Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley

Boulder County hosts community workshop on Niwot development


December 19, 2018

Vicky Dorvee

A Pop-up Community Planning Outreach Booth will be staffed in the Niwot Emporium Lobby at 136 2nd Ave.


On Dec. 17, the Boulder County Land Use department held a community workshop at the Left Hand Grange to gather feedback and public comment concerning the Land Use Code in the Niwot Rural Community District (NRCD). About 80 Niwot residents, business owners and other stakeholders turned out for the discussion of potential amendments to the code, which earlier this year impelled a temporary moratorium on new development in certain parts of the district.

“The rural community district regs are in place to recognize some of the historic old towns in the county — Niwot, Eldora, Allenspark, Gold Hill — where the character of those towns is what makes them vibrant, special places,” Land Use Director Dale Case said during his opening remarks. “We’re not trying to recreate something we see in Longmont or Boulder. This is a rural community district and rural community districts are different from that. Hopefully, we can come up with some good ideas about how we keep this area special and unique and help it become and stay vibrant as it moves forward.”

Ideas and “conversation” were highly encouraged throughout the charrette-style meeting, where participants were divided into smaller groups of approximately 10 each for a guided discussion led by a county planner. To keep the meeting from wandering too far afield, Cheney Bostic, the meeting’s third party facilitator, led the groups through three exercises designed to elicit cooperative “problem solving” around some of the stickier issues driving the debate about development along east 2nd Avenue.

“We won’t find all of the solutions tonight, but we want to walk out of here with clear direction,” she said. “Compromise may be necessary.”

For their first exercise, the groups tackled the highly contentious alley that runs between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Residents on 3rd Avenue expressed concerns about speed and noise which might come from additional use, while 2nd Avenue property owners objected to limiting use of the alley and cited safety concerns from the numerous curb-cuts on 2nd Avenue now required to access parking in the rear of lots.. Each group considered whether a landscaped buffer on the residential or commercial side is preferable and whether to allow access to the alley from 2nd Avenue properties. They also discussed whether traffic in the alley should be limited to just one way, though that would require a second outlet that would have to have the agreement of a private property owner.

The groups turned to concerns about the rear facing part of the 2nd Avenue lots for their second exercise, and what, if any, setbacks or bulk planning should be considered to mitigate “massing” and “looming” along the alley, which 2nd Avenue residents cited as impacts to their residential properties.

The third exercise concerned conditions on the front of the lots, and whether the current 20-foot setback is too large, and if not, should there be lawn or other areas of public engagement there. It also asked participants to decide if the current 70/30 percent commercial/residential mix of properties remains appropriate for Niwot.

If county officials were hoping for overwhelming consensus on these issues, that was hard to come by, but there were certainly areas of general agreement. Broadly, most groups liked the idea of creating noise and light buffers in the alley, though some groups struggled to define “buffer.” Some suggested it could be used for parking. Another suggested such space could be used to house public art installations or perhaps as a “pollinator” sanctuary, with landscaping and gardening designed to attract bees and butterflies.

A few comments suggested vacating the alley altogether or restricting it to just pedestrian or bike traffic. At least one group prioritized alley safety and suggested speed bumps and blocking any access from 2nd Avenue.

As for the any future structures, some groups were in favor of limiting building heights to one story at the rear of the property, but offered smaller setbacks as a tradeoff. In the front part of the lot, several groups suggested that the 20-foot setback is too large and market conditions should set the prevailing standard and allow for a variety of configurations.

However, many were also in favor of compelling property owners to put landscaping or other green space in their front lots on this block. Almost all groups suggested that increases in setbacks at either the front or rear should be offset by smaller setbacks on the opposite side of the lot.

There was also broad agreement that the single-story structures should remain commercial, while residential space is better suited to a second story towards the middle or front of the lot. As for the overall mix of residential to commercial, all groups conceded there should be a balance between the two, but at least one pointed out that residential properties don’t generate sales tax revenues for the town like commercial properties do.

Still others pointed to the Slater Building (300 2nd Avenue) and Porchfront Homes (100 2nd Avenue) as a good examples of coexisting residential and commercial space in the same structure.

“Replicating the Slater Building came up a few times,” staff planner Nicole Wobus said of her group’s discussions. “The neighbors on Third Avenue really thought that was done right. One mentioned liking the Southpaw building in general, but there were contrasting perspectives on that.”

Many contrasting perspectives were shared throughout the evening, but participants remained cordial. Niwot realtor Pat Murphy remarked afterwards that the cooperative meeting format had yielded some important conversation. “I thought it was good, because it got a lot of people’s ideas out. Hopefully the end result will keep the character of Niwot.”

Vicky Dorvee

At the community workshop hosted by Boulder County on Dec. 17, attendees participated in small group guided discussions regarding upcoming amendments to the Land Use Code in NRCD.

As promised, no concrete solutions emerged from the discussions, but planners said they would use the material generated by the groups to complete the first draft of the Land Use Code amendments by mid-January, at which time they may reach out to the public again. In February, land use staff will bring the proposed updates before the planning commission and finally, to the county commissioners in March. If adopted then, the development moratorium will be lifted and several scheduled projects can go forward.

“Thank you for being so kind to one another,” Bostic said as the meeting closed. “We didn’t have to agree on everything, but having the discussion was important.”

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the meeting, but have some thoughts about the Land Use Code in the NRCD, visit the Pop-up Community Planning Outreach Booth, which will be located in the Niwot Emporium Lobby at 136 Second Ave on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through Dec. 21, and then again after the first of the year. More information on this code change process and the moratorium on planning processes for properties within the NRCD can be found at http://www.bit.ly/dc-18-0004. Or contact Jose Ruano at jruano@bouldercounty.org or 303-441-3922.


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