The NRCD development moratorium and its repercussions dominated the discussion between the Niwot LID Advisory Committee and the Boulder County Commissioners at their annual joint meeting Aug. 6, but there were tentative signs that relations between the two boards might be on the mend. In concluding remarks, Commissioner Deb Gardner expressed remorse for the “acrimonious” process and pledged to work for improvements going forward.
“We have some definite questions to bring to the land use department,” she said as the Aug. 6 meeting drew to a close. “We don’t intentionally become roadblocks to what anybody wants to do, but I think it’s the hard dilemma we get into when trying to represent everyone in the county and, in particular, this part of Niwot.”
Joining Gardner for the 90-minute meeting at the Left Hand Grange were her BOCC colleagues Elise Jones and Matt Jones, as well as eight of the nine current LID board members and representatives from the Niwot Business Association. (LID Treasurer Bruce Rabeler was absent.)
Murray Street parking lot
LID member Biff Warren opened the meeting with an update on plans to build a public parking lot on county-owned land west of Old Town, which are being spearheaded by the NBA.
Warren indicated that the current thinking is that the parking lot would be developed in phases, and only expanded on an as-needed basis. The first phase would consist of a lot with 14 parking spaces, since anything larger triggers a requirement for a costly EV charging station. If needed, additional spaces will be added in the future. The plan is still short on some specifics, but the NBA plans to engage with the residents of Murray Street during the application period and hopes the lot’s final design will be the result of a “collaborative process.”
“They’ve been good to work with,” Warren said. “They weren’t all happy about the parking lot going in across from some of their homes…, but in working with them, we’ve talked about such things as how to landscape it so that it has the least impact.”
Last month, the NBA had a pre-application conference with a Land Use staff planner, the first step in the county’s special use review process. Warren called the meeting “helpful,” but less helpful, he said, is the land use department’s four-month waiting period for applications to actually be submitted.
“We have a date now to apply, which is at the end of November. So we can’t do anything besides prepare the application until then, so that was on the disappointing side.”
The NBA is moving ahead with the lot despite the fact that the town hasn’t met the utilization threshold for public parking set forth in the 2011 Niwot Transportation and Connectivity Plan (NTCP). Warren explained that utilization studies did not capture the true scope of Niwot’s parking problem.
“When you drive down 2nd Avenue, can you find a place to park?” he said. “Or is it all filled up, so you decide to drive down the diagonal to Longmont...? That’s the kind of thing we’re concerned about.”
The commissioners were amenable to the idea of waiving the utilization trigger so the parking lot can go forward, especially in light of the recent land use code update and its new parking requirements.
“I feel like the landscape has shifted somewhat, making the case for Murray Street parking timely,” Commissioner Elise Jones said.
The case might be timely, but the construction won’t be. With the land use application delay and six-month review process, the earliest possible start date for construction is in the second half of 2020. Financial considerations could also delay the lot, depending on final cost projections.
Effects of NRCD Moratorium
The discussion moved next to the NRCD moratorium and new land use codes, which drastically changed the development outlook in Niwot, according to LID members and 2nd Avenue property owners Mary Coonce and Cornelia Sawle, who delivered a dreary moratorium postmortem on behalf of the town’s business community.
“As a result of the moratorium and the restrictions, Niwot was on its way, and in my opinion, it’s now taken a few steps back…. It’s not really a good buy right now,” Coonce said, after listing several developments in the NRCD that were canceled or scaled back within the last year, including those at the Meisner property, the Excel Electric building, and her own property, Porchfront Homes (102 2nd Avenue). “I know my building, pre-moratorium, was worth 30 percent more than it is now.”
Vice-Chair Jim Eastman and LID members Scott Firle and Lisa Rivard largely echoed these sentiments when they spoke for Niwot residents, with each noting a sense of “lost momentum” and a divided community.
“I tried to think of something positive,” Rivard said. “I lost a ton of friends on 3rd Avenue ...and this damage that has been done here is going to take a long time to repair itself.”
In response, each of the commissioners acknowledged the moratorium’s negative impact, but Elise Jones pushed back some on Coonce’s contention that it had wreaked widespread economic damage in Niwot. Specifically, she cited the fire and “inadequate insurance” as the major factors in Colterra’s demise, and blamed Colorado property tax laws for the declining economic outlook.
“There are some things you all have brought up that are ongoing things that had nothing to do with the moratorium,” she said. “The Gallagher Amendment is hurting small businesses everywhere.... So, there are certain things that exist, and we want to work with you on them, but we also want to acknowledge external circumstances.”
2nd Avenue Alley
As it has throughout the nearly year-long moratorium drama, access to the 600-foot long and 20-foot wide alley between 2nd and 3rd Avenues east of Franklin Street once again proved the most contentious issue of the discussion. LID member Anne Postle, owner of Osmosis Art & Architecture (290 2nd Ave.), spoke candidly to the commissioners about her frustration with slow action from the land use department, despite what seems like a clear mandate.
“Enough is enough,” she said. “Tell us what we can do, and we’ll decide whether we’re going to do it or not. But we don’t need another meeting.” Earlier in the day, the county land use staff announced plans to reveal results of the alley traffic study at a public meeting later this month, to be followed by another public meeting in September.
Postle and Warren then went on to describe how a lack of formal guidance from land use on the alley and other new code provisions has effectively extended the moratorium beyond its formal April 23 end date and turned the relationship between county planners and property owners into an adversarial one.
“There are things we know—we know F.A.R. and we know lot coverage, and we know percentage of parking and how many residential units, but we don’t know what it looks like for the meeting with the neighbors,” Postle said as an example. “We know we have to have one, but we don’t know what that means…. There are a lot of things in this new code that need definition.”
The commissioners’ resolution adopted April 23, 2019, included a provision stating, “The County will conduct an initial traffic count within 3 months of the adoption of this amended Code section.” Postle noted that the “update” on the alley was emailed to interested parties a mere four hours before the meeting with the commissioners, and that it gave no new information except a plan for a future meeting with the community to present the alley traffic study. Requests for a copy of the study from several interested parties were declined by the land use department. This prompted a pointed response from the commissioners, but not directed at the business owners. Gardner expressed surprise and “confusion” about land use’s delay in revising the codes, while Elise Jones noted the “irony” of the ongoing alley discussions, since the “dysfunctional” state of the roadway has been clear from early on.
“Change and transition is tough,” she said. “The 3rd Avenue residents are very mad at us, but we heard you, it doesn’t make sense from a land use standpoint. We need to get to the point where an alley is an alley, and by this fall, that should be the case.”
State of the Community/Vision 2027
Hoping to move the conversation to “ground that we can all feel good about,” Skaggs asked NBA President Tony Santelli to defer his discussion of the State of the Community to the presentation of Vision 2027, the group’s aspirational proposed addendum to the Niwot Strategic Plan.
“This is not colored by the moratorium,” she said. “This is the Niwot that is vibrant and attracts multi-generational [visitors]. These are some big thoughts, and we are proud and happy to share some of these ideas.”
Postle, who serves as the NBA’s representative on the LID, then gave the commissioners an overview. Based on results from a 2017 survey of residents, the vision includes 10 “hubs,” or local attractions designed to bring visitors to the town’s business districts.
“The Children’s Park is a fantastic example of a hub...” she said. “But we can go even further. How about a splash park?”
Other suggested hubs included a community pool, a skate park, an ice skating rink, a dog park, a climbing wall, a ninja warrior playground, a collective space(e.g. Rayback Collective in Boulder), a co-working space, and a library/information center. Postle said the NBA is hoping that cooperative action from the Niwot community will get one or more of these projects off the ground, much as it did with the Children’s Park five years ago.
“This vision provides a pathway for Niwot to meet the needs and desires of its residents, especially families, into the future. ...All of these hubs can become a reality when it captures the imagination of the community.”
Skaggs concluded the meeting following Postle’s presentation. The commissioners offered some parting thoughts, mainly their desire to “get to a better place,” with the residents and property owners of Niwot.
“I think we had to hear all of this, and there’s nothing like doing it face-to-face,” Matt Jones said. “We’ll work on the land use side and actually just to stay engaged.”