January 10, 2009

Frank Bruno knows better. [University of Colorado flaunts Boulder’s historic height restrictions]

Frank Bruno is a good man, and a smart man—who until recently was man-ager of the City of Boulder. So it’s hard to see his aww shucks, we shoulda told you, I feel your pain response to CU’s latest up-yours his recent employer—Boulder, Colorado—as either duplicitous or incompetent. And he ain’t incompetent.

Look, no one says a big building is a bad idea. But Boulder’s height restrictions have preserved the character of a city—and some views of our Flatirons, our God-made equivalent of the Empire State Building.

Say it ain’t so, Frank Bruno, make it right:

Colorado Daily tells the sad story:

The University of Colorado’s plan to build a four-story building this spring that would tower over the city’s height limit in a neighborhood north of campus has surprised and alarmed Boulder officials.

City staff said they would have liked to weigh in on the design of the proposed building much earlier, but the project “has unfortunately been brought to the planning department’s attention late in the process,” according to a memo delivered to the City Council this week.

And while CU officials agree they should have shared their plans sooner for the 50,000-square foot building at 15th Street and Grandview Avenue, they say they badly need the building and intend to move forward.

As a state entity, the university isn’t bound by Boulder’s building rules, so city officials have almost no leverage to stop a CU project.

Still, Frank Bruno, CU’s vice chancellor for administration, said the university is trying to do a better job communicating with the city on future construction projects. Bruno, who was Boulder’s city manager until April of last year, said he would have liked the city to have had more time to review the project and provide suggestions.

“The point is, this doesn’t feel right,” Bruno said. “It doesn’t feel comfortable. There was not enough time given to the city for review and comment … I realize we are not fully addressing the city’s concerns. I’m more than willing to say this is not the way we want to conduct business or our relationship between the city and university. We are committed to improving.”

The project is planned between CU’s Armory Building and Boulder High School’s football field, in a neighborhood that’s been the source of heated disagreements between the city and university in the past.

…Both Bruno and the campus architect inherited the project, which was approved by the Board of Regents in June 2007 — before either of them worked at the university.

Scale-drawings provided to the city by CU show the building would be about 75-feet tall — 20 feet higher than the city’s 55-foot height limit.

Although CU might consider minor adjustments — such as moving a mechanical and electrical box from the roof to ground level — the project will go forward since it’s received regent approval, Bruno said. Construction is expected to begin this spring, although it likely will not begin in March as originally planned, he said.

School officials plan to spend up to $15.7 million on the building…Paul Leef, CU’s campus architect, said planners considered removing the building’s fourth story and adding a wing instead. But they decided against the redesign because it would cost $1.5 million and delay construction, he said.

The brick building with a tile roof is planned for the east side of 15th, where there is now a university-owned parking lot, Leef said.

Richard Jessor, a CU professor in the Institute of Behavioral Science, said the institute’s 40 faculty members are now housed in 10 buildings spread out along Grandview and in downtown Boulder.

The institute has been successful on the campus, doubling its grants over the past decade from $20 million to more than $40 million, he said. Not having a central hub for researchers compromises the institute’s work, Jessor said.

“We are in these little old buildings,” he said. “We’re separated. We cannot maximize our collaborative work when we are in disciplinary silos.”

‘So little progress’

The Grandview neighborhood has been a bone of contention between the city and CU for well over a decade. In the late 1990s, historic preservation activists, representatives from the city and CU spent years hammering out an agreement for the fate of several historic bungalows in the neighborhood.

Both sides agreed to the creation of a historic district in the neighborhood, and signed a “memorandum of agreement” to better manage the area. As part of that agreement, the city gave up some of its rights-of-way in the area, while CU officials agreed to consult the city before embarking on development plans.

That agreement got overturned in court following a lawsuit by the Native American Rights Fund, whose officials objected at being included in the district. But “both the city and the university have continued to follow many of the actions it outlined,” according to a city memo.

Betty Chronic, a historic preservation activist who spent years working on the Grandview neighborhood issues, said CU’s plans were a slap in the face. Chronic said she’d hoped whatever was built on the site would fit in with the much-smaller buildings around it.

“I thought it would be a site that would balance the neighborhood,” she said. “It saddens me that we have made so little progress with good university-community relationships. It saddens me that the university wants to demonstrate its power.”



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