boulder officials might be more willing to cooperate, Herbstreit suggested, if they didn't find out about the deal until it was practically done.
Item: Before an appraisal was done, CU officials already had a pretty good idea that the property's value could be calculated in a way that would make the asking price seem an absolute bargain.
At the urging of regent Peter Dietze, a longtime critic of Boulder's slow-growth policies and an enthusiastic supporter of the Gateway deal, CU hired former university counsel Dick Tharp as a $125-per-hour consultant on the "legalities and political issues" involved in the land deal. Last February Tharp sent Flatiron's attorney a letter setting forth CU's requirements for the purchase, including a request for a new appraisal of the property "that shall indicate an appraised value of a minimum of $16 million." Although the agreed-upon price for the property was still hovering around $11 million, "we would anticipate some type of recognition to the sellers (donors) for agreeing to provide the University this parcel in a bargain sale," Tharp wrote.
The "recognition" finally arrived in the purchase agreement itself, which listed the official price as $16.4 million, so that Flatiron could claim the difference as a $5.4 million "gift" to the university. Tharp has since been named CU-Boulder's interim athletic director.
Item: Subsequent to Tharp's letter, Boulder appraiser Gerald Anderson presented Flatiron with his best estimate of the value of the property: $16,411,000. Although there's no evidence that Anderson was aware of Tharp's letter--indeed, his appraisal contains standard warranties that it was "prepared in an independent and objective manner"--city officials have questioned several key assumptions that were made to arrive at such a figure.
What land is worth comes down to what can be done with it. The Gateway's assessed value as unincorporated county land is slightly more than $4 million. The city recently studied the property as a potential park site and concluded it was worth around $8.5 million--as a park. Anderson, using standard appraisal techniques, concluded that a maximum of 286 acres of the land could be developed and that the highest and best use of the land would be as a mixed-density residential development annexed by Boulder. If the site remained unincorporated county land, a developer would be limited to building eight single-family homes on 35-acre lots; once annexed, though, Anderson figured the site could be worth around $16 million, or more than $50,000 an acre.
Yet that assumes the city would annex the land and allow mixed-density development on all but a few acres, and the Gateway's opponents say that's sheer fantasy. "The city would never annex that land and let it all be developed," says city council member Steve Pomerance.
In fact, Flatiron's recent attempt to build 78 homes on the site suggests quite the opposite--that the city would require that a hefty portion of the land be devoted to open space as the price of annexation. But Anderson's appraisal makes no mention of the recent annexation application, or of the city's stated interest in preserving 220 acres of the property as open space.
Item: CU has claimed that the Gateway has been through two independent appraisals, but the second effort, commissioned by CU, was merely a review of Anderson's summary appraisal. Operating on similar assumptions about annexation and the amount of developable acreage, the review arrived at a remarkably similar valuation of the property.
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.
Most dismaying of all, though, was the city's insistence that 220 acres of the site should remain open space. "That seemed to me to be an exceptionally out-of-line request," says Frey. "The notion that you would have to give up over two-thirds of the property simply as a condition of annexation is really extreme and unreasonable."
Frey says he told several Boulder officials that if they wanted the land as open space, they'd have to buy it; but the city didn't express any interest in a purchase until months later, when Flatiron was already deep in discussions with CU. In any event, it's unlikely Flatiron could reap much from selling the property to the city. Although officials have shelled out as much as $100,000 an acre for open space in Boulder County, the average rate is closer to $10,000--far less than CU is offering.
Councilman Havlick says the city didn't see a need for such a purchase until the university entered the picture. "Now the threat is there," he says.
Havlick points out that the annexation process wasn't Frey's first skirmish with the city over the Gateway. Years earlier Flatiron had pushed unsuccessfully for Boulder to widen Table Mesa Drive--a move that would have taken out a row of houses in one of the more affordable sections of town but would also have saved a future Gateway project millions of dollars, since any traffic impact that occurred as a result of development would, under Boulder's master plan, have to be paid for by the developer.
"The city's trying to have developers pay their fair share," Havlick says. "By going to CU, it's as if Flatiron was saying, 'Let's put the city in its place.'"
But Frey says approaching CU with the property was Flatiron's only reasonable alternative in the face of the city's intransigence. And, contrary to Herbstreit's 1995 memo on the subject, he says the $11 million price tag was not an asking price but a final number arrived at after months of negotiation.
"I don't think we ever really had an agreement on price until after the appraisal was done," he says.
Frey also defends the $16 million appraisal figure; in the prosperous mid-1980s, he adds, US West had contemplated buying the parcel for more than $20 million.
"All I would say is that we hired independent appraisers," he says. "They're well-respected people, and they came back with that amount. It doesn't surprise me that that amount upsets people. If you thought you were going to get the property for nothing and then find out you have to pay, you'd want the lowest price you can get."
Despite the fierce opposition, Frey and CU officials argue that the purchase is still a good deal for the university and for Boulder--and they're not without their supporters. Some of the most well-connected ones come courtesy of the Women of the West Museum, which joined in Frey's annexation application last year after Flatiron offered the group a free ground lease on twenty acres at the northern end of the Gateway.
The museum, a much-praised effort to develop "the nation's first and leading institution devoted to tracing and interpreting the history of women in the American West," claims an impressive roster of Boulder movers and shakers among its backers--as well as five former First Ladies named as honorary trustees. Former U.S. Senate candidate Josie Heath serves on its board of trustees; Mayor Durgin, former CU president Judith Albino, revisionist Western historian Patricia Limerick and a host of other CU professors and ex-city officials are listed on its advisory and planning committees.
The group had been searching for a suitable site for the museum in the Boulder area for three years when Flatiron made its offer--a turnpike location that WOW executive director Jane Butcher and others considered ideal. "What a plum for Boulder!" enthused an editorial in the Boulder Daily Camera. But WOW's hopes for a speedy annexation were quickly crushed.
"It's been very frustrating," concedes Butcher, a longtime organizer of CU's World Affairs Conference. "It was obvious that the city was going to throw everything possible in our way as roadblocks." Still, she adds, "I haven't heard anybody say the museum is a bad idea. All the city officials I've talked to say 'Good idea, wrong place.'"
Yet as the Gateway squabble has dragged on, WOW has attracted some controversy of its own. If the purchase is completed, CU's property may remain vacant for decades--but the museum is expected to be built and open to the public in three to five years. The group already has selected an architect, raised more than $2 million in start-up funds and is gearing up for a major capital campaign. Activist Blackmore fears that the project, which is expected to attract 217,000 visitors in its first year of operation, will bring more traffic to her already congested neighborhood and further complicate open space planning.
"It's really not an appropriate project for this area," Blackmore says.
Butcher, though, says the traffic impact will be "easy to handle" and that a third of the visitors are expected to be busloads of schoolchildren. "I think folks have confused the museum with growth," Butcher sighs. "It's not like a company that would bring in a hundred jobs."
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.
Then one day last June it disappeared. Neighbors say a demolition crew showed up and knocked it down, pedestal and all, virtually overnight. Here today, gone the next.
Opponents of the Gateway project tend to look at the story of the farmhouse as a kind of parable. They wonder if the house was torn down to smooth the way for CU's development plans; certainly, having a potential local landmark on the site wouldn't make the process any easier. And the irony of such a scenario--Ancient Farmhouse Sacrificed for History Museum! Boulder's Past Obliterated to Make Way for CU's Future!--made it all the more irresistible to those who didn't like the project in the first place.
But Frey says the demolition had nothing to do with CU or the museum. The house was torn down because it was in the way of mining operations, he explains, and months of discussion with experts about ways to move it had failed to come up with a workable solution. "Even if we'd left it on the site, it was deteriorating," he says. "It was collapsing on itself."
Expediency dictated that the farmhouse had to go, just as expediency has dictated the fate of much of the Front Range and its once-wide-open spaces, now buried under endless cookie-cutter developments, strip malls and dreams of empire.
Here today, gone forever.