PLAN-Boulder County and Save South Boulder are continuing to collect signatures on a ballot measure that, if approved, would guide the annexation process for the CU South project.
The project, which is years in the making, would annex the 308-acre parcel known as CU South into Boulder city limits and designate a portion of it for the South Boulder Creek flood mitigation project. The University of Colorado Boulder would provide land for flood mitigation to the city in exchange for city services.
Supporters of the project largely focus on the importance of the flood mitigation piece of it. The area surrounding the site was one of the hardest hit during the 2013 flood in Boulder. Proponents argue that it’s taken far too long to make progress on mitigation given the destructive nature of the flood. In its conceptual plans, CU Boulder intends to designate some of the land for housing and athletic fields while maintaining open space on part of the property.
Others worry that Boulder is getting a bad deal in its agreement with the university. The petition that’s being circulated would require that any agreement with CU Boulder regarding annexation include “certain specific details.” It also would require that the agreement is approved by voters in an election prior to the provision of city utilities and services other than flood control facilities to or on any portion of CU South.
According to PLAN-Boulder co-chair Peter Mayer, the measure is “pretty basic.”
“It would allow flood mitigation to proceed, but if there’s going to be any city services provided on the property, there would need to be a clear, formal annexation agreement and a vote of the people,” Mayer said.
“Flood mitigation in the South Boulder Creek watershed is needed, but the annexation and development of the CU South property comes with substantial financial, environmental, social, health and safety costs,” PLAN-Boulder stated in a letter.
When asked about the petition, CU Boulder said it is “focused on the annexation discussions with the city.”
“We appreciate the many points of agreement we’ve been able to reach to date and are confident that we will find a solution that achieves vital flood mitigation and other community benefits, along with providing the university opportunities to provide much-needed housing and continue to deliver on its mission for decades to come,” the university said in a statement.
It’s not the first time PLAN-Boulder has tried to get a CU South-related measure on the ballot. The group last year withdrew its request for a hearing to oppose a decision by the Boulder city attorney to decline to approve its petition.
When considering CU South, the history is important, Mayer said.
“It doesn’t behoove us just to focus on today and our immediate needs without understanding how we got here,” Mayer said.
The campaign needs 3,336 signatures by June 3 to make the ballot. The petition must be turned into the city clerk’s office the following morning. Currently, campaign organizers said they’ve collected about 3,000 of the necessary signatures. However, they’re aiming for 4,000 since some will not be valid.
It opted to go with a paper ballot instead of using Boulder Direct Democracy Online, the city’s new online petitioning system. Mayer said the campaign felt it would be better served by the face-to-face contact that happens when campaigning in person.
“It’s such a complicated issue,” Mayer said. “A lot of people need to have some kind of explanation. A website or slogan doesn’t quite cut it.”
It’s unclear, however, what it might mean for the city and university should the petition garner enough signatures to make the ballot.
As of now, Boulder staff intends to continue discussions with CU Boulder before publishing a draft annexation agreement over the summer. That will be followed by public hearings with Boulder’s Planning Board and Boulder City Council tentatively scheduled later this year during which the agreement will be voted on.
“There is nothing in the petition that would require council to delay a vote,” City Attorney Tom Carr wrote in an email. “The schedule for such a vote would be up to council.”
Regarding whether a successful ballot measure might reverse the council’s decision — assuming it voted to annex the property and move forward — Carr said “that’s more of a legal opinion that I don’t feel comfortable providing publicly.”
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