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Niwot business owners say 6-month development moratorium impinges on property rights

County seeks input to revise land use code
Posted at 8:46 PM, Oct 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-01 01:19:26-04

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NIWOT, Colo. -- Business owners are asking a lot of questions about a six-month moratorium on development in part of downtown Niwot.

"It's a real impingement on business," said Bradley Heap, owner of Colterra restaurant. "I feel that for the vitality and business downtown, a moratorium is never a good thing."

The director of Boulder County's Land Use Department, Dale Case, said the moratorium "is a short time-out to revisit regulations with the community and come up with something that works."

The public hearing document states that the current Land Use Code for the Niwot Rural Community District (outside of the Historic District) provides insufficient guidance with regard to:

  • Density and design parameters, including building bulk and massing, and the number and location of structures per parcel
  • Appropriate amount of residential, retail, and office uses
  • Interface, connections, and access to and between commercial and residential areas
    • Access and site design recognizing the need for safety, efficient circulation, and impacts on neighbors considering parking, alley access, and pedestrian circulation 

Case said there has been an evolution in the types and scale of development in Niwot.

"We've started to see a  mix where we're getting more residential uses in the district, in that commercial district," he said. "That may be a good thing, but we don't have anything in our code that really locks down what the extent of that is going to be."

Heap, whose restaurant was heavily damaged by fire last year, and who plans to rebuild, said, "The Boulder County Comprehensive Plan calls for mixed use in the area, and that's what I want to see."

He added that he wants to see more people living in the area, more people walking to his restaurant, supporting his restaurant, and having a high quality of life.

"I bought my property with that (current) zoning in place," he said, "and I'm a big believer in property rights."

On Tuesday, the Boulder County Commissioners revised the moratorium zone, removing the historic part of downtown, which includes Heap's property.

But the restaurant owner still has concerns.

"I'm afraid that with the moratorium, my neighbors and good friends are going to have their property rights taken away and I don't think that's fair."

Heap said he wants an assurance that, with or without a moratorium, the zoning on the property he spent good money to purchase, isn't going to change.

Case said the County wants to see the unincorporated community thrive.

He noted that there is a transition zone between the commercial land downtown and the adjacent residential.

In some instances that transition zone is an alley that Case said is important to both sides.

"We want to see downtown be a vibrant place," he said, "but we need to make sure it is respecting the things that made it special."

Tony Santelli, the president of the Niwot Business Association, says County officials "over-reacted," to concerns about development, by placing a "blanket moratorium without prior consultation with the businesses."

"On one hand, you have residents who say, 'look, we have a beautiful, pristine alleyway, open space and open views and we'd like to keep it that way.'  By the way, I understand that," Santelli said. "But the other side is business property owners who say, 'we purchased that property because we intended to develop it, and now you're restricting our ability to do so.'"

Santelli said some banks might be looking at the moratorium and saying, "I don't know how good this investment is now, because you've got this dark cloud hanging over you guys."

"It takes a lot of money to hire an architect," Heap said. "I'll make the investment. I'll gamble on myself, but I want to make sure the rules aren't changing. It's a heck of thing to buy into a game, a high stakes poker game, and then the rules are changed in the middle of the game. That's a rough one."

Case told Denver7 that Boulder County's Land Use Department tries to balance interests all the time.

"We work with divergent views on what should be occurring and how much development is appropriate in different areas and that is our job, to work with the community, work within the laws, and come up with regulations that are going to be functional."

"We want to assure that what happens on the ground today is going to be here 50 to 100 years from now," Case added. "We want to make sure that it's done in a way that is caring and respects the community."

Case said they are accepting written comments online.  Information related to the process is available at: