City of Boulder Creates Area Plan for Alpine-Balsam Site

Alpine-Balsam site, courtesy of the City of Boulder.

By Katie Rapone

The City of Boulder is currently working with the community to develop an area plan for the Alpine-Balsam site in Boulder, the former site of Boulder Community Health Broadway Campus.

In December 2015, the city purchased the 8.8-acres of property — that sits along the broadway corridor, north of University Hill and downtown — from Boulder Community Health for $40 million. The properties include the entire hospital campus site at 1100 Balsam Ave., two properties on Alpine Avenue and two small properties on North Street, as well as a five-level parking structure. The total site area is 383,000 square feet.

The city intends to occupy a portion of the site for its customer service center that will co-locate key city services, improving access and better serving the community. Other uses for the site could include housing, retail, office space, and possibly additional local government services.

Alpine-Balsam’s prime location in the center of Boulder presents a valuable opportunity to develop a model for equitable, affordable and sustainable living and the city is committed to ensuring that future redevelopment of the site fits the community’s vision and goals, and complements the character of the neighborhood.

BCH is still providing some services inside the hospital but plans to fully vacate the hospital building in May or June 2019 and transition to the foothills Hospital. When that happens, the city will seek City Council approval for their area plan.

Five guiding principles will define the design and development of the Alpine-balsam site:

  1. Respect the site’s physical environment.
  2. Create a vibrant place for community gathering.
  3. Capture synergies with mixed-use development.
  4. Serve as a model for equity, affordability and sustainability.
  5. Innovate planning, design and delivery processes.

The city’s vision plan received strong support for a mixed-use development that will support a vital, multi-generational, community-oriented place.

During a September 26 Urban Land Institute event, Jim Robertson, director of planning, housing and sustainability for the City of Boulder, spoke about a vision plan for the site that could follow one of three possible scenarios.

The first scenario heavily favors government facilities. According to Robertson, the county has expressed some interest in going in and building some county facilities on the site. That scenario however, does not leave much land left for commercial development or housing. The second scenario favors residential development, possibly in the form of affordable housing and the third scenario is a hybrid of government and mixed-use.

Development Concerns

Flooding issues are one factor in determining the use for the site. The hospital is impacted by a 100-year-old floodplain that could pose potential development issues. The northwest corner at Ninth and Balsam floods after major thunderstorms.  “That’s not something we can ignore as we begin thinking about the site, what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it, and how much it’s going to cost,” said Robertson.

According to the City of Boulder, the development of a continuous internal “green” space from Broadway to the North boulder Park as a site recreational amenity is one option that could help support stormwater management and flood control.

“We want to handle flood-mitigation and mix of uses in a way that allows us to finance the project.” said Robertson. “I’ll be honest, we are a community with high aspirations — we want to have our cake and eat it too, and the community has expressed a high appetite for community benefits such as affordable housing, wonderful civic facilities and so forth.”

However, the city is aware of the fact that the development of government-type facilities could make the project undesirable to developers who are more likely to favor investing in a mixed-use/residential development.

During the ULI event, Shannon Cox Baker, vice president of development at Denver-based firm Urban Ventures LLC, offered her expertise and advice to the city for securing financing for affordable housing for the project, a process that she know from experience, is anything but easy.

It is more expensive to develop in Boulder than in Denver and her advice to the city would be to consider 40 percent affordable housing and 60 percent market rate on the site, an opportunity that the city could leverage.

Baker also said that it’s going to take millions in city and county funds to fill the financing gap for affordable housing to be built at Alpine-Balsam. “Nowadays it’s $75,000 to $100,000 per unit to fill the gap, construction costs have gone up, design expectations and neighborhood expectations have gone up — as a city we are running out of funds to pull that off,” explained Baker.

Concerns also exist regarding whether Broadway can handle the additional traffic this project will create as well as the issue of density as it relates to this project. Much of the surrounding buildings in the area are low density and so as a resident of Boulder herself, Baker questions whether a 55 foot hight limit is right for the site.

“The city has an interesting role to play on this site, being in the drivers seat as the developer owning the land, so finding partners that the city can trust and be in the deal as a partner could really go a long way to make the process smoother, more predictable, as well as reduce some of the risk, time and cost,” said Baker. “The city should think like a developer and think about it as much financially as it would in terms of community benefit”

On Oct.29 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. the City of Boulder will hold a community workshop at the Caruthers Biotechnology Building (3415 Colorado Ave.). During the workshop community members will view scenarios that illustrate five trade-offs that will need to be made related to the city-owned property. Everyone is welcome, including community members who are new to this conversation.



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