Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Vicky Dorvee
Editorial@LHVC.com 

Ripple effects of the Niwot moratorium

 

April 18, 2019

Vicky Dorvee

Two 2nd Avenue properties, previously proposed to become one mixed use development, are now slated to go their own way.

At the March 12 meeting regarding the building moratorium in downtown Niwot, Boulder County Commissioners were clear that alley access by all parties between the residential area on 3rd Avenue and the commercial area on 2nd Avenue was essential. One of their directives was for land use staff to develop a solution for alley use. Unfortunately for commercial property owners, the first meeting addressing a solution on the matter didn’t satisfy them.

The upshot of the April 3 alley meeting with Boulder County Land Use and Transportation staff, was that 3rd Avenue residents and 2nd Avenue commercial property owners also put the kibosh on one divisive development being proposed.

Working with Dr. David Meisner, owner of property at 376 2nd Ave., Bob Von Eschen, owner of Von’s Colorado Concepts, proposed a project that included up to seven residential units and several commercial spaces, and access through the alley. The Meisner property would have been combined with 364 2nd Ave. (Lefty’s Gourmet Pizza), property Von Eschen presently owns. Von Eschen said he pulled the cord on the deal, because of the protracted route the county is taking establishing new land use code provisions, which are deemed too restrictive by commercial property owners at this point and because of the lack of progress addressing permission for commercial property owners to access the alley.

“Our contractual date came, and I wasn’t willing to put my purse strings out there for it,” Von Eschen said. “And even though they (the county) said it wasn’t affecting everything, it had a 25 to 35 percent reduction in what we could do to the property, and what we were doing to the property wasn’t that significant.”

Along with a sign out front offering the Meisner property for lease or development, Meisner sent a letter to commercial property owners which read, “I now have a fresh opportunity to develop the gateway to downtown Niwot. I am open to suggestions on how to develop the property, ie [sic], a joint venture or sale.”

Von Eschen said, “Meisner had attempted to sell that property for years. I stepped in, because I came up with a program that worked. But, I’ve got to make a living. I’ve got to keep my employees employed. I can’t sit there and lollygag along on projects that don’t make any sense. I’m kind of disheartened by it for sure, and I’m very, very disappointed.”

Victoria Keen, whose property backs up to the alley, was one of many 3rd Avenue residents critical of Von Eschen’s proposed development. Keen responded to the withdrawal of Von Eschen by saying, “The redevelopment of the Meisner property presents a great opportunity to design an attractive gateway development. We hope to see a development that all Niwotians can all be proud of, and one that creates a lasting, positive legacy for the Meisner family. “

Niwot Real Estate owner Pat Murphy, whose office is directly to the east of Meisner’s property said, “I’ve been in touch with David (Meisner) and we’re thinking about the project. I’m hopeful that something great will be there.”

Regarding the county, Von Eschen said the problem is “they placate people and think ‘Oh we’re doing a good thing when in reality all they’re doing is messing it up.’ I feel like there’s got to be some things that could have been done for the people on 3rd Avenue. The trouble is there was no compromise on their side, and what happens is that they end up wagging the dog. My concern is very, very simple. I need to use part of the alley for parking. It’s that simple.”

Von Eschen said in contrast to his experience with Boulder County Land Use, “The city of Lafayette has been a joy to work with. The city of Longmont – wonderful. They put on a hat that says, ‘we can figure out how to make it work.’”

Von Eschen is extracting himself from Niwot by selling his existing property as well. It was confirmed this week that Dan and Dr. Ashley Niles are under contract with Von Eschen for the Lefty’s Gourmet Pizza property. They are scheduled to close on the property at the end of April.

Dan Niles said, “We don’t really have definitive plans yet. We don’t know what the property is going to be used for at this time.” Lefty’s is expected to stay open for now, according to Niles.

Second Avenue commercial property owner Anne Postle said, “It makes me sad that this whole process has been so painful and negative that someone who had an interest in doing something with one of our gateway sites has found it’s not worth it.”

Following the joint meeting regarding the alley, commercial property owners sent two letters to the county commissioners. The first, signed by Jim and Anne Postle, Ashley and Dan Niles and 2nd Avenue property owners Tim and Mary Coonce of Porchfront homes, begins with the heading “Moratorium to be extended forever.” It explains that initiating an alley traffic study will in essence continue the moratorium, because without access to the alley, any new projects would result in design decisions that will be unalterable once constructed. It requests that there be “rapid and clear intervention” by the commissioners to direct the land use staff.

The second letter signed by Bradford Heap, Cornelia Sawle, Dan and Ashley Niles, Tim and Mary Coonce, Bob Von Eschen, Brian Bair, Jim and Anne Postle and Tony Santelli, proposes a detailed “reasonable alternative plan” in which the moratorium be ended and initial alley improvements be paid for by the commercial property owners, after which all parties may use the alley.

The letter stated an alley traffic study should be conducted and initially funded by the Local Improvement District (LID) capped at cost $20,000. As property owners add structures, make changes to parking, and remove curb cuts along 2nd Avenue, they would reimburse the LID in increments of $5,000 until the alley traffic study is completely repaid.

It also recommends the study of three specific possible alley scenarios: First, an alley with traffic proceeding in one direction from Franklin Street onto either Niwot Road or 2nd Avenue; second, that option in reverse originating from Niwot Road; or third, a two-way dead-end alley with a turnaround. Each of the three options would require an easement on the Meisner property.

Meisner has not responded to additional questions posed by the Courier.

Some Third Avenue residents have mentioned several ideas for the Meisner property to the Courier: live-work artist cottages, a common area for gatherings or music offerings for first Friday, an artist cooperative, an Arapahoe Nation cultural heritage and educational center, and a mixed use development similar to the Slater Building model.

 

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