On December 15, 2022, Boulder City Council approved construction of a factory at 6500 Arapahoe Road on Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) property. The proposed site is adjacent to Sombrero Marsh, a Critical Wildlife Habitat; wetlands and Open Space are also nearby. The zoning of this area is Public and manufacturing is prohibited in a Public zone in Boulder. However, the City and BVSD claim they aren't required to follow their own regulations and are allowing manufacturing at this specific Public zoned location.
The proposed factory will have significant negative impacts on Sombrero Marsh, as well as the adjacent wetlands and Open Space.
If the City can successfully ignore zoning regulations here, particularly in the face of detrimental environmental impacts, they are likely to utilize this tool elsewhere; this is a very slippery slope.
Sombrero Marsh and the adjacent wetlands are designated by
Boulder as a Critical Wildlife Habitat, a Wetland and Riparian area, and a Significant Natural Community. As a rare alkali marsh in a non-coastal area, Sombrero Marsh provides essential habitat for shorebirds, wading birds and diving birds. It is a vital spring and fall stopover for migrating birds along the Rocky Mountain Flyway to rest and feed. Building a large (31,000+ sq ft) factory which will be manufacturing houses in close proximity to the Marsh will have significant negative environmental impacts; as pointed out by the County, these impacts will include noise, light, visual impacts (which may influence flight), fumes and vibration.
Additionally, the City plans to use 63rd Street, a narrow two-lane road, as the route for construction and operational traffic between the hours of 6 am - 6 pm. Unfortunately, 63rd Street is within 10 feet of the Marsh. The amount of construction traffic will be overwhelming (literally many thousands of trucks), and operational traffic will be significant. The heavy traffic, combined with the associated noise, dust and emissions, will likely have devastating effects on the wildlife at the Marsh.
LAND USE CODE VIOLATION
The City states they have the ability to allow manufacturing in a Public zone because BVSD isn't required to follow City regulations. However, when BVSD bought the land in question, they agreed to follow the City's zoning Codes.
Additionally,the City's Environmental Assessment of the site states that manufacturing is appropriate for the property location. However, manufacturing is expressly prohibited in a Public zone and particularly inappropriate adjacent to a unique Critical Wildlife Habitat. Concerned citizens are challenging this unprecedented spot zoning in court; the lawsuit is currently ongoing.
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
In terms of resident notification, the City did not comply with numerous Federal regulations specifying the manner and time frame in which residents must be notified of a project if Federal funds are being provided (the City received a $4,000,000.00 HUD loan for the project). Additionally, the City and BVSD did not comply with their own rules regarding resident notification and involvement in the decision-making process. The Open Space Board of Trustees was also not informed of plans for factory construction; they learned of the proposed factory during resident comments at their November 9, 2022, meeting. One of the Trustees stated "this feels like a requiem for Sombrero."
Columbine Mobile Home Park abuts 63rd Street, which is the traffic route for the factory between the hours of 6 am - 6 pm. The amount of traffic during construction will be very heavy, consisting of thousands of very large trucks; these trucks will pass within 6 feet of the mobile homes. The emissions associated with the traffic will likely be very significant. Vehicular emissions are known to trigger health problems in people with pulmonary diseases and are associated with increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis; children are especially vulnerable to these effects and there are many children in the mobile home park. There are also the associated issues of constant activity, noise and dust impacting the residents. Additionally, the traffic will be associated with a potential danger to children, as children here sometimes play in the street. This traffic will unequivocally disproportionately impact a disadvantaged population.
Of note, the City stated in their Environmental Assessment that the project would have "no disproportionately high and adverse impacts to low-income or minority populations".