Boulder County moves forward with parking proposal
November 24, 2017
Plans for a public parking lot west of Old Town Niwot moved forward last week after Boulder County officials cleared some administrative hurdles.
At a public hearing held on Nov. 15, the Boulder County Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of amendments to the Boulder County Land Use Code that will allow for “offsite parking in areas where onsite parking is constrained and where the allowance of offsite parking facilities would help maintain the character and function of the area.”
This new Multimodal Parking Facility provision will replace the Park and Ride Facility provision in the code, and allows parking as a primary use in more than one type of zoning. In addition to Niwot, other sites where a parking facility could be considered include Allenspark and El Dorado Springs.
Though the proposal before the commission didn’t involve any specific plans or projects, several Niwot residents spoke during the hearing’s public comment period about the potential negative impacts of a proposed parking lot between Murray Street and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad tracks, between 3rd Avenue and 4th Avenue. Among their chief concerns were obstructed views, increased traffic, and decreased property values.
“A parking lot will change the character of the neighborhood from rural to city,” said Jane Zander, whose Murray Street house is directly opposite the proposed site. She was joined at the hearing by neighbors Arlene Baldwin, Helen Ting, and David Kapke, who each voiced similar worries. “The Niwot business community and Boulder County might build a very nice parking lot, but it’s still a parking lot,” she said.
Residents also expressed their dismay that plans for the potential lot were made public after a purchase agreement for the land already had been signed. They requested that the sale be delayed so that they could further consider their options for halting the lot’s development.
“We didn’t even know the land was for sale,” said Baldwin, who purchased her Murray Street home in 2004. In August, the Niwot Cultural Arts Association (NCAA) signed a contract to purchase a two-acre parcel from BNSF, with a provision that the contract could be assigned to Boulder County. An application for funding, using funds from the Niwot Local Improvement District’s (LID) capital reserve account, was submitted and unanimously approved by the LID’s Advisory Committee. “Had we known, we would have seen if we could have formed a group to purchase it so it would remain as it is,” Baldwin said.
With the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the changes to the Land Use Code now go before the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), which has scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 28. Even if the amended parking regulations are approved, any specific designs for a public lot in Niwot will still be required to undergo the County’s Special Review process, and must meet strict standards for safety, landscaping, and stormwater management. The lot may also be required to have at least one Electrical Vehicle (EV) charging station.
A public hearing of the BOCC the following day addressed the county’s acceptance of the purchase agreement. On Nov. 16, Commissioners Cindy Domenico, Deb Gardner and Elise Jones voted to adopt Resolution 2017-122, which approves and accepts assignment of the Real Estate Purchase and Sale Agreement from the NCAA, thus making Boulder County the official buyer of the land. While the land will be owned by Boulder County, ongoing maintenance and upkeep will be provided with LID funds.
The Murray Street coterie was once again on hand during the public comment period to voice its concerns about the proposed lot, even though, like the day before, no specific plans were under consideration. Several representatives of the Niwot business community spoke in support of the proposal, noting the lack of available on-street parking in front of businesses on Second Avenue. Longtime Niwot resident Kathy Koehler, who is president of the Niwot Historical Society, acknowledged the impact on Murray Street residents, but argued that growth and change in the area is inevitable.
“To have the vitality in the town is a wonderful challenge and problem for the community,” said Koehler, who also volunteers for the Niwot Community Association (NCA). “Because before it was dirt streets and empty buildings.”
During their ensuing discussion, commissioners also acknowledged Murray Street residents’ concerns, but agreed that the community as a whole would see long-term benefits from a public parking lot. They also reminded the residents that future development plans for the parcel are subject to strict guidelines, and parking may not end up being the best use of the space.
“What we want to do in this particular situation is strike the balance that we can, knowing that we need to be looking ahead,” said Domenico. “There are steps along the way where public input is part of that process…so there are ways to mitigate and address concerns.”
The sale of the BNSF parcel is scheduled to close in early December.