Published: Aug. 13, 2021

The University of Colorado Board of Regents on Aug. 13 approved the disposition of more than half of the 308-acre CU Boulder South property to the city of Boulder for flood mitigation and preservation of permanent open space—a key stepping stone toward annexation of the site into the Boulder city limits.

 CU Boulder South upcoming key dates

The regents’ 5-1 vote on Friday also authorized CU Boulder leadership to execute the CU Boulder South annexation agreement once finalized with the city, and it charts a course toward final approval of the agreement by the Boulder City Council.

The CU Boulder South annexation agreement is the result of years of collaboration between city, county, university and community to achieve vital flood protection for 2,300 downstream residents and help address Boulder’s housing shortage through the development of approximately 1,100 housing units for CU Boulder faculty, staff and non-freshman students.  

City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to approve the annexation agreement on the first reading. City Council’s annexation agreement resolution now goes to a second reading and public hearing on Sept. 14, with council deliberation currently slated for Sept. 21. The CU Board of Regents meets again on Sept. 9 and will be briefed on developments at that time. 

“We are grateful to the board of regents for their leadership in advancing this annexation agreement, which has the potential to be truly transformational for CU Boulder and our community,” CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano said following Friday’s regents' meeting. “The ability to increase housing options attainable to our campus community will help the university deliver on its mission for decades to come, while the proposed flood mitigation, open space preservation and leadership on sustainability and transportation solutions contained in the agreement incorporate so many of the values CU Boulder and the broader community hold dear. We look forward to continuing to work with the board of regents as the annexation process continues.”

After years of negotiations and public engagement, CU Boulder and the city of Boulder released a draft annexation agreement in early July that outlines the legally binding requirements and conditions for annexation of the entire CU Boulder South property, which sits at the junction of U.S. 36 and Table Mesa Drive. 

Among those terms are the property dispositions approved by the regents on Friday: 

  • The transfer of 80 acres to the city for flood mitigation and open space.

  • The conveyance of two acres to the city for a public safety facility.

  • An option for the city to purchase 75 additional acres from the university for permanent Open Space.

  • The conveyance of 30.2 shares of water rights in Dry Creek Ditch No. 2 to the city to assist with habitat restoration. 

None of the dispositions would occur until the city of Boulder receives its permits to construct flood mitigation—a process that could take three to five years following annexation.

In addition to flood mitigation, housing for CU affiliates and the preservation of 119 acres of permanent open space, the annexation agreement includes numerous other community benefits including:

  • A limit on future development to 129 acres of the 308-acre site, with provisions that ensure the predominant use as housing.

  • A prohibition on development in the 100- or 500-year floodplains.

  • The dedication of five acres for the development of permanently affordable housing available to all in the community who qualify.

  • Performance-based transportation plans and trip caps to limit future traffic and ensure safe and sustainable transportation solutions.

Since the release of the original draft agreement, the city and university have responded to feedback from community members and the Boulder Planning Board to create additional provisions that address concerns around what would happen in the unlikely event that CU Boulder decided to sell the property. These include:

  • A right of first offer (ROFO) for the city to purchase the property.

  • Extended timelines for the ROFO that align with city processes.

  • A 10-year cap on the value of the property for the city’s ROFO.

  • A 10-year prohibition on the sale of the property to a third party.

  • A 45% affordable housing requirement for the site if sold to a third-party developer.

Other recent updates to the agreement include additional constraints that incentivize the university to develop residential units of 2,000 square feet or less, as well as a commitment by the university to not connect to city utilities prior to the expiration of a city de-annexation option.

“Community engagement has been vital to CU Boulder South annexation discussions for years, and we’ve worked closely with the city to listen and incorporate feedback to improve the agreement,” said CU Boulder Deputy Chief Operating Officer Abby Benson, who has been leading the negotiations for the university along with Derek Silva, assistant vice chancellor for business strategy.

CU Boulder purchased the CU Boulder South property in 1996 to help ensure the university’s long-term ability to meet its mission. In the ensuing years, a portion of the site was identified as optimal for flood mitigation. In 2015, following years of floodplain studies and flood mitigation planning, the city invited the university to bring the property into the 2015 Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP) update process to pave the way toward annexation. 

Negotiations during the BVCP update process and robust public engagement led to the 2017 adoption of the 2015 BVCP update, with approval from Boulder’s City Council and Planning Board, the Boulder County Commissioners and the Boulder County Planning Commission. That update included changes to the property’s land-use designations in anticipation of future annexation and the development of the guiding principles for future development that are now being solidified in the annexation agreement. 

In other regents action:

  • The CU Board of Regents approved CU system’s 2021-26 strategic plan.