Review: Bicycling the LOBO Trail to Niwot

A few years ago I started to ride my bike from Gunbarrel Green to Niwot, but found the hill up Lookout Rd. a killer. I could make it, but my companion had to walk. Then a friend told me about the LOBO trail, which I somehow hadn’t heard of in my 7-or-so years in Gunbarrel. It’s flatter, more scenic, and much more enjoyable than are the roads. It’s not paved, but the surface is good enough even for a road bike.

I always start by taking Lookout to 71st St., and then taking a right onto the trail a few hundred yards north  on 71st. You can also pick it up from the bicycle underpass on Lookout (just east of the commercial area), or by taking the path to the north where 75th St. intersects Lookout Rd. Lookout and 75th have wide bike paths along them which you’ll want to use, depending on where you live.

LOBO to Niwot is uninterrupted by streets except for a crossing at Monarch Rd., which has very little traffic. There’s a tunnel under Rt. 52, so you don’t have to deal with that busy road. Along the path there are couple of gates to keep the cows in (I suppose) which you have to get off your bike to open and close, although the last time I took the trail they were already open, and I just biked through and left them that way.

Once you get to Niwot, there are restaurants, brewpubs, and some interesting shops. Also a Post Office that’s much less busy than the ones in Boulder.

There are three interesting variations:

  • Take the new underpass under the Diagonal to get to the quiet roads north of the Diagonal, such as 63rd St. You can even bike to the Reservoir.
  • Take the path to 71st St., or stay on 71st if you’re already on it, and stop at Gunbarrel Brewing, just at the entrance to Gunbarrel Technical Center. Vindication Brewing is also farther in. Probably best to do this on your way back from Niwot.
  • LOBO stands for Longmont-Boulder, which means you can take the trail way past Niwot, all the way to Longmont. I haven’t done that myself.

The Boulder Rural Fire Rescue “merger” (Part One)

UPDATE 2 (18-Dec-2017): The discussions aren’t dead, just suspended. Article in the Daily Camera.

UPDATE (21-Nov-2017): On nextdoor.com, BRFR Administrative Assistant Sarah Normandin says: “At the November 15th Special Board Meeting the Boulder Rural Fire Rescue Board of Directors took the following action: A motion was made to suspend discussions with the City of Boulder for a Contract for Services. It was seconded, discussion took place, and the motion passed.” So, maybe this idea is dead? I’ll post more when I get more.

This is a follow-on to Part Zero. Now “merger” is in quotes, because it’s not actually a merger, despite what the Gunbarrel Green HOA referred to it as in a recent communication.

While BRFR Board minutes after 26-June-2017 aren’t on their website, there are minutes of three meetings between BRFR and BRF (Boulder Fire Rescue) on a different page.

What I gather is that, instead of providing services themselves, BRFR is considering contracting with BFR to provide the services. They then wouldn’t need any fire equipment or people. The permanent employees would apply to BFR for jobs, which some of them might get. (Maybe most or all.) I don’t think that BFR has volunteer firefighters; if I’ve got that wrong, I’ll post a correction. I guess the equipment goes to BFR, and the fairly-new fire house gets occupied by BFR under some sort of financial arrangement.

Right now, unincorporated Gunbarrel pays BRFR through property taxes. In the new arrangement, BRFR would still exist, so I assume our taxes still go to them, and they pay BFR.

An obvious question is what the purpose of BRFR becomes once BFR provides all the services. Maybe to look out for the interests of their district? If so, that’s sounds like a worthy purpose to me.

In Part Zero I questioned why the Gunbarrel Green HOA was saying that this “merger” would “open the door” to annexation. Annexation would be enabled by us being surrounded (see my post on that), and at most the fact that BFR is providing services would help Boulder persuade people that annexation was not so disruptive. But, legally, the BRFR-BFR relationship would have no impact at all.

My opinion is that the BRFR Board and management know what they’re doing, have never let us down before, and if this is what they think should be done to provide the service level we need, then I’m with them. It’s too bad that some firefighters might lose their jobs. But, if BRFR hits financial hard times, some of them would lose their jobs anyway. I’m sure the volunteers will be very upset, but that’s unavoidable.

I think the people in Gunbarrel who are against this think that way because they don’t trust the City and/or they see this as yet one more step towards submerging Gunbarrel into the City. Valid concerns. But, running our own small operation is expensive, and fire/rescue services here are really no different from any other place in flatland Boulder County. Maybe if we were a mountain area it would be a different story.

Gunbarrel Annexation is Inevitable

For years, Gina Hyatt, longtime Gunbarrel Green HOA board member, has been warning us about forced annexation by the City of Boulder. I didn’t pay that much attention until recently. Gina sent me a large batch of documents and correspondence, and I’ve done some of my own research. This is what I’ve discovered. (This is my opinion; Gina isn’t involved.)

Most annexations in Colorado are by request from the property owner, but forced annexations are also possible. According to the Colorado Constitution, Article II (Bill of Rights), Section 30:

No unincorporated area may be annexed to a municipality unless one of the following conditions first has been met:

[conditions (a) and (b) not shown]

(c) The area is entirely surrounded by or is solely owned by the annexing municipality.

Paragraphs (a) and (b) have to do with annexations by vote and by petition; it’s (c) that covers forced annexations.

So, the two questions are:

  1. Is Gunbarrel Green, where I live, surrounded or is the larger part of Gunbarrel not already in the City surrounded?
  2. If we are surrounded, does the City want to annex us?

First, question 1. Here’s a rough map of the City (gray area) and Gunbarrel Green:

It seems that we’re not surrounded. If you’re curious about exactly where the City is around us, here’s a more precise map:

Now, as for Gunbarrel not being surrounded, the City limits don’t tell the whole story. Look at City-owned open space, shown in this map by the light green areas:

Between the City itself and the open space it owns, we’re nearly surrounded already. Maybe Gunbarrel Green isn’t, but a larger area including several subdivisions, one of which is Heatherwood, is. The Country Club is in there, too.

I don’t know whether the City-owned open space is considered the City as far as us being surrounded goes, but it doesn’t matter, because the City can annex property it owns.

So, are we surrounded? Almost. And whatever openings there are could be easily plugged eventually by the City, either through annexation or purchase. Or, they might argue that a 95% surround is close enough. (I think there’s a court case along similar lines involving Colorado Springs, but I’m not a lawyer.)

Now for question #2: Does the City want to annex us? Yes, certainly. Many City officials have been talking that way. I heard this directly from City Councilperson Matt Applebaum once. And in a 30-June-2016 letter to Gina Hyatt, Jay Sugnet, Project Manager in the City of Boulder Department of Planning, Housing, and Sustainability, said this:

Although interest in voluntary annexation has been limited, the city and county continue to support the eventual annexation of Gunbarrel. If resident interest in annexation does occur in the future, the city and county will negotiate new terms of annexation with the residents.

So, we have this much:

  1. Boulder can already legally forcibly annex Gunbarrel, or will be able to in the future.
  2. They want to annex us, and are willing to negotiate.

Will they annex us if we absolutely hate the idea, start campaigning against it, and the Country Club decides to put its resources behind fighting it? Maybe, maybe not. All of that might just cause a delay of a few months or a few years.

But, as the title of this post says, annexation is inevitable. There is a will and a way.

Assuming Gunbarrel residents are against annexation, and I think almost all of us are, what can we do about it? When the time comes, we could hire lawyers and fight it. A good lawyer might say something like: “You’ll most likely lose this case, but I would be happy to take $30,000 from you if you insist.” Another lawyer might just take the money without saying anything, or might even say we have a slam-dunk case. Which I think is wrong. What I, a non-lawyer, think is that once we’re surrounded, we have no legal case at all.

My suggestion is along different lines entirely. We should ask to be annexed, but with conditions, and the City has invited us to negotiate. I think a forced annexation might have to include all of unincorporated Gunbarrel, but an annexation on request could be limited to just Gunbarrel Green.

If we do make such a request, we have negotiating power, especially if we go first. Once we’re forced, negotiating power mostly goes away. We could require some conditions, such as:

  1. No assessments for sidewalks or any other infrastructure improvements.
  2. The City won’t put in sidewalks or make any other changes to the character of the neighborhood.
  3. The Covenants remain in force.
  4. No requirement to replace wood roofs or make any other structural changes to houses for at least 10 years.
  5. A traffic light at Idylwild and Lookout.

Our taxes go up, but we get some City services we’re not getting now, and we get to vote in City elections.

You might be thinking: Why should I agree to this? I don’t want to be in the City, with higher taxes. I want to stay in the County!

But, as I said, annexation is inevitable, so it’s not a matter of when or if, but how. I say let’s get what we can out of it. I don’t want assessments, I don’t want to replace my roof right now, and I’d like that traffic light. I’ve lived in the City of Boulder before, and I liked it. I’m sure it will be just fine.

First post

Just set up this blog at gunbarrel.net, which used to be the Gunbarrel Green HOA’s URL. (The HOA is now at gunbarrelgreen.com.) Actually, if you go back a few years, gunbarrel.net used to be a general Gunbarrel site, with links to the various HOAs, along with other stuff. But, it was always maintained by the Gunbarrel Green HOA, and all the other links got way out of date. So, in some sense, it’s back to the way it was: A general Gunbarrel site.

I’ll mostly have reviews, but with some Gunbarrel-focused opinions as well. I have opinions about a lot of things: national affairs, international affairs, tennis, photography, and much more, but here I’ll restrict myself to Gunbarrel.

Review: Element Bistro

As far as I know, there are only two restaurants in Gunbarrel on their own pad: Element Bistro and Burger King. I’ve never been to Burger King and probably never will go there, so I don’t think I’ll ever review it. Element Bistro I have been to maybe four times.

“Bistro” is correct: The menu is limited, although some of the items are interesting. The food is OK, and I doubt that anyone goes there for the food. Can’t speak about the wine list, but the beer list is above average for Gunbarrel, with a bunch of local draft beers. (With five breweries in Gunbarrel, you wouldn’t go to Element Bistro for the beer.)

The downstairs is a large, very plain room, and not particularly attractive. But, if you’re having dinner with friends and your attention is on them, it probably doesn’t matter.

The roof is much, much better. It overlooks the commercial buildings west of 63rd St., the Diagonal highway, and the railroad tracks, but there’s a great view of the mountains in the distance. And it’s fun when a train comes by.

There’s a bar on the roof, and a bunch of tables, some of which are under cover. (The cover wasn’t there when the place first opened; we got rained on and had to move downstairs.)

We went there once with friends to hear Girls on Top, a popular cover band that we also heard in Niwot at Rock & Rails (which is terrific). There was a $10 per person charge (not a minimum, but a charge), which might have been why the crowd was thin. It was a little spooky to listen to such a high-powered group with only about 15 or 20 other people.

It seems like Element Bistro hasn’t yet found its formula. Only the roof really works, and I don’t think they’re booking the right musical groups, although that opinion is based on only one data point. (The Laughing Goat in Boulder books really interesting groups, and you just tip.)

I’m sure we’ll go back, but only in weather good enough so we can sit on the roof deck. I can’t say whether we’d pay $10 per person for music. Maybe if we’re in the mood. As far as I know, there’s very little live music in Gunbarrel anywhere else.

The Boulder Rural Fire Rescue merger (Part Zero)

Our local fire department, in the fairly new fire house on Lookout Rd., is in talks with the City of Boulder about merging itself into the City fire department. The Gunbarrel Green (where I am) HOA is alarmed (!) and recently sent this in an email:

The HOA Board wants to let you know there has been an addition to the October 3 agenda. Guest speaker Donna George will speak on the proposed City of Boulder fire service contract with Boulder Rural Fire Dept. Boulder Rural serves our neighborhood. If this merger takes place, our neighborhood will need to pay the City of Boulder for fire/rescue services. In addition, this merger could open the door to a forcible annexation of Gunbarrel subdivisions to the City of Boulder. This issue is very important to our neighborhood and it is the hope of the HOA Board that you will attend to learn the impact such a contract will have on the residents of Gunbarrel Green.

I heard all of Donna’s talk at the meeting, but it was so complicated that I was unable to follow the issues. I do remember this much, some from Donna and some from other people:

  • Somebody in the HOA thinks it opens the door to forced annexation. When I figure out how, I’ll post something.
  • Employed fire fighters might lose their jobs.
  • A firefighter who lives on Carter Trail once came to a house in Gunbarrel Green in 2 minutes to save a child’s life. (The implication is that this could no longer happen if the merger went through.)
  • There is a BRFR budget shortfall of $150,000 to $500,000. (I may not have remembered the numbers, and the person who told us about them wasn’t really sure anyway.) If true, this might be the rationale for the merger.

I’m a long way from writing anything here that tries to sort this out, which is why I call this Post Zero. More posts will follow.

Unfortunately, the BRFR website is one of many non-profit websites I’ve looked at recently (including the Gunbarrel Green site) that fails to post minutes of its Board meetings. The last minutes there are from June, but there have been three meetings since, and surely some of them discussed this proposed merger.

I have so far come up with two interesting facts that I think are true:

  • This merger seems to be supported by BRFR management, if not by the firefighters.
  • According to the BRFR website, residents in the district pay about $1000 per year in taxes to the BRFR for a house valued at $800,000, which is probably typical, maybe even low, for Gunbarrel Green. So, the idea that “our neighborhood will need to pay” isn’t anything new, since we’re already paying. What somebody needs to explain is how much we would be paying after the merger.

More to follow…