Longmont City Council recently voted to make itself the deciding body on property development applications adjacent to Longmont public lands. This is an important step forward in honoring the environmental and conservation values of residents. The 2018 Longmont Open Space Survey found 74% of respondents rated “Protecting natural areas from development” as “very important.” Development proposals throughout the city are reviewed by City Planning staff before going to the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission for review/approval. P&Z is an appointed board and not elected by residents. Historically, City Council has had no say on any development plans and was only involved if a P&Z approved proposal was appealed. Appeals are very time-limited (30 days), cumbersome, and rare. Empowering City Council to be the final deciding body on proposals adjacent to our natural areas and parks will give residents a voice in the good stewardship of our public investments.
A recent development annexation application submitted to City Planning underscores why this ordinance is so critical. The proposed “Rivertown” development is on 20 acres along the south side of St. Vrain Creek just east of Roger’s Grove to Sunset Street. Roger’s Grove exists because Roger Jones selflessly donated 55 acres to the City for preservation when his wife died. He did this so Longmont residents might always have a place to connect with nature, to learn and to enjoy. There is nothing in the Dec. 2020 Rivertown annexation application that suggests any respect for this adjacent natural environment nor any regard for the environmental value of St. Vrain Creek. The proposed “high density” residential area of 380 units with restaurants and businesses is way too high for this sensitive area. Any development proposals should honor and enhance this special area–not exploit and overburden it.
I am a member of Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek, a growing group of community members who advocate for protecting our St. Vrain corridor and the wildlife that depend upon it from potentially damaging development. The Longmont reach of the St. Vrain has tremendous ecological value. Portions of the corridor are designated as critical wildlife habitat and have been identified as having immense aquatic conservation value to the State of Colorado due to the presence of rare, threatened native fish species. The proposed Rivertown development is in very close proximity to one of the only known nesting Bank Swallow colonies (a species of special concern) within Boulder County. The entire St. Vrain corridor is also a Stream Habitat Connector, which is how wildlife moves at night from one area to another. Evidence of wildlife movement includes the presence of mink and beaver at Golden Ponds and Sandstone Ranch, coyotes and foxes throughout the corridor, and bobcats and deer at Sandstone.
Many are concerned whether it is prudent to significantly develop along this corridor. The Army Corp of Engineers has identified 12 flood events along the St. Vrain in the last 120 years. Even with the best possible mitigation efforts, common sense dictates this corridor will flood again. Flooding is the third most common natural disaster. For the river not to respond to what’s happening with climate change would break the law of physics. We had 17 inches of rain in the span of 4 days in 2013, and extreme weather events across the world have only grown worse since then. Is it morally and fiscally responsible to knowingly put people and property in harm’s way and leave taxpayers on the hook to pay for flood recovery? Thus far, over Longmont staff estimates $400-500 million has been spent on flood recovery and mitigation. Due to this massive public investment and the additional public monies the Rivertown applicant intends to apply for in urban renewal dollars, the public’s voice and best interest deserve extra consideration. This holds true for all development proposals along our St. Vrain Greenway.
We are all learning how essential protecting the natural environment is to our survival. Again, any development proposals should honor and complement our St. Vrain Greenway and other natural areas—not exploit and overburden them.