Boulder Planning Board hears concept for ‘Rêve’ mixed-use project

The strategic team behind a proposed mixed-use development at Pearl Parkway and 30th Street in Boulder has tentatively dubbed the project “Rêve” — the French word for “dream.”

What they’ve dreamt up, in its present iteration, is a six-acre property that includes 242 housing units spread among four different structures, more than 100,000 square feet of office space, and 24,000 square feet split among restaurants, shops and office “flex” space. All would be united by open pedestrian and bicycle corridors.

At a meeting of the Boulder Planning Board on Thursday night, dedicated to a concept review and public comment on the proposal, developer Danica Powell spoke of the vibe her team hopes to foster at Rêve: four-story apartment buildings serving individuals and families alike. Offices filled with dynamic startup companies, whose employees venture outside to meet over coffee or work on their laptops. Children running through play spaces near a promenade that runs along an irrigation ditch, while their parents gab over glasses of wine purchased from pop-up kiosks and storefront cafes.

It is a portrait of an evolving Boulder, complete with taller buildings, parking structures and more young renters and families. Certain projects of this ilk — namely the adjacent Boulder Junction, the TwoNineNorth apartments and the proposed Baseline Zero multi-use development, among others — have become a lightning rod for controversy.

During Thursday’s public input segment, though, only four people spoke.

In the recent past, many people have pleaded for the city to curb growth and preserve the Boulder that has effectively maintained the same population for 20 years. Many others have said that the city, which now accommodates about 60,000 in-commuters every day, can adapt to changing demographics without having to compromise its small-city charm.

The Planning Board, which first reviewed Rêve on June 5, and which took no formal action in any one direction at Thursday’s meeting, was generally supportive of the project and gave no indication that an ultimate approval is in any peril.

“When we talk about density and height and new projects,” chairman Aaron Brockett said Thursday, “I think what we need as a city to see in them is amenities that benefit the community and make them appealing and a positive change for the city as a whole. What you’ve put together, with the promenade along the ditch and the plaza and the cafes and the patios and the courtyards open to the public, I think that gets us to the kind of public experience that makes a big project like this a net benefit to the city.”

The board has also made clear, however, a distaste for any proposed development that appears to stray too far from the city’s identity. To that end, several members raised concerns Thursday that Rêve’s current proposal, in which all buildings range between 45 and 55 feet tall, would appear unnatural.

“It’s an essential part of Boulder’s character that we’re altering with this preponderance of buildings we’re putting up, that have this uniformity,” board member Leonard May said. “I think the problem with this is the lack of variations. We’re into that monolithic paradigm.”

Board member Liz Payton said the taller buildings “look so foreign to Boulder,” and her colleague John Gerstle said he was “quite concerned” with the issue of height.

Rêve’s representatives, including Powell and Tennessee-based project manager Shane White, now have the opportunity to rejigger their application for a site review, which has not yet been scheduled. If Thursday’s meeting was any indication, the proposal doesn’t need too much tweaking, though several issues, including those around building height, leave a few holes to be plugged.

One of them centers around the Boulder and Left Hand Ditch that would run through the development, and which planners anticipate would be an integral part of Rêve, both physically and in tenor. On Thursday, artist renderings of a thriving waterway flashed on boardroom televisions as Powell described it as “a real amenity, and a real treasure” and, on one occasion, evoked the words “urban waterfront plaza.”

Of course, that ditch is not a river. It’s a far cry from a creek. In fact, the majority of the year, it has no water in it. Several board members questioned whether it would actually pose a safety hazard to place such a concavity through the heart of a development that would presumably draw heavy foot traffic, and lots of children susceptible to injuries.

Additionally, the Rêve team was asked to re-evaluate the “family-friendliness” of the project’s amenities, including a possible redesign of certain housing units to allow for more individual access and privacy.