TLAG's big concern
July 28, 2016
Twin Lakes Action Group (TLAG) has more on its plate than concerns about housing density on what has been Boulder County Parks and Open Space vacant land. With the county in talks to annex the land to the City of Boulder, TLAG is concerned that annexing county open space to the city will be the gateway to annexing other Gunbarrel neighborhoods, without those county residents’ consent.
These were the sentiments expressed by Jeff Cohen and Rolf Munson, both TLAG board members.
Cohen, an attorney in Gunbarrel, said the issue is, “The way the [City of Boulder] wants to annex the Twin Lakes development includes annexation through county open space. This is something we, as an organization, believe would be precedent- setting and somewhat concerning. In theory they could use that type of annexation to annex not only the south open space around certain HOAs, but even the north homes around open space.”
Cohen is talking about annexation by creating enclaves where city property surrounds unincorporated county land. Colorado State Statute 31-12-106 states, “When an unincorporated area has been entirely contained within the boundaries of a municipality for at least three years, the municipality may annex the property by ordinance without regard to the eligibility requirements in CRS 31-12-104, the limitations in CRS 31-12-105 or the hearing requirements of CRS 31-12-109.”
Cohen and Munson also find it worrisome that the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP) states, “The Gunbarrel Subcommunity is unique because the majority of residents live in the unincorporated area, and because of the shared jurisdiction for planning and service provision among the county, the city, the Gunbarrel Public Improvement District and other special districts. Although interest in voluntary annexation has been limited, the city and county continue to support the eventual annexation of Gunbarrel. If resident interest in annexation does occur in the future, the city and county will negotiate new terms of annexation with the residents.”
Cohen said under state law, “You have to meet the one-sixth contiguity requirement to annex county property into the city. Right now the Twin Lakes land, the north and south parcels, do not satisfy the one-sixth contiguity. To accomplish that, they have stated for the record, that they are going to annex county open space to the north of the property, as that is property next to a city subdivision.”
Munson stated that there have been facilitated talks between the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), Boulder County Housing Authority (BCHA) and TLAG. BVST and BCHA own the two parcels under consideration for annexation.
Cohen said while the outcome is non-binding, “They have come up with possible alternatives all the way from open space to 12 [housing] units per acre.” After these talks wrap up, the Boulder city staff will make recommendations. A formal review will begin in August for both the city and county.
While the issues of annexation and the comp plan review are separate issues at the moment. Munson said, the real issue is if you want to change the zoning of an area from low density to high density mixed-use residential, the BVCP has to be changed first.
Munson feels the city wants to change the comp plan to get the zoning it wants. While the BVCP is a joint venture between Boulder County and the City of Boulder, Cohen said the annexation is 100 percent city-driven. Based on the decisions of how the BVCP is changed, the city can then go forward with annexation and development.
Chris Meschuk, senior planner for the City of Boulder Planning, Housing and Sustainability department, said according to the BVCP, the Gunbarrel area, with the exception of Gunbarrel Estates, is in Area II. Area II is currently outside of the city limits, but is eligible for annexation. As stated in the BVCP, the city’s plan is to have all Gunbarrel in Area II, which receives city water and sanitation, eventually annexed.
“But… the residents of Gunbarrel are so not interested in that occurring,” Meschuk said. “So [Gunbarrel] stays in Area II, continues to remain in county jurisdiction, with city water and sewage services being provided as out of city services.”
Gunbarrel Estates is in Area III, and has a designation of rural preservation. This means it is not eligible for annexation into the city and is outside the city’s growth boundary. Gunbarrel Estates does not receive city water or sewer service, has a Longmont zip code and is in the St. Vrain School District, rather than the Boulder Valley School District.
Meschuk added, “If the Twin Lakes parcels are annexed, it does not create the ability for unilateral annexation for any of the other subdivisions. It doesn’t change the conditions from what they are today.”
If the request from the BCHA moves forward, it would not create an enclave.
“The easiest way to describe an enclave,” Meschuk continued, “is to think of a donut hole. The area has to be completely surrounded by the city limits. With the residential areas of Gunbarrel, there are no enclaves, because [nothing] is completely surrounded by the city limits… While there are areas in north Boulder that are completely surrounded by the city limits, that condition does not exist in Gunbarrel.”
In terms of density, Meschuk said both the city and the county, through the Comprehensive Plan, have agreed that urban development cannot occur in the unincorporated county. It can only occur inside the city limits. Since the BCHA and the SVSD parcels are in Area II, that land would have to be annexed into the city for any type of high-density development.
To accomplish this, the county open space that borders the BCHA land has to first be annexed into the city. It is the annexation of this county open space that TLAG objects to.
The city is looking at a high-density development, which according to the BVCP Land Use and Densities regulations, would mean anywhere from six to 18 units per acre.
Both Cohen and Munson wanted to make it clear that they did not object to affordable housing being built on the site. It’s the question of density that concerns them. Cohen added that if the city wanted to, it could build affordable housing on the land without changing the zoning, if it adhered to low density, which is two to six units per acre. Then the city could allow attachment to existing sewer and water.
Cohen said TLAG is also against spot zoning, where zoning is changed to get around legal limitation. Spot zoning is illegal. “But if the BVCP is changed, then it’s a lot harder to make that case, because the zoning in the comp plan was changed. The area has had the same low-density residential zoning for the last 50 years.” He believes that annexing the county open space is really a legal cover to get what the city wants, and that policies are being changed to do something that no private entity could do.
While TLAG is open to working with the city, Cohen said they are wary, because, “Who knows what the city and county will want in the future?”
For more information on changes to the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan go to bouldercolorado.gov/bvcp/bvcp-changes. For an interactive map showing current city limits, and Area II and Area III, go to gisweb.bouldercolorado.gov/emaplink/?layer=bvcpareas. For mixed-density residential land use regulations in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, go to www-static.bouldercolorado.gov/docs/iii-land-use-map-descriptions-1-201307121132.pdf.