Rebuilding Boulder: city uses 'compact urban' blueprint.

Author:Titus, Stephen
Position:Statistical Data Included

ASK ANY DEVELOPER FAMILIAR WITH Colorado to list the state's toughest development environments, and the city of Boulder will almost always make the slate.

But since a mid-1990s moratorium on new construction--which gave the city council and planning department time to redesign its development review process and define a path for Boulder's future--developers say everything has changed.

"In the 90s we were going through a change in direction and it wasn't always clear what the changes would be, so there was a period of confusion. That had ramifications throughout development review," says Bob Cole, director of land-use review for the city. "The direction is clearer today, and that enables us to focus on customer service and on implementing the new direction."

Part of that new direction includes creating more housing--particularly affordable housing--to balance the number of people who work in Boulder with those who live in town. And while there are several important commercial developments going on, developers of big residential projects say it's much easier to get their plans approved under the city's new formula.

"It's a real pleasure going through the process," says George Watt, the architect and planner behind the Holiday Neighborhood in north Boulder. "You have all the concerned parties at the table with you so if you have a problem with public transportation, you have the transportation engineer at the table with you. In the past everyone was isolated and you might tell the same story to five different people."

Watt and members of the city's staff credit City Manager Ron Seacrest with the changes in customer service and with streamlining the review process. There are now nearly a dozen major projects underway or on the drawing board that will add office, retail and parking space to downtown, and new housing north of town. But what could be Boulder's largest redevelopment opportunity--Crossroads Mall--remains mired in a disagreement between the city and The Macerich Co., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based real-estate investment trust that owns it.

The dispute is not as much over what to build between 28th and 30th streets, Arapahoe Avenue and Pearl Street, as it is over what the property is worth and how to pay for significant new infrastructure.

The city's favorite redevelopment option (they have outlined several) calls for converting much of the declining 850,000-square-foot mall--particularly the empty southern half--into a mixed-use project of residential, retail and some office.

Brad Power, executive director of the Boulder Urban Renewal Authority, said the city hoped to negotiate a public/private partnership that had...

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