In housing-starved Louisville, voters will decide the fate of a massive development that includes no housing
A nearly 400-acre site in Boulder County is up for redevelopment. And Louisville resident Joshua Cooperman knows just what should go there.
“This seems like a huge opportunity for affordable housing,” said Cooperman, who also sits on the city’s sustainability advisory board.
Like many other communities in Colorado, Louisville is in the midst of a housing crisis. It was made worse by the Marshall fire, which destroyed more than a thousand homes in Boulder County in late December. Given the housing shortage and the warming climate, Cooperman wants to see the site anchor a walkable, mixed-use development where residents wouldn’t have to drive as much as their counterparts in nearby suburban areas.
But while Louisville voters will soon decide what development on the site looks like, it almost certainly won’t include any housing at all.
“This seems like a massive oversight,” Cooperman said.
A long-vacant site that also helped build modern Louisville
Today, the 389-acre site just to the northwest of U.S. 36 and Northwest Parkway holds little more than crumbling roads, a few ponds, scrubby trees, and, in some locations, sweeping views of the Boulder Flatirons.
From the 1970s to the 2000s, it hosted a 1.5 million-square-foot corporate campus for Storage Technology Corp. or StorageTek. Some 2,600 workers were employed there when it was sold to Sun Microsystems, Inc. in 2005.
ConocoPhillips then bought the land and razed the old StorageTek buildings. The Louisville City Council approved a 2.5 million-square-foot redevelopment plan in 2010. That plan was never built, and little happened until a Denver-based developer purchased the land for $34.8 million in 2020 and began pushing its own project called Redtail Ridge.
“There's a great story behind what was here and the jobs and the value that this land provided to build what is now the city of Louisville,” said Jay Hardy, senior vice president of Brue Baukol Capital Partners. “The redevelopment, we think, is an enormous opportunity to bring it back to life.”
Initially, Brue Baukol proposed a more than 5 million-square-foot commercial and residential development with 2,200 multi-family housing units.
But the developer nearly halved those plans — and dropped the housing component entirely — after getting pushback from the Louisville Planning Commission. Members of that body said the development proposal didn’t fit with the land’s rural zoning and the city's comprehensive plan.
“If there was an opportunity to do residential, we would certainly want to be doing that,” Hardy said. “But we're not able to now.”
The Louisville City Council eventually, in September 2021, narrowly approved a 3 million-square-foot plan with commercial, retail and industrial developments after imposing a set of sustainability conditions, including electric vehicle chargers, solar farms, all-electric HVAC systems and 93 acres of land set aside for open space, parks and trails.
Hardy hopes to attract large biotech companies to the site and said Brue Bakol is in discussions with two groups right now. The plan also allows the nearby Avista Hospital to relocate to the site.
Citizen activists have ensured the development plan isn’t yet a done deal
A group of Louisville residents gathered enough signatures to force City Council to reconsider its approval. Council in December 2021 decided to put the Redtail Ridge development plan to a public vote.
Some residents oppose the project because of its size, said Jill Sjong, who helped gather signatures. Others don’t want to see anything built on the site at all.
“I think people like driving into Louisville and feeling like they're coming back to someplace that's a slower pace of life, that has more of a rural character,” Sjong said. “We're not Boulder and we're not Broomfield. And we're very proud of the character that we have.”
Louisville Mayor Ashley Stolzmann voted against the plan, calling it a “1980s-era office park” that will add more jobs to the area while not addressing the ongoing housing problem.
“There's no justification to increase the density for that reason,” she said, adding: “It's very much an auto-oriented development with vast, vast parking lots, five-story office buildings and industrial buildings.”
Hardy said Brue Baukol and a new metro district, funded by a property tax, would help pay for $99 million worth of improvements to infrastructure, including roads, water and sewer lines. But Stolzmann and other opponents worry there will be more bills that fall to Louisville taxpayers to cover.
A "yes" vote will allow Brue Baukol to proceed. If the "no" vote wins, Hardy with Brue Baukol said the company will simply use the already approved plan in 2010.
“We believe we've delivered exactly what the City Council wanted and exactly what the opposition has asked us to deliver,” Hardy said.
If that holds true, no new housing will be built on the site — no matter the outcome of next week’s vote.
“In my mind, that ship has sailed,” said former Louisville Mayor Chuck Sisk, who supports the Brue Baukol plan. He said the developer has worked with the community and city leaders to find compromises and that Louisville now has “to be true to our word.”
Opponents, for their part, hope a “no” vote will send the developer back to the drawing board. Mayor Stolzmann also hopes that would give the city time to update its nine-year-old comprehensive plan, which will allow for a more head-on public discussion about pressing issues like housing.
“I don’t want to pre-jump what the community’s going to say,” Stolzmann said. “ … but I would not be surprised if the community tells us that we need additional housing on that site.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated. A previous version of this story described the Redtail Ridge plan as commercial-only. The project also includes industrial and retail developments. It was also updated to correct the description of how the development question was added to the ballot.
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