Boulder wrestles with forcibly annexing for municipalization

By Alex Burness
Staff Writer
Boulder Daily Camera

POSTED: 10/01/2016

The Boulder City Council is set to consider a most unusual action at its meeting Tuesday night, involving the annexation of 15 parcels near the corner of 55th Street and Arapahoe Avenue, despite the protest of many of those parcels’ owners.

The main event at Tuesday’s meeting will be a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would enable the creation of more co-operative housing in the city. It’s likely that public comment on that issue will run for several hours, and possibly even bump the annexation discussion off the council’s agenda.

But if the properties are indeed annexed, the move would represent Boulder’s first forced annexation in the modern era. Some on the council aren’t OK with that.

“I’d like to see the annexations tabled for now,” Councilman Aaron Brockett said. “I think we’re moving forward too quickly.

“It is unprecedented (in Boulder), as far as I know, to annex any property owners without their permission, and I don’t think we should start now.”

Brockett’s fellow freshman council members, Jan Burton and Bob Yates, have also publicly voiced similar feelings.

The city has been seeking annexation of these east Boulder enclaves — most of which are home to marijuana businesses — in an effort to bolster its application to the state Public Utilities Commission. The commission has held that Boulder would improve its chances at a municipal electric utility, separate from Xcel Energy, by clarifying its city limits so as to avoid potentially serving county customers after municipalizing.

On Wednesday, the city filed a new application to the commission.

Boulder wrestles with forcibly annexing for municipalization

An Xcel Energy crew on Thursday works on putting in a power pole on 28th Street just south of the intersection of Palo Parkway. (Paul Aiken / Boulder Daily Camera/Staff Photographer)

The application assumes the properties at 55th and Arapahoe are part of the city, though they are not yet.

“We’re just completing the process,” Senior Assistant City Attorney Kathy Haddock explained in an interview Friday.

But Boulder is also continuing negotiations on a possible settlement that would see Xcel retain its customers in the city.

Not first time annexation considered

The council will meet Wednesday in executive session to discuss a proposed settlement, so it is possible that Boulder goes through with the controversial annexation just one day before moving toward settling and ending the municipalization bid that the annexation would bolster.

Technically the city doesn’t need permission to annex in this case, because the enclaves — on county land surrounded by Boulder and benefitting from city services — can be unilaterally annexed.

Municipalization efforts aside, Boulder actually makes a point of bringing enclaves into the city when possible, and even considered the annexation suite at 55th and Arapahoe six years ago, when the push for a city-owned electric utility was hardly underway.

It does not, however, annex over landowner wishes.

Property owners for 10 of the affected parcels have sent the city list of requested actions they believe would make the annexation acceptable. Boulder city and county have very different marijuana policies, and the general concern of those in the annexation area is that annexation would require a new application process for licensing, and adherence to a series of city-specific guidelines that the industry tends to regard as overbearing.

Some of the businesses have said that their basic ability to operate would be threatened by the annexation.

“I’m not OK with this,” said Dan Anglin, co-owner of a business with eight licenses in the proposed annexation zone. He cites an example of the difference between doing business in the county versus the city: Boulder “wants a different type of air exchanger in the facility where we do extraction, and that is immediately $75,000. They ask a lot.”

The property owners who co-signed the letter to the city want, for the next decade, for all development impact fees to be reduced by 75 percent; for all requirements to improve curbs, gutters and other infrastructure on public right-of-ways associated with their properties to be waived; and a special tax district to be created for the enclave with special, lower rates.

They also want exceptions to some of Boulder’s marijuana regulations, and ask that the city begin the decade of leniency in October of 2018.

One of the property owners, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears retribution from the city attorney’s office, said the co-signed owners believe their demands represent a fair trade, should Boulder go through with an annexation they oppose.

“They’re saying they’re giving us a sweet deal,” he said, “but they haven’t given us really very much in the way of discounts.”

Really ‘part of the city’

Haddock said her office is disinclined to direct the council to grant the wishes of those 10 owners, as doing so would prompt an “equity issue.”

“It’s not staff’s normal behavior to recommend something that favors some businesses over others, unless there is a reason to do so,” Haddock said. “The reasons that have been articulated do not seem fair to other Boulder businesses” that would not benefit from the special discounts proposed.

Councilman Matt Appelbaum supports that stance, and said that it’s time the city treated these businesses as a part of Boulder, which they’ve effectively been on many, non-pot licensing levels already.

“To me, it’s not just about the muni,” Appelbaum said. “These are properties that have been surrounded by Boulder for some time. They really are part of the city, and they get most city services.

“We’ll fight fires if they’re there. We’ll provide police if necessary. You can only get to these locations by using city streets. Some of them, if not most of them, get city water and sewer. I think properties like that should be annexed to the city.”

Alex Burness: 303-473-1389, or