Pomerance critique of Transit Village Plan

A former Council Member recounts past errors, suggests solutions

| Feb 14, 2010

WALKABLE: Before-and-after chart shows increased number of structures envisioned under the plan. (Source: City of Boulder, Transit Village Area Plan, Sept. 2007, p. 15)

Below is the text of a one-page flyer circulated by former City Council Member Steve Pomerance to those attending the Friday, Feb. 12, PLAN-Boulder County panel on the Transit Village plan.

The Transit Village: History, Issues, and a Better Outcome
Steve Pomerance, Febuary 12, 2010

The Transit Village was a “good idea” that some council members heard about and decided that Boulder needed one. Early on, one of the California planners that the City got to fly here to tout the Transit Village (TV) idea admitted under questioning that BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency) was insisting that there be guaranteed ridership before extending a rail line to a suburb, so some of the SF suburbs were building “transit villages” as a way to meet that requirement. Transit villages were intended for suburbs, not employment centers like Boulder.

Early in 2003, the Council, without much real analysis, decided to begin the implementation of the TV by putting the train station and some affordable housing on the Pollard property at 30th and Pearl. But near the end of 2003, about 9 months before the site was purchased, city staff and possibly the mayor were told by both Burlington Northern, who owns the tracks, and RTD, who was to build the station, that the station could not be built on that curve in the tracks. (There were requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act that this location could not meet, as well as technical issues.) But this information was not communicated to the Council at that time, so they continued with the project. And in September, 2004, the Council purchased the Pollard property.

Also, the terms of the deal were never analyzed for the Council, so they never really understood what they were doing. This led to them overpaying by millions of dollars. (The failure was not in the purchase price appraisal, but the lease terms for Pollard, and the price set for the City owned parcel where Pollard was going to move in 2014.)

When the Council found this out, in February, 2005, (only by accident, as the information put out by the staff at that time still had the platform on the curve), some members were very upset, but they failed to hold anyone responsible. So the project proceeded, and went through years of “process”, as it had not been carefully thought through up front.

The Transit Village Area Plan is seriously flawed in almost all aspects:

  • The market for the residential units is for outsiders who want to move to Boulder and commute to Denver. (This is per the City’s own consultant on the project.) This does nothing to deal with Boulder’s 50,000+ in-commuters.
  • The project will cost the City millions of dollars up front to put in the infrastructure; at best, this will take decades to repay, as many property owners are not enthusiastic about redeveloping because the parking district requirements and other necessary restrictions are too onerous.
  • The project will increase in-commuting, because it adds far more jobs than the few people who will live and work there.
  • The project will eliminate nearly a third of Boulder’s service industrial zoned land; Boulderites will then have to drive out of town for these services.
  • The Pollard site is the last, best regional retail site in Boulder. If converted to housing, it will never yield the sales tax that the City sorely needs.
  • Building housing between 30th, Pearl, and the train tracks makes no sense – it is noisy and requires crossing major arterials and tracks to get anywhere. And access to parks, schools, recreation centers, etc. is difficult at best.

What should the Council do? Redo the Transit Village Area Plan by putting regional shopping on the Pollard site and preserving the service industrial development in the surrounding area. This is simple, cheap, and what Boulder really needs.