Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley

Commission approves Comprehensive Plan - with conditions


Final approval of the 2015 Update to the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan (BVCP) hit a snag last week when the Boulder County Planning Commission gave just a conditional nod to the most recent draft of the city-county joint planning document.

By a 6-2 vote, the Planning Commission made its ultimate approval of the BVCP contingent upon the reinstatement of its statutory authority to consider and vote on land use changes to the Area III Planning Reserve. Earlier this month, the Boulder City Council and city Planning Board approved a version of the BVCP that curtails the Commission’s official role in such decisions, a change that many on the Commission contend deprives county residents of a voice in future development decisions.

“This is a group of people who deserve to have an equal say,” said chairwoman Natalie Feinberg Lopez in support of rejecting the update. “This is eroding something that is extremely valuable to the Boulder Valley.”

At issue is the BVCP’s “four-body review” process for land use changes. Since its inception in 1977, the BVCP has mandated a majority vote of both city bodies (the City Council and Planning Board) as well as both county bodies (Board of County Commissioners and Planning Commission) for land-use changes in areas outside of Boulder city limits.

For example, any changes to land designations in unincorporated areas (such as Twin Lakes) are subject to four-body review, as are updates to the rural Planning Reserve, the nearly 700-acre area north of Boulder that is currently off-limits to development but could be annexed to absorb future urban growth.

The move by the city came on the heels of the Boulder County Planning Commission’s rejection of an affordable housing proposal on land to be annexed to Boulder in the Twin Lakes area, even though the proposal seemed to have the support of the city’s council and planning board, as well as the county commissioners.

Last spring, city and county planning staffs recommended “streamlining” the decision-making process in the BVCP by moving to a two- or three-body review that cuts the Planning Commission out of such decisions almost entirely.

Not surprisingly, the move to limit the commission’s authority did not sit well with many on the panel, including Doug Young, who called the move by city officials “unconscionable.”

“This is a curve-ball that’s been thrown at us,” he said of late revisions to the BVCP. “It’s so reactionary.”

Commissioner Ann Goldfarb agreed, saying, “It’s an insult to our intelligence.” Continuing, she argued that approving the amended comp plan amounted to political malpractice. “We’ve heard loud and clear from the citizens of this county that they want four-body review, and I think that to go along with what’s been proposed here is to ignore the sentiments that we’re hearing.”

The vote to approve the BVCP on a conditional basis, with Goldfarb and Feinberg Lopez dissenting, was ultimately a compromise between commissioners hoping to send a pointed message to City officials, and those who felt that rejecting the plan outright might jeopardize the renewal of the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between city and county. The IGA, which is set to expire at the end of this year, is the legal document dictating how decision-making authority is shared between the two entities, and is vital to the successful implementation of the BVCP.

It’s not entirely clear what happens now with the 2015 Update of the BVCP. On July 26, the Board of County Commissioners will meet to discuss and vote on the proposed update. If Boulder City Council and Planning Board reject the Planning Commission’s condition, however, it could mean a setback to a process that has lasted more than two and a half years.


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