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Monday June 24th 2019

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That's what she said

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Byrne: Land use musings on many levels


Ed Byrne, a 2017 candidate for Boulder City Council, can legitimately say he’s seen a thing or two that would be pertinent in a run for this office. He’s lived in Boulder for 36 years, worked as an Assistant City Attorney, owned his own practice as a local land use attorney, served on committees galore, and most people participating in local public process over the past several decades have probably at least been in the same room with him—but will 2017 be his year to attain elected office after several attempts?

Candidate Byrne (photo courtesy Ed Byrne)

“This is a nine-person Council, and one of the chairs on it should have some legal expertise, some planning and training, and maybe a sense of Boulder’s history. I feel I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the overall picture, the expertise and experience to help with the decision making,” said Byrne.

Byrne is making his third political run in 2017, after an unsuccessful primary campaign for Boulder County Commissioner against former Commissioner Paul Danish in 1996, and a seventh-place finish in the 2013 Boulder City Council race, earning 9,581 votes.

From a Rocky Mountain News story about the 1996 primary: “Incumbent Paul Danish and Ed Byrne agree growth is the defining issue in Boulder County, but each has a markedly different approach to managing it… Byrne, … believes regional planning is the solution to managing county growth.” Fast-forward to 2017, and not only is growth still a defining issue, but you’ll find Byrne’s overview on the need for regional planning probably hasn’t changed that much.

“When you look at the actual magnitude of the challenge, we have to look at this from a regional perspective. We have to work with our neighboring communities where many of our workers live, and try to develop transportation and housing solutions that will work long-term regionally,” said Byrne in 2017.

Byrne served on both the Boulder County Regional Transportation Task Force and the U.S. 36 Task Force in the 1990s, and believes that regional transportation must be an important discussion in 2017 and beyond. He said it seems unlikely that the U.S. 36 corridor will get the FasTracks commuter rail, and added that perhaps “nimble” bus systems could be preferable to fixed rail for this region, especially since the proposed rail line doesn’t always go where the bulk of the population is located. Also, he noted that the region needs quality transit service from suburb to suburb, not just between Boulder or other suburbs to Denver and back.

When it comes to housing within the city, Byrne believes Boulder needs to look at micro and macro-level solutions. At the micro level, he favors strategies such as increasing numbers of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), including in detached structures in areas of the city where current zoning makes such a practice illegal.

At the macro level, Byrne supports planning to create complete neighborhoods, which could include mixed-use projects on larger parcels that could become available for redevelopment in the future. He noted that meeting Boulder’s housing challenges would “obviously take more units per acre.” He was a co-chair of the North Boulder Subcommunity Plan process, a plan that was adopted in 1995, and favors looking at the “bigger picture” of larger areas during planning—even if discussing smaller areas within a subcommunity is also important, and easier to grasp in fuller detail for many residents.

Some of Byrne’s top objectives include: “capture zones” at the edges of town where people could be dropped off or drop off vehicles to access alternative transportation into town centers; higher-density housing/mixed use areas near transit stops; and making sure areas have amenities such as grocery stores and food/beverage locations to make it convenient for people stay in the neighborhoods as much as possible.

“We just have to make more efficient use of the land that’s left, and if in this process we can re-mix our neighborhoods, residential and non-residential, we can create a stronger sense of community,” said Byrne.

Byrne was interviewed for this profile in late August, before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) released its ruling on Boulder’s application for its municipal electric utility. During the interview, Byrne did not speak about the muni in glowing terms, noting his concern that the cost could be excessive should Boulder pay for, in his words, “pipes and wires that will need to be replaced by the time we own them.” But after the PUC ruling, he left no doubt about his opinion with the following excerpts from a social media statement.

“The Muni is done. The game was/is rigged. Pull the plug. Let’s start saving electrons and stop wasting money. I know Boulder has the talent to run an electric utility…The ‘path may be clear,’ but I don’t believe we can get there from here any time soon—the condemnation and separation battles could be tied up in the courts for many years and all the legislative hoops and hurdles, along with broad discretion, tilt these tables against Boulder…,” wrote Byrne.

Byrne earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Notre Dame, and a law degree from the National Law Center at George Washington University, before coming to Boulder in 1981. He has direct experience with City of Boulder government, having served as Assistant City Attorney from 1982-88. He credits his time in the office with sharpening his sense of fiscal accountability, along with giving him an understanding of the role of city staff —which is a dimension Council members must consider. Also, he gained an appreciation for the benefits of alternative dispute resolution after witnessing the shortcomings of a prosecutorial/litigious system of resolving local disputes. He co-chaired the Boulder County Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Section in 1988.

“Sending them to a mediator would allow some healing, and fix problems on a long-term basis instead of just trading summonses and complaints back and forth,” said Byrne.

He also had an opportunity to get to know the work of current City Attorney Tom Carr, as Byrne was a legal advisor to supporters of the city’s new co-operative housing ordinance, which passed in 2017.

Byrne’s approach, according to him, was to work toward building a “higher bar” for groups to become licensed co-ops, including addressing issues that neighbors of the co-op might be concerned about, with the goal of making sure co-ops would be “self-enforcing…self-regulating.” After working to amend the existing co-op ordinance, which was roughly 20 years old, Byrne said Carr came back with a “revocable license approach,” which in Byrne’s opinion helped lead to another year-and-a-half of Council time and controversy before passing the final ordinance—in Byrne’s words, “to get to where I think we were hoping to start.”

On the other hand, Byrne spoke highly of the city’s role in interacting with the University of Colorado during negotiations on the future of the CU-South property, largely due to making flood mitigation a top issue during discussions. He supports housing on a portion of the site with objectives of weaving the new housing into existing neighborhoods, along with adequate transit and making sure residents will be able to walk to services to minimize auto traffic.

In the end, Byrne said he hopes for future city discourse to go beyond the “good guys/bad guys” polarized discussions that seem to dominate modern politics at many levels. He sees a possible future in which the government knows its limits, factions are able to compromise, and locals are able to engage in civil discourse to reach the best solutions for the city.

“We have to crowd-source the community’s wisdom, find ways to bring it forward, and know when a good idea has surfaced. That’s my vision of leadership,” said Byrne.



  • As of Sept. 26, Byrne received an endorsement from the Boulder Area Labor Council, Colorado Chapter, AFL-CIO.
  • Also as of Sept. 26, Byrne had received $100 maximum contributions from current Council member Jan Burton; and former Council members Gary Myre, Gordon Riggle, George Karakehian, Rich Lopez, Leslie Durgin, Richard Polk, Bob Greenlee; and others.
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