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Boulder's Transit Village Plan Debated

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The discussion was mostly polite and the issues complex as 70 people crowded into a downtown Library conference room Friday, Feb. 12, to hear four experts discuss Boulder's planned Transit Village redevelopment plan.

What's at stake -- over a long-haul period -- is the future of an area east of 30th St. from Pearl St. Parkway up to Valmont Rd. If preliminary plans are pursued, Boulder will have a high-density cluster of housing, offices and transporation amenities, the latter to include a bus station and -- just possibly -- the terminal for a train running to Denver and Longmont.

The four-person panel displayed varying perspectives on the project. Mayor Susan Osborne said she'd like to see all the talking give way to some action. Council Member Matt Appelbaum had a variety of concerns with how the planning process had gone so far. John Tayer, the Boulder area's elected member of the Regional Transportation District (RTD) Board, seemed quite convinced that the train to Denver she's a comin', and City Planner Louise Grauer used a map to provide a pithy overview of the Transit Village plan.

The forum was sponsored by PLAN-Boulder County, a long-time liberal voice in Boulder city and county politics.

Grauer, of the City's Planning and Development Services staff, referred to a wall map in offering highlights of the plan. A park following Goose Creek as it bisects the area west to east will provide the area's primary green space. A major north-south artery will be Junction Place, a roadway designed primarily for pedestrians and bikers. Availability of parking will be limited and tightly regulated. Numerous developers will be involved, enhancing variety and diversity. Discussions with developers are ongoing. The name "Transit Village" is temporary; the Council expects to change it.

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Boulder City Council Member Matt Appelbaum (left) was joined by Mayor Susan Osborne; John Tayer, RTD District O Representative; and City Planner Louise Grauer in Transit Village discussion.

RTD Board Member Tayer said a $2.5 billion projected shortfall in funding for a FasTracks train to Denver could be closed, in part, by seeking additional sales-tax funding from voters in 2010 or (more likely) 2012, after which the train service could be created in about five years. Enhanced Bus Rapid Transit to Denver, using HOV lanes on US-36, is also contemplated, and Tayer's position on the bus-versus-train option is simple: "I want it all."

Council Member Appelbaum pronouncing himself "the official curmudgeon," said dubious assumptions were presented to the planning staff, resulting in a plan that's "a mixed-use blob ... it's not very urban, it's not very anything." He questioned putting housing instead of retail in the Pollard Motors property near 30th St. He worried that the City's high up-front infrastructure spending would leave the City "forced to approve development projects we don't like a lot in order to recoup our money." The City, he said, could build affordable housing much less expensively in other parts of the city. And Tayer's optimism about FasTracks train service coming anytime soon are wrong (with an aside to Tayer: "Sorry, John").

Mayor Osborne said she's optimistic about upgrades to US-36 to support faster bus service coming soon through federal stimulus money. She said the Transit Village plan should be seen in context with change occurring elsewhere. The University of Colorado, she said, has big plans to turn what had been its Research Park property east of 30th St. into an expansion of the campus with thousands of new jobs and a larger student population. She also noted how the Goose Creek corridor through the Transit Village connects up beautifully to the city's 132-acre Valmont City Park being developed east of Foothills Parkway south of Valmont Rd. Osborne said she's ready for action: "I want to see some stuff happen there and stop the talking."

In the ensuing discussion, attendees raised a variety of issues, including:

  • The Transit Village redevelopment may cause major additions to the city's employment base while not beginning to provide enough new housing units to support them -- let alone to help curtail in-commuting to Boulder by thousands of workers who live elsewhere.
  • Nobody has shown how building the Transit Village will curtail vehicle traffic in Boulder -- nor, by the way, how greater reliance on buses cuts down on fossil fuel use and pollution.
  • People aren't being realistic about how to pay for this or other City initiatives if the current economic malaise continues.
  • Former Council Member Steve Pomerance dropped a little bombshell on the event in the form of a one-page flyer that spoke rather darkly of mistakes and bad assumptions in the planning process to date, and crisply ticking off his criticisms and suggestions. (See text)

(The plan's defenders note that it wasn't a stated aim of the Transit Village plan to curtail Boulder's overall traffic congestion, and that the Transit Village development, at least in its early phases, is expected to add more housing than jobs).

Despite a variety of uncertainties, the plan is moving ahead. As the discussion concluded, panelists agreed that some City Council votes on rezoning land to support the Transit Village initiative may occur as soon as four to five months from now. Those zoning decisions will create even more pressure for the project to move ahead -- not rapidly but, as of this point, with a certain growing momentum.