Real problems on the ground floor

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By Neil Anderson and co-authors

The July 8 article “Boulder Reservoir Dinners Canceled Due to Backlash from Neighborhood” was an unfortunate effort to vilify citizens who are genuinely concerned about the city’s actions at the reservoir. Alarmed by the accusations, neighbors investigated (including requesting the emails in question) and found very little reason for the article’s vitriolic. Either way, its focus on canceled events (not canceled by neighbors) is a distraction from the much larger issues of the city’s intentions at the reservoir level.

These are questions that should be of concern to anyone who cares about the reservoir and the natural environment of which it is a part.

In 2017, the city introduced design ideas for the reservoir, including a café to serve boaters, swimmers and other users – an “incidental use” compatible with the reservoir’s daytime recreational activities; a good idea with public support. What emerged last year, however, were plans for a nightlife restaurant and event center, a lease giving the heart of the reservoir (including the beach) to a for-profit operator and allowing great leeway in activities – including events of unlimited size, number and frequency, and the right to sublet to third parties for other undefined activities. Catering operations would be from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. or midnight, potentially with amplified music; essentially a “night place”.

Why worry about this? The reservoir and its surroundings are one of the most important wildlife habitats in Boulder County (including several populations of threatened birds). Night activity, light and noise will degrade this ecosystem with effects that will reverberate throughout the area, not just the reservoir. Serving alcohol after dark will put drunk drivers on dark country roads, endangering anyone who uses them. Water and air quality will suffer from increased use and countless additional trips by vehicle. The list goes on, but simply putting this use will damage nature, endanger the public and change the whole neighborhood… and not in a good way.

The city has since pushed back the initial opening hours to “test the concept” and accustom the area to the use (characterization of the city), but the original plans clarify their intentions – not just an overnight restaurant but a Very active “event center” that the city plans to expand even further in future phases. Combined with a for-profit operator, this will turn the reservoir into a large event and entertainment center – a large commercial enterprise with traffic, parking lots, lighting, etc. – intensely invasive urban use.

This commercialization of the reservoir is a betrayal of the long-held promise that no matter how urban Boulder becomes, it will always be surrounded by nature. Now, as Boulder urbanizes like never before, the city appears intent on urbanizing one of the most important and unique places in this whole swath of nature. On the contrary, our resolution should be to step up the protection of these places of respite.

There are many questions that can and should be asked. We all agree that the reservoir belongs to all of us… why then are we ceding it to a private operator and giving it all the benefits? Why is taxpayer money being used to compete with city restaurants… especially given the city’s many empty spaces? Why, when we are concerned about affordability, are we making the reservoir an increasingly profitable destination?

If you live here, it’s hard not to feel obligated to protect the special place that is Boulder Reservoir and the nature that it is a part of. If the city’s long-term vision comes true, the reservoir we’ve known for 50 years could be replaced by another piece of urban Boulder, another reminder that Boulder is a place for the wealthy who can afford chic restaurants and attend charity galas; swimmers clean the beach at 6 p.m. for guests only for those who can afford it. There are ways that a restaurant could exist at the reservoir while honoring and preserving its character and importance as part of the natural and civic fabric. So far, this has not seemed to interest the City.

This article was co-authored by Neil Anderson, Jason Smith, Katie Walker, Sharon Anderson, Kim Bixel, Kelly DiNatale and Roger Pioszak, all neighbors of Boulder Reservior.


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