Why is it important to annex CU Boulder South into the City of Boulder’s jurisdiction?

Eight years after the 2013 Boulder floods, thousands of residents and homes in the floodplain remain vulnerable to future flooding. By annexing the land known as CU Boulder South, a 308-acre parcel that CU Boulder has owned for 25 years, the City of Boulder can proceed with long-overdue flood protections that will safeguard 2,300 downstream Boulder residents and 1,100 homes. Annexation triggers the dedication of land to the city so it can begin securing the required federal, state and local permits and approvals that will enable construction of flood mitigation. 

Annexation also supports the long-term success of the university. The University of Colorado Boulder purchased the CU Boulder South property in 1996 to ensure that the university’s capability to provide Colorado citizens with access to quality education will endure for generations to come. As set forth in the annexation agreement, the university has committed to making housing for faculty, staff and non-freshman students the predominant use of the site — and only after fortified flood protections have been built. The additional housing -- including five acres dedicated to development of permanently affordable housing -- will contribute greatly to easing housing pressures in Boulder, and can measurably reduce transportation-related CO2 emissions by helping our workforce and students live closer to where they work and study. Within the next few years the university will embark on a master planning effort to envision and define its future site plans.

 

How does annexing CU Boulder South benefit Boulder?

First and foremost, annexation by the city of Boulder enables the city to proceed with building long-overdue flood protections for more than 2,300 vulnerable residents and 1,100 homes. These flood protections were identified nearly two decades ago as an urgent priority. The purpose of flood mitigation is to provide protection for community members while being the least impactful to open space.

Upon annexation, CU Boulder has committed to the transfer of 155 acres for flood mitigation and open space. Within the next few years the university will embark on a master planning effort to envision and define its future site plans. CU Boulder development at the site would not occur until after the city’s flood protection project is built. The predominant use of the site will be for housing. Faculty, staff and non-freshman student housing at the site -- as well as five acres dedicated to development of permanently affordable housing for the community -- will greatly alleviate housing pressures in current residential neighborhoods, and can measurably reduce transportation-related CO2 emissions by helping our workforce and students live closer to where they work and study.

Finally, the annexation agreement also codifies the values that we all share: vital flood protection for the community, increased access to workforce and student housing, preserving open space and valuable habitat, preserving pristine views and sightlines, maintaining legal height limits, leading on sustainability and transportation solutions, and continued recreational use for the public.

How many homes are in the vulnerable flood area?

More than 2,300 residents and 1,100 homes would be safeguarded by the flood protections to be built at CU Boulder South. Annexation triggers the development of these flood protections -- the need for which was first identified two decades ago.

Why does CU want to develop this area?

Before any development by CU Boulder, flood protections have to be built. Practically speaking, this means that any development of the CU Boulder South site would not begin until at least 2027 and would be subject to the terms contained in the annexation agreement.

Colorado’s immense popularity with students, young people, workers and retirees has only risen during the past 18 months, and real estate values and prices have skyrocketed around the region. This puts enormous pressure on both the availability and supply of housing options -- not just for CU’s students, staff and faculty, but for everyone else, too.

More housing -- across a spectrum of price points -- is urgently needed throughout the Front Range. By thoughtfully developing and building housing for the long term, we can also meet university and larger community goals in support of transportation, climate action and inclusivity and diversity.

Through the annexation agreement, with respect to development, CU Boulder has committed to the City of Boulder to adhere to height limits, incorporate resiliency and sustainability standards, monitor and mitigate adverse traffic impacts, preserve open space, and more.

What kind of development will take place on the property?

The annexation agreement constrains the types and location of development allowable on the site. Of the 308 acres that have been annexed, a maximum of 129 acres will be developed by the university. 

The annexation agreement also codifies the values that we all share: vital flood protection for the community, increased access to workforce and student housing, preserving open space and valuable habitat, preserving pristine views and sightlines, maintaining legal height limits, leading on sustainability and transportation solutions, and continued recreational use for the public. 

The predominant use of the site will be housing, with the annexation agreement requiring a 2-to-1 ratio of housing square footage to non-housing square footage and a cap of 750,000 square feet on the amount of non-housing construction.

How long have CU and the City of Boulder been discussing annexation?

The annexation agreement is the most complex, comprehensive and detailed agreement in the shared 145-year history between CU Boulder and the city. Since the early 2000s, flood mitigation studies have looked at several locations along the creek and, through extensive public feedback and analysis, found the best location for stormwater detention was near U.S. 36 on property owned by CU Boulder. 

Since Boulder’s City Council approved the plan in 2015, city staff has been working collaboratively with CU Boulder and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in developing flood mitigation options for the area. In 2017, CU Boulder, the city and county jointly adopted the CU South Guiding Principles to provide a framework for how to address this in an annexation agreement. This framework laid the foundation for the shared values and binding commitments contained in the annexation agreement.

What is included in the annexation agreement?

The binding commitments now codified in the CU Boulder South annexation agreement were first articulated in the Guiding Principles in the 2015 update of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan:

  • Dedication of land for flood protection and open space

  • Preservation of 119 acres overall for permanent open space

  • Restrictions on density and intensity of future development 

  • Protection of valuable wetlands, habitat and steep slopes

  • Limit on future development to 129 acres of the 308-acre parcel

  • Restrictions controlling height and massing of future buildings

  • Implementation of performance-based transportation plans and trip caps to mitigate future adverse traffic impacts

  • Creation of a multimodal hub with connections to larger transportation and trail networks

  • Dedication of land for a public safety facility

  • Provision of continued recreational uses, including parks, trails and fields

Can I still walk my dog here after the property is annexed?

When it comes to protecting vulnerable neighborhoods from flooding versus allowing pets of all sizes and shapes continued use of private property, we believe the answer is simple: we should do both. But flood protections for more than 2,300 individuals are paramount, especially since we don’t know when the next floods will come.

As we have for the past 25 years, CU Boulder will continue to let guardians and their pets enjoy access to trails, incredible views and the natural landscape that we have all come to respect and appreciate.

Are some of CU’s costs of annexation and development being subsidized by the city and the public?

Annexation is the process by which a municipality incorporates territory into its boundaries. Now that the annexation agreement has been passed by City Council, utility and other city services could be extended to the site at the university’s expense. However, no connection to utilities will occur prior to the expiration of the city’s de-annexation option period.

CU Boulder will fund all improvements to the 129-acre developable area, including connections to utilities, an advanced transportation infrastructure and improved connections to the city’s trail network.

 

What is the university paying related to annexation?

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating that CU will pay its way for development of the CU Boulder South property, including all building construction costs as well as water, wastewater and stormwater plant investment fees (PIFs) to cover costs to the city to provide water service to the property. 

The city’s flood mitigation construction project will require the removal of CU’s 12 tennis courts and warehouse building currently located at CU Boulder South. The university will cover any and all costs of replacing these assets.

Not only will the university pay development, utilities, transportation and asset replacement costs, but CU has also committed to the transfer of 155 acres for flood mitigation and open space; two acres for city-related public safety uses; and dedication five acres for affordable housing, all of which provides a significant financial value toward mutual goals in the annexation agreement.

What uses are planned for the property? Is the university looking to replicate its Main Campus?

No. The university is not seeking to replicate its Main Campus, which will continue to be the main site where it fulfills its academic mission. Only 129 acres of the 308-acre site are slated for development per the 2015 Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan update. The Guiding Principles established during the BVCP update also allow for an additional 30 acres for recreational fields. The predominant use of the developable area would be housing for university faculty, staff and non-freshmen students.  Housing at the site will help address the severe housing crunch in Boulder and help to reduce in-commuting among our students, faculty and staff. Other uses could include some academic uses and recreational facilities that would also be available for use by community partners. Prohibited uses include large-scale sport venues (e.g., football stadium), high rise buildings, large research complexes, and a roadway bypass between Highway 93 and U.S. 36.  Consequently, CU South will look very different from CU Boulder’s main campus.

Why did CU Boulder rush the annexation agreement?

This hasn’t been a rushed process but rather a several years-long, diligent and open conversation with the city, the county and the community, putting the need for flood mitigation first and foremost, along with a balanced consideration of issues, community benefits and needs, and CU requirements. Both the city and CU -- as well as the downstream neighbors who have already experienced and remain at risk of significant flooding -- see flood mitigation as a high priority life safety issue for the community and have been diligently working toward annexation since 2015 when the city requested that CU Boulder South be brought into the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan update. Additionally, it has now been over two years since CU first submitted an annexation application.

Will the access point to CU South on Highway 93 create additional traffic or become a dangerous intersection?
  • The university and city will use the Vision Zero Action Plan, robust data and the most current best practices in traffic engineering to inform and create safe mobility options for all users that simultaneously support the multi-modal transportation and climate goals of the city and university. 

  • As designs for the Highway 93 ingress/egress to CU Boulder South are developed, CU Boulder will work closely with the city of Boulder and CDOT to explore the best multi-modal solutions, such as protected bike lanes or an underpass, to determine feasibility and the best approach to safety at the intersection. 

  • In addition, this access point will likely not be built until development has begun on the south side of the site. 

  • Development will begin on the north side of the site first, so this access point will likely not be created for another 10 years after annexation.