Planning commission approves parking lot with conditions
June 24, 2020
Plans for a multimodal parking facility adjacent to downtown Niwot got the preliminary go-ahead from the Boulder County Planning Commission at a remote public hearing held on June 17. With a unanimous vote, the nine-member board approved a proposal from the Niwot Business Association and the County of Boulder to develop a lot with 14 spaces on vacant land between the BNSF railroad tracks and Murray Street, provided several conditions are met.
“The applicants were very accepting of the conditions,” Boulder County Land Use planner Molly Marcucilli said. Bruce Warren and Chuck Klueber spoke on behalf of the applicants. The conditions of approval include adding an adequate vegetative hedge to screen cars and enhanced pedestrian connections. “They’ve been working with the community members on this, especially the residents along Murray Street. And they’re more than willing to do anything they need to do to make sure that they’re in compliance and appeasing the residents.”
The NBA and Boulder County originally submitted the application for Special Use Review in November 2019. Per the site plan, the initial phase will occupy 6,318 square feet on the southern tip of the two-acre parcel adjacent to the railroad tracks just behind the Excel Electric building, with 12 regular and two handicapped accessible parking spaces. It will have a permeable surface for water drainage, and the landscaping will be “consistent with the rural character of Niwot.'' Additional phases will be built as the need arises and as LID funding is available, with final plans calling for a maximum of 50 spaces.
After reviewing the application and responses from neighbors and other interested agencies, the county’s Planning Division staff issued its recommendation for approval of the proposal on June 10, subject to a list of 20 conditions. Many are related to compliance with the county’s multimodal transportation standards and ADA regulations, but the recommendation also addresses landscaping, EV charging stations, and stormwater management.
A few of the recommendations addressed concerns from the residents of the 300 and 400 blocks of Murray Street concerning traffic safety, including required pedestrian pathways to 2nd Avenue and improved access for bicycles. However, according to Marcucilli, the residents’ request for stop signs at the 3rd Avenue and Murray Street intersection was determined to be outside the scope of the Special Use Review, and the residents were urged to contact the county’s public works department.
Based on comments from county Parks and Open Space, as well as the residents, the staff recommendation also requires “vegetative screening” on the east side of the lot, in order to mitigate negative impacts to the View Protection Corridor along the Diagonal Highway. Marcucilli said this was also an important point for planning board members during the hearing, “The commissioners requested that we make sure the hedge is tall enough so that it’s actually screening the cars, but not too tall that it’s blocking the views of the mountains.”
The conditions also require a fence on the west side of the lot to discourage pedestrians and cars from accessing the BNSF railroad tracks, as well as an EV charging station when the lot expands beyond 14 spaces. Last month, the NBA was selected to participate in Xcel Energy’s EV Supply Infrastructure Program, which provides a grant to help offset the cost of the installation and infrastructure to support a charging station at the proposed parking lot.
Along with the border hedge, the planning board also addressed the interior landscaping of the lot, which must cover 5% of the parking area, as mandated in the county’s land use code. Technically, this isn’t required in the first phase, but the board members were concerned about a delay.
“They also wanted to make sure that the landscaping was incorporated into all three phases of the parking lot development,” Marcucilli said. “Our land use code says that once you have a lot that hits 50 spaces, five percent of that will have to be landscaped. But since we’re doing it in a phased process, technically it would mean that they don’t need to add landscaping until the third phase, but the commissioners want to see landscaping in all phases.”
Murray Street resident Galan Scheidenhelm spoke at the hearing on the importance of pedestrian access. Architect Anne Postle, a Niwot resident and owner of commercial property on 2nd Avenue, spoke to the importance of the parking lot for both customers and employees of downtown businesses. NBA President Eric Bergeson, who owns Niwot Wheel Works on 2nd Avenue, also spoke in support of the proposal. No one from the general public spoke in opposition, though there were several earlier written responses from neighbors opposing the plan.
The NBA is now working with county planners to bring the parking lot plans into compliance. The proposal will go before the Board of County Commissioners for final approval at a public hearing in July or August. If passed, the NBA will be eligible to apply for building and other permits and potentially start construction later this year. However, there are still a few more hurdles to clear before that milestone is in sight.
“They won’t be obtaining any permits until all of the requirements are met,” Marcucilli said. “They are going to be working with our engineering team to make sure that everything in the design is fleshed out. They need to know where all of the ADA spaces are going to go, and what the internal circulation is going to be, and where the bike parking is. They need all of the dimensions, and every single detail before they can give out any permits.”