Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley

Officials hold hearing on Comprehensive Plan


At a joint hearing of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and Boulder County Planning Commission (PC) on June 28, several Gunbarrel residents spoke out against proposed changes to the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the City of Boulder and Boulder County. The IGA, which is set to expire at the end of this year, dictates how decision-making authority is shared between the city and the county, and residents of unincorporated areas fear the proposed revisions could leave them without a voice in important development decisions.

The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan and the IGA were first adopted in 1977 by the city and the county, “to concentrate urban development in the city and preserve the rural character of lands outside the city service area,” according to the plan.

At issue is the “four-body review” process in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP), an agreement that guides land use in the area in and adjacent to the City of Boulder. Currently, the IGA states that any revision to the BVCP in areas outside the city must be approved by a majority vote of two city bodies (the city council and planning board) and two county bodies (BOCC and PC).

In a move designed to “streamline” and “make decision-making more efficient,” city and county planning staffs recommended the new IGA allow city-only review for decisions involving land just outside the city limits (Area II) and in rural districts (Area III), with “call-up” or referral to the BOCC. In essence, the revised IGA would eliminate four-body review for land-use in unincorporated areas in favor of a two-or three-body review process, with the county planning commission cut out of such decisions almost entirely.

The staff recommendation presented by both city and county land use departments noted that a majority of the city Planning Board and City Council gave reasons why the amendment was appropriate, including, “Planning Commission has little experience with urban development proposals and is most focused on avoiding development.”

The proposed action met with some skepticism from the PC. Commissioner Natalie Feinberg Lopez argued that eliminating the PC from Area II and III considerations would give the city a more than 5-to-1 vote advantage over the county.

Several members of the Twin Lakes Action Group (TLAG) showed up to voice their opposition to the proposed IGA update during the public comment period. Earlier this year, TLAG helped defeat a proposed land use change that would have paved the way for the development of high density housing in the area adjacent to Twin Lakes in Gunbarrel by convincing the PC to deny the proposed changes. That decision appears to have provoked city officials to recommend changes to the current IGA which would prevent that from happening in the future.

Mike Chiropolos, an attorney for the group, praised the current agreement, and cautioned against efforts by the city to change the balance of power.

“The Boulder Valley Comp Plan and four-body review are working for the Boulder Valley,” he said, and had helped to make the area “the envy of the Front Range, the state and the nation.”

So why fix what isn’t broken, continued Chiropolus. “A term-limited council member is urging his colleagues to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because he didn’t like one or two votes in the most recent BVCP cycle. Bad idea. No taxation through annexation without representation is an idea as old as American democracy.”

TLAG’s Kristin Bjornsen didn’t mince her words when urging county officials to reject the proposed changes. Saying the city had essentially asked the PC to tie “its own noose,” she admonished the committee to remember why many residents prefer to remain outside of the city limits.

“Five city council members are holding the IGA over you like a hammer, hoping you’ll flinch and walk away from the citizens you represent,” Bjornsen said. “I hope you will stand strong for your vote, stand strong for the comp plan, and stand up for your citizens.”

The IGA expires at the end of the year, and without an IGA between the City of Boulder and the County of Boulder, the county would have no voice in city decisions involving annexation. That agreement is subject to approval only by the Boulder City Council and the BOCC.

In all, more than 50 people signed up to speak at the hearing, which also included review of a proposed land-use change to the CU-owned area south of U.S. 36. If approved, the new designation would allow for future development of the parcel, as well flood mitigation efforts in the South Boulder Creek drainage area. Many of those speakers also urged county officials to reject the revised IGA.

This was the last public hearing before a final vote on the BVCP revision. The PC is scheduled to vote in its next session on July 19, and the BOCC will vote on July 26.


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