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That's what she said

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Development Proposed in the South Boulder Creek Flood Plain


Root ball of a tree knocked over in a windstorm exposing the water table near Hogan-Pancost property (photo by Jeff McWhirter)

At a presentation sponsored by PLAN-Boulder County on Friday, January 13, neighbors of the proposed Hogan-Pancost development, in opposing the project, acknowledged that high groundwater levels and flood hazards probably should have kept the City of Boulder from ever permitting the subdivisions in which they currently reside. One such resident, who was a member of the presentation’s audience, claimed that she had assumed when she bought her home that the city had determined that the area was suitable for residential development. But she indicated that time and experience have proven that the city’s approval had been a mistake.

The presentation was conducted by 14-year area resident Jeff McWhirter. He implied that the city should not compound the errors it had made decades ago in approving the Greenbelt Meadows and Keewayden Meadows subdivisions by approving the Hogan-Pancost development.

The Hogan-Pancost property covers 22 acres south of the East Boulder Community Center and to the west of South Boulder Creek. McWhirter said that it has been designated as Area II (potentially eligible for annexation) since the inception of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan and that it has been subject to various development proposals for decades. Its current owner, Boulder Creek Commons LLC, bought it in the fall of 2007 for $4.5 million, McWhirter said. McWhirter related that the principal owners of Boulder Creek Commons are Mike Boyers, Lou Della Cava, and Woody Eaton. The company declined an invitation to participate in the program on January 13, although Eaton sat in the audience and commented occasionally on statements made by McWhirter or other audience members. The city’s planning department also declined an invitation to participate in the event.

The Boulder Creek Commons’ development proposal is to build 121 residential units on 19.5 acres on the west side of the property, with 2.5 acres on the east side to be preserved in an undeveloped state. Fifty of the 121 units would be part of a senior congregate care facility, six would be part of “affordable duplexes” for seniors, two would be “affordable” single family homes, and 63 would be market rate houses. The concept plan for the development will be heard by the city’s Planning Board on January 19.

McWhirter claimed that some of the neighbors had “grown old and died” fighting development proposals for the Hogan-Pancost property. He declared that the opponents are weary of the struggle and want an end to it this year, preferably with a decision by the city to re-designate Hogan-Pancost as part of Area III (which would preclude annexation to the city); but, if not, with approval of the current proposal. He asserted that, if the property is not annexed, two houses could be built on it under current Boulder County regulations.

McWhirter noted that the whole area lies in the alluvial plain of South Boulder Creek. It was all inundated in a major flood in 1969, which he showed photographs of. Current city flood plain maps show the western edge of Hogan-Pancost, which is bordered by the Dry Creek Ditch No. 2, to be in the 100-year flood “high hazard” zone. McWhirter commented that the Dry Creek Ditch No. 2 alignment seems to follow an old channel of South Boulder Creek and that flood waters will naturally flow there.

McWhirter related that city regulations require the lowest part of any structure in a “high hazard” zone to be situated at least two feet above the expected high water mark. He said that Boulder Creek Commons proposes dumping 80,000 cubic yards of fill dirt on the property.

McWhirter observed that most of the Hogan-Pancost property, including the site of the proposed congregate care facility, would be covered in a 500-year flood. He asked rhetorically, “Is it wise to place our most at-risk population in a high-risk flood plain?”

McWhirter acknowledged that studies conducted for Boulder Creek Commons affirm that flood hazards can be successfully managed on Hogan-Pancost. However, he said he disagrees with their conclusions.

One of the residents, Jeff Rifkin, claimed that Boulder Creek Commons proposes to divert flood water out of the northwest corner of the trapezoidal-shaped property on to the Manhattan School property and the homes in that area. Rifkin and others attending the presentation contended that the developer’s plan would to some extent shift the damage from flood waters to those downstream in the South Boulder Creek alluvial plain.

Audience member and geochemist Alison Burchell related that several years ago she and legendary CU geography professor Gilbert White had secured $500,000 (which ultimately grew to about $1 million) from FEMA for a flood study along South Boulder Creek. She decried the “piecemeal” development decisions that have occurred in its flood plain, and argued that the Hogan-Pancost proposal should be viewed in the larger context of the entire plain. “Upsteam impacts are never considered,” she commented. Burchell and others at the session observed that due to changes in the South Boulder Creek flood maps, Frazier Meadows Manor, a large complex for seniors along 47th Street, sits in the high-hazard flood zone—hardly an appropriate location for a relatively vulnerable community.

McWhirter recounted that Hogan-Pancost has been the subject of seven or more groundwater studies. He said that the water table is just one to four feet below the ground surface, depending upon the season. He stated that many homes in the adjoining subdivisions need sump pumps and that one resident, Ron Craig, pumps out 40,000 gallons a day. McWhirter asserted that the amount of groundwater afflicting the residents increased dramatically when the East Boulder soccer fields were created; and, since groundwater is a “squirrely beast,” development of Hogan-Pancost could be reasonably expected to aggravate the problem in the adjacent neighborhoods.

McWhirter also claimed that the Hogan-Pancost proposal would burden local streets with unacceptable levels of traffic. He stated that studies indicate that 700 to 1,300 car trips a day would be added to 55th Street, which already carries a lot of vehicles. Kewanee Drive, which would provide access to the development, is a small neighborhood street, he remarked; and he asserted that a connecting street, Manhattan Drive, was deemed by the city 25 years ago to be overloaded.

McWhirter also raised the possibility of harm to the Prebles jumping mouse resulting from the development of Hogan-Pancost. He noted that the South Boulder Creek corridor, which lies relatively close to the eastern part of Hogan-Pancost, is the most important habitat for the mouse in Boulder County and one of the most important in the state. He questioned whether changes to the groundwater on Hogan-Pancost and to its vegetation might impair the mouse’s ability to thrive in the area.

McWhirter, Burchell, and others suggested that the Hogan-Pancost property might be an appropriate acquisition for the city’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department. He asserted that the developer had recently offered it to the department for $8.5 million, but that the department had rebuffed the approach. Eaton defended the price, declaring that Boulder Creek Commons has spent $8.2 million on the property, including over $400,000 for studies, and substantial interest costs. Of course, if the city re-designates Hogan-Pancost as part of Area III, its development potential would apparently be limited to two houses– without any expenditure of city funds.

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