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Ed Byrne, Land Use Attorney and Densification Proponent


This is the sixth in a series of candidate profiles written by students in Instructor Jeff Browne’s CU News Corps course at CU-Boulder. Lars Gesing is a graduate student from Hamburg, Germany, where he worked for several print and online publications, including the daily regional newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt.

Candidate Ed Byrne (from Facebook)

For six long years, Ed Byrne fought his way through traffic every morning, every evening, every day.

Back in 1988, he started working for Colorado Ski Country USA, a nonprofit trade association that represents the state’s ski industry. Byrne would get in his car in the morning, drive down to Denver to work, and in the evening do the same commute back to his home in Boulder.

Half a dozen years’ worth of commuters’ hassles later, things changed. “By the time I stopped working for Ski Country in 1994, I saw the commuting traffic flip,” Byrne says. Now, the caravan of cars hitched into Boulder instead of fleeing city limits in the direction of Denver.

Though a good sign for a flourishing business sector in the city, those numbers of daily in-commuters rose to as many as 60,000 in 2013, probably posing the biggest threat to Boulder’s environmental sustainability efforts.

“We talk about Boulder having a population of 100,000, but on every workday, we have 155,000 people. That’s likely to get worse, unless we aggressively pursue a reconfiguration of our human settlement pattern,” says Byrne, the 2013 City Council candidate, explaining his campaign agenda.

Unlike many of those in the city who strongly oppose adding density to the existing housing pattern in Boulder, Byrne , who has worked as a land use attorney ever since those defining days in 1994, favors a different approach.

His efforts to reduce Boulder’s carbon footprint concentrate on reintegrating commuters who fled the city because of ever-rising housing and living costs.

Byrne strives to achieve this goal with a program that, as he argues, lies more or less idle ever since the early 1990s: the creation of mostly self-sufficient sub-communities within the city.

During the last two decades, the former assistant city attorney says, “we were stopped by unwarranted fear that density will make things worse when in all likelihood, based on the planning principles that withstood the test of time, our quality of life will improve with strategically located density creating neighborhood centers in the five to six sub-communities that were identified in the early 1990s.”

Building neighborhoods the in-commuting population might prefer

The homogenous residential and non-residential enclaves created during the last six decades of auto-dependent planning resulted in a sprawled out land-use pattern, Byrne criticizes. “It took us 60 years to screw this up, it will probably take us 30 years to fix it,” he says, seeing his campaign as a platform from which to propel those efforts.

“Boulder can’t save the planet with local policies that set people’s teeth on edge, cost a lot of money, and don’t work on a regional level,” he says.

“Smart growth requires a change in the way we think in Boulder and a willingness to let more of the 55,000 people who are commuting in every day to actually move here. Historically, council has been very afraid of any kind of growth. That has given us some of the less than ideal growth we have today,” says Sue Prant, director of Community Cycles, a Boulder-based non-profit bike collective.

“We should intensely focus our projects on building the kinds of mixed use neighborhoods our current in-commuting population might prefer,” Byrne argues.

Ed Byrne, his wife Ann and 2 of their 3 children (from

The married father of two daughters (20 and 22) and a 27-year-old son wants to add the proposed density in neighborhood centers along the transit corridors within the city.  As Byrne puts it: “We are good at saving the outside of Boulder, now we need to work on the inside of Boulder.”

Regarding the inside of Boulder, Ray Bridge, co-chair of PLAN-Boulder County, says, “Boulder must continue to preserve its values and quality of life as best as it can. We don’t have to sacrifice our open space or grow outside our designated boundaries to make progress on affordable housing or other community values.”

Byrne sees the addition of more affordable housing as a concept that faces major obstacles during implementation. “Boulder voters have demonstrated again and again that they are not willing to open their checkbooks to help someone else come to Boulder and live here.”

Allowing Accessory Dwelling Units and Owner Accessory Units “anywhere and everywhere” in the city could be part of a consensus solution, Byrne argues.

Former City Council member Crystal Gray urges council to also look at “housing options for seniors that include letting them develop a small unit on their property so that they can either rent it out for income or have someone live there that can assist them so they can age in place.”

“Boulder is at some kind of a critical moment”

Born and raised in Cheshire, Conn., young Ed inherited his passion for land use patterns from his father, an active member of the zoning board in his home town.

Today, Byrne and his wife live in north Boulder, in the Wonderland neighborhood. The 59-year-old, who was elected student-body president at Notre Dame in 1975, met his future wife Ann during their time at the National Law Center at George Washington University in the U.S. capital.

In 1981, they decided to move to Boulder. Byrne had been working as a ski bum in Aspen during the winter of 1980, then went to New York to take a six-month job at the United Nations before returning to Aspen for another winter and summer.

“It was there when I asked people ‘Where would you live if Aspen wasn’t an option’ and everyone agreed Boulder was the place. I was intrigued. I wanted to see what Boulder was all about,” Byrne remembers.

Thirty-two years later, he’s still not fed up with life under the Flatirons.

“I think Boulder is at some kind of a critical moment and I want to be part of the conversation,” he explains as his reason for running for City Council.

However, if elected, he would have to give up representing land use clients. “(Running for City Council) is not exactly a job enhancing opportunity,” Byrne says, laughing. “But it comes at a time in my life when it is possible and I hope that I’ll be able to do it.”

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