Opinion: Shari Malloy–Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek Clarifies Position on Development

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Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

As organizer of Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek I wish to clarify our groups position on development which has lately been mischaracterized.

Stand supporters are concerned about the potential for development along St. Vrain Creek that may occur as a result flood mitigation work that will remove over 800 acres of land from the floodplain. 90% of all wildlife relies on riparian areas for survival. If we want to continue having the abundance of wildlife including birds, beavers, raptors, canines, reptiles, deer, wild turkeys and bobcats, along our Greenway and at Sandstone Ranch, we need to protect these areas from development that will cause harm if too close or inappropriate.

In addition to providing habitat and acting as a wildlife movement corridor, riparian areas filter pollutants and sediment, stabilize banks, and prevent downstream flooding. There have been 11 flood events in our city reach of the St. Vrain corridor since the late 1800s. Common sense dictates that even with the best possible mitigation efforts, there will likely be another major flood in our lifetime. The lesson from the 2013 flood should be to keep people and property out of harms way by setting development back from the river.

In August, 2018, City Council gave final approval to the first set of major updates to Longmont’s Land Development Code in 17 years. These new standards became effective in September. These did not include improvements to the Habitat and Species Protection section because staff was waiting for the Wildlife Management Plan update to be done to help inform the Code. City Planning was directed by Council to include several amendments and to develop a sustainability evaluation tool (SES) for appraising development applications using the triple bottom line; economy, environment and social equity. The Planning Department is expected to present these amendments and the new tool to City Council later this summer. The Wildlife Management Plan Update is also being finalized and should be done and approved by City Council in July.

Last October, Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek presented City Council members with 750 postcards and 520 signatures from residents which stated: We, the undersigned, urge Longmont Mayor Brian Bagley and City Council members to protect Longmont’s sensitive and important riparian areas from the intrusion of damaging urban development. Specifically, we want any/all considerations for development in proximity to the St. Vrain Creek corridor to be “put on hold” until the following are in place: 1) FEMA approves new flood plain maps 2) Resilient St. Vrain Project Plans – and funding are in place; 3) The Land Development Code Update is completed for the sections concerning Riparian Protection and Wildlife Management.

Eight months later although none of those 3 common-sense provisions have been realized, development applications are being submitted and processed along our St. Vrain greenway. These applications fall under the current code that is lacking in the essential riparian protections that Council will soon be reviewing. For this reason Stand with Our St Vrain Creek recommended Council enact a Time Out now on any/all development or redevelopment applications along our St. Vrain Greenway until the Code amendments and SES tool are established. Ideally, this time-out should extend until such time as FEMA approves new flood plain maps and the Resilient St. Vrain flood mitigation project is completed, but we realize that’s highly unlikely. Enacting the Code updates and approving the SES tool is the best way to insure that any development along this corridor and near other sensitive areas is done right.

According to our city manager these important standards and practice policy improvements should be in place early this Fall. Therefore, a time-out would be short and productive; giving staff a chance to catch their breath and devote full attention to completing the code and SES for Council’s approval. A time-out is a 5-way win: 1) Win for city planning staff to catch up; 2) Win for our creek’s health to continue to recover and be protected from future harm; 3) Win for taxpayers return on our $150 million investment for flood mitigation; 4) Win for the public who value wildlife; and 5) Win for developers who will have better guidelines to improve their proposals.

The results of Longmont’s 2018 Customer Satisfaction Survey found 74% of residents rated “Protecting nature areas from development” as “very important.” Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek simply suggested City Council be proactive to allow good policy to catch up to and inform good development before it’s too late.

Submitted by Shari Malloy, Retired special education teacher and member of Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek

Longmont

 

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