On Nov. 8, any student registered to vote in the City of Boulder will see proposition 2F on their ballots, an initiative that would repeal the annexation of CU South.
For the past seven years, the University of Colorado Boulder and the city of Boulder have worked to negotiate this annexation agreement, which guarantees planned flood protection, 119 acres of open space and public recreational access to some of the area. City Council approved the final annexation agreement in September of 2021. However, this ballot proposition could overturn the annexation agreement.
CU Boulder purchased this land from a mining company in 1996. The land has since remained undeveloped, as decades of false starts and conflict have halted the construction of new dorms, athletic facilities and campus infrastructure. Though the university owns CU South, Boulder residents widely use the land like one of the city’s open spaces and parks.
Supporters believe that the deal will create new housing opportunities, encourage pre-existing environments in the area to flourish and protect about 2,000 residents from flooding with the creation of new flood mitigation infrastructure.
University officials and CU Boulder’s student government support the annexation. They’re pushing hard for a “no” vote on the ballot measure in November.
Opponents of the annexation, who support the ballot initiative, see the deal as a chance for the university to increase its population and profit in Boulder while removing more than 100 acres of land currently used by many residents as open space.
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Read the transcript of the story below:
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Henry Larson: Nestled off of U.S. 36 and Table Mesa Drive, there’s an unusually large area of flattened-out open space. A handful of Boulderites walk their dog on a rocky gravel path that runs the length of the property.
Now, you wouldn’t know it at first glance, but these 308 acres of University of Colorado property make up the most hotly contested – and most expensive –part of Boulder’s local election. It’s called CU South.
As you walk the path that circles CU South you’ll see a lot of dog walkers that will go between the sparse trees and mostly grassy field that makes up the property. There are some university buildings here and some tennis courts but it’s largely undeveloped at the moment.
The university purchased this land from a mining company in 1996. It has remained undeveloped, as decades of controversy have halted the construction of new dorms, athletic facilities and campus infrastructure.
It’s a coveted open space for lots of Boulder residents and a stalwart barrier against more university expansion into the city for many others.
Last year, the city of Boulder annexed the land, clearing the way for development. The annexation plan cuts the land into three chunks, with about a hundred acres dedicated to new university housing, another hundred remaining as open space and the rest designated as a flood protection area.
Boulder residents, upset with the deal, got enough signatures on a petition to put this annexation agreement on the ballot in November. Voting yes to their initiative, 2F, would overturn the annexation and force city and university officials back to the drawing board.
Brooke Kildey: Yes, it’s Brooke: B-R-O-O-K-E.
Larson: Brooke Kildey is one such resident who’s spent six years walking her dogs on the CU South property. Like some kind of local sheep herder, Brooke walks the trail with five dogs, whose bright white coats can be seen halfway across the track.
Kildey: I come out here every day to walk the dogs, and this is just a treasure. We’re so, so grateful to CU for allowing us to have our dogs off-lead here. Many dog walkers are here, and everybody loves it. Believe me, everybody will be so sad to see it go away because it is truly one of Boulder’s treasures.
Larson: It’s important to note not all that open space will disappear if the annexation goes through, but CU Boulder will repurpose at least half of it. Rachel Hill, one of CU Boulder’s student government tri-executives, is in favor of the annexation for its cost-saving and environmental benefits.
Rachel Hill: It’s a really beautiful area. I think it’s going to be really nice to have, certainly, flood mitigation there and more attainable housing for students.
Larson: It’s that last part, flood protection, that the city and university have driven home to voters. In 2012, Boulder Creek flooded, costing residents millions in property damage and killing several.
CU South’s flood protection plan would purportedly protect about 2,000 people from flooding.
Hill: If the ballot measure passes and the agreement is repealed, then it just stays how it is. Maybe you could walk your dog there, but for example, if at all floods, then you lose all that open space. So, there’s a lot to consider that this agreement will actually, I think, help the open space in that area.
Larson: Rachel’s support for CU South does come with some caveats. The university needs to make its new housing affordable, she says, and they have to build with sustainability in mind. That’s a view shared by Chase Cromwell, the legislative affairs director for CUSG, who has spearheaded much of the student government’s support for the annexation.
Chase Cromwell: It would also be really nice to see the university create some concrete commitments about the affordability of housing. The university doesn’t have very many hardcore policies about how they set those prices –for good reasons – but we want to make sure that the students can actually live in the housing. If the university owns this housing, the university is taking that responsibility very seriously. This should not be, and we cannot allow it to become, a profit-seeking opportunity for the university.
Larson: For some, however, these commitments to affordability and environmentalism just aren’t enough. Some residents are worried about the ecological impacts of developing this land and don’t want to give more to a university that already brings in a multi-billion dollar budget every year.
Peter Mayer is a community activist and water engineer. He’s the co-chair of Plan Boulder County, the group leading the push against the annexation. Peter said he’s worried the current flood mitigation plan doesn’t do enough to protect South Boulder over a long period. He wants a 500-year protection plan, as opposed to the current 100-year plan in the annexation.
Mayer: That’s what they’re talking about doing. Now, if you think CU needs another campus and you don’t mind development in the flood plain, then perhaps this annexation makes a lot of sense for you. If the citizens were to reject this annexation, we would be able to bring the university to a much better agreement that would enable 500-year protection and a much smaller footprint that could be much more beneficial to the community.
Larson: Already, both sides have collectively spent more than $100,000 on this issue, according to campaign finance reports released the week of Oct. 10.
As the groups look to face off on Nov. 8, the overall impact of this measure could not be more clear: the value of this property is measured in far more than housing units or acres of open space. Boulder residents are impassioned about this issue and willing to fight to get their way.
Contact CU Independent Editor-in-Chief Henry Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org.