1992 - Labs’ expansion pitted jobs vs. growth control
At issue was the expansion of the federal laboratories on Broadway. The labs were bursting at the seams.
The feds decided to enlarge the scope of the National Bureau of Standards, and changed its name to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST. At the same time, 1,000 workers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, were spilling out of rented space at NIST and the University of Colorado campus.
NOAA wanted more space, and the federal government agreed to build it a 330,000-square-foot building adjacent to the original Bureau of Standards building — and ultimately a total of 697,000 square feet of buildings on the property it owned.
NOAA workers were delighted. But residential neighbors called the plan “pornographic.” The NOAA building was too tall and too long, they said, and would almost completely block some residents’ view of Enchanted Mesa.
Citizens urged Boulder’s city council to sue the feds. In response, the feds issued veiled threats to pull the labs out of Boulder.
Technically, the feds could build whatever they wanted on their land and weren’t subject to city oversight. But Boulder was the entity from which the feds would have to get water and sewer hookups and transportation access.
U.S. Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colo., proposed that the city and the feds forge an agreement, and a mediator was called in to help.
After six months, negotiators announced a deal: NIST would perform a full environmental assessment of its plan, and nearly half the federal site would be left as open space. The city would pay $420,000 for the land, and the feds would provide a bike path through the site and pedestrian and bicycle underpasses. The NOAA building’s size would be reduced, the U.S. Forest Service would not build on the site and any future NIST building would abide by the city’s 55-foot height limit to preserve the mesa view.
Boulder’s city council gave tentative approval to the agreement, but federal lawyers said they couldn’t sign a pact that would dedicate a portion of the federal site to the city. Skaggs intervened again and got a provision added to a federal appropriations bill that allowed the lawyers to sign.