Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley
Editorial@LHVC.com 

Property owners strike back at county over moratorium

 

October 4, 2018

Vicky Dorvee

The mixed-use development at the corner of Second Avenue and Murray Street was developed by Porchfront Homes, which has additional development projects on Second Avenue pending.

Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case knew he was walking into a hornet’s nest when he met with eight Niwot developers on Oct. 1. In the ten days since the county enacted a six-month moratorium on new development in the Niwot Rural Community District (NRCD), concerned local business and property owners have politely and not so politely let their displeasure about the halt be known.

“This moratorium, out of the blue, with no prior warning, is totally outside the spirit of cooperation that has been fundamental to a thriving business environment, over these past years,” Niwot Business Association President Tony Santelli wrote in a letter to county officials. “Businesses require a predictable environment to succeed over time. The trust established over these years will be lost and the spirit of cooperation will be badly damaged unless this moratorium is lifted quickly.”

Accompanied by staff planners Jose Ruano and Nicole Wobus, Case opened the meeting by acknowledging the “drastic-ness” of the moratorium, saying such a move had been used only twice before by Boulder County in his more than 20 years on staff; once for a five-year moratorium on oil and gas development that ended only after a lawsuit by the Attorney General, and in a 2007 moratorium on development in the townsite of Eldorado Springs.

However, he went on to describe the Niwot moratorium as necessary because there are not a lot of commercial properties left to be developed. He then defended the action’s timing as necessary to “stop people from trying to get in under the moratorium.”

Case went on to explain that the county has recently approved developments that do not strictly meet the county’s Land Use Code regulations, especially in the area of mixed-use development, but then acknowledged that such developments in Niwot meet other goals of the county, including sustainability and walkability. He also said that attempts to require a certain percentage of retail use in commercial areas had not worked well in the past, and that he did not personally favor them.

Case and his staffers then heard from individual business owners, including Tim and Mary Coonce of Porchfront Homes, who hosted the meeting. Tim Coonce said his plans to develop were approved by the Historic Preservation Advisory Board months ago, but he has been waiting since June 11 for a response from planner Denise Grimm to move forward

“It’s so obvious that the county slow-walked us,” he said.

Mary Coonce asked what would happen if a natural disaster took out twenty percent of an industry in the county.

“Colterra is a prime example,” she said. “The fire at Colterra took out twenty percent of our restaurants.”

Colterra owner Bradford Heap was unable to attend the meeting, but described in a letter the long process of dealing with insurance adjusters and land use staff in trying to rebuild the restaurant. The moratorium will delay Colterra’s reopening another six months if it remains in effect and could put the Niwot landmark out of business permanently.

“I am proud to run a successful business and have added a wonderful amenity to not only Niwot but to Boulder county and beyond,” he wrote. “With investments from people like myself, the downtown area over the last 12 years has become vibrant, alive and a great place to come visit and spend money.”

Developer Brian Bair of Mass Equities, Inc., said that the moratorium will add thousands of dollars to development costs to each project as plans that have been in the works for months will have to be redone.

Case responded that the county needed to hear from the Niwot community. That got pushback from Anne Postle, who has two Second Avenue development projects in the works. She said that most of the property owners in the room live and work in Niwot, and yet none were consulted prior to the moratorium.

Bob Von Eschen, who is trying to develop the Lefty’s Pizzeria and former Niwot Dental properties, expressed his frustration with his year-long efforts to get his plans approved, and detailed a dispute with Third Avenue residents over use of the alley.

The property owners were united in their belief that the current regulations as they had been applied by Boulder County in the past adequately defined what was allowed. Case disagreed, but at the same time, suggested that the current regulations simply needed to be modified to fit how Boulder County had applied them in the past. This was once again challenged by Postle when Case admitted that they needed to look at setbacks.

Case denied that the county’s meeting with six to eight people in early September, none of whom could be identified as property owners, had been the impetus for the moratorium, and claimed that several factors had gone into the decision. Wobus said that the county’s actions were not “disingenuous,” but when developer Dave Edwards asked if it were possible that Land Use would consider removing the moratorium, Case responded, “I don’t see us going there.”

Santelli pressed for a 60-day process, rather than a six-month process, but Case was doubtful. He did promise to send the property owners a schedule and welcomed ideas on how to speed the process up.

Ruano described efforts to set a public meeting in Niwot for mid-October to obtain input from the community, and noted that the commissioners would hold a hearing on Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. to consider the question of whether to rescind, modify or leave in place the moratorium.

“It’s not true that we want to stop development in Niwot,” Case concluded. “It’s a great little town.”

 

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