As Alpine-Balsam marches along, here’s an explainer

Community, affordable housing, and sustainable design

By Tatyana Sharpton Aug 16 2019

Editor’s note: Updated September 3, 2019

Boulder talks a lot about inclusivity, affordable housing and designing the type of city it wants to be.

The Alpine-Balsam project epitomizes the tension of this vision and its execution. The project has a weight as if it represents what Boulder will become and what the community wants for its city. In some ways, in fact, that’s true.

As BLDRfly begins its civic coverage, we will begin tracking issues like Alpine-Balsam, starting with explainers designed to help you keep track of the issues — to see the forest and the trees. We know it’s helping us.

Last night the city is considering a draft plan, which features visions, goals, and objects as well as key components of city site redevelopment, land use and urban design, historical reservation, access and mobility, urban services, and of course maps, figures and next steps.

Alpine-Balsam Area Plan Process; chart sourced from

The purchase of the 8.8-acre property itself was a strategic investment for the community, and the neighborhood center has become the center of big plans as the City refines its vision to unite people and space, address some riddling environmental issues, and achieve all of this though aesthetically considered form and sustainable design.

While the property was purchased in December 2015, the City extended a lease to BCH until May 31, 2019, that has allowed the BCH to occupy main hospital building, medical pavilion, surface parking lots and a portion of the parking garage while it completed construction at its Foothills campus.

From fall 2016 through spring 2017, the City of Boulder worked with the community to develop a Vision Plan for the site to guide its redesign and transformation.

By creating a new civic area with multi-use facilities, open greenspace and high density housing, the City can provide more homes for Boulder locals to live and work.

Additionally, new public spaces and the local government service center will increase daytime activity, supporting retail and transit.

What is Alpine-Balsam

Alpine-Balsam, the 8.8 acres of property formerly belonging to Boulder Community Health just a few blocks north of downtown and purchased by the City of Boulder in 2015, is finally in the final days of project planning.

[Alpine-Balsam property site; photo sourced from]

The 2015 purchase of the property that formerly housed the BCH Hospital was motivated by a desire to bring new life to an area largely focused around a healthcare facility for decades, generate more centralized services and amenities via a City Service Center, and respond to the city’s critical housing issues.

The Alpine-Balsam property includes the entire hospital campus at 1100 Balsam Ave at the corner of Balsam Ave and Broadway, two properties on Alpine Ave and two smaller properties on North Street.

The Alpine-Balsam area includes portions of several lively neighborhoods and has a thriving commercial center. Most notably, the Balsam-Broadway corner housed the Boulder Community Health (BCH) Hospital from 1925 to 2019.

What’s next for Alpine-Balsam

Tonight there’s a Planning Board meeting to review the draft area plan, and then there will be a public hearing on the area plan before City Council on August 27.

Though much is contingent upon feedback from the Planning Board and City Council, the three phases of the Area Plan Process (of which we are on the third) are scheduled to be completed by mid-2019. The Planning Board and City Council joint hearing on Sept. 24 that may push things forward.

Once the draft plan is approved and the final Area Plan will be adopted, Phase 3 of the Area Plan Process ends. (Building schedule remains unannounced.)

Some of the biggest concerns and challenges outside of a portion of the site being located within the 100-year floodplain include redevelopment impacts on adjacent neighborhoods as well as the potential relocation of some of the county facilities and services.

Some of its most contested points

Most importantly, redevelopment at Alpine-Balsam will incorporate sustainable solutions for infrastructure and buildings so as to stay consistent and build on proven programs in other parts of the city, including the City’s Climate Commitment and Transportation Master Plan.

One of the primary concerns in the past has been that several spaces within the Alpine-Balsam planning area are impacted by the 100-year, Conveyance and High Hazard flood zones.

Options for flood mitigation have been evaluated (including potential mitigation in North Boulder Park) and ultimately City of Boulder decided that the benefits of flood mitigation in the area do not outweigh significant undesirable impact to the park.

[For the redevelopment happening at former hospital site — the design provides flood conveyance for the 100-year flood flows so that development occurs outside the 100-year floodplain. Image sourced from]

For example, a naturalized greenway for flood conveyance will allow for the space to effectively mitigate floodwaters downstream and conveniently localized service centers with walkways and managed parking will help reduce transit costs and miles traveled, ultimately working to reduce our carbon footprint.

[Information sourced from Alpine-Balsam Area Plan, Draft August 2019]

Based on its Area Plan data, the Alpine-Balsam area shows the largest estimated range of potential housing units within and outside of Boulder. And maintaining the diverse housing that exists in the area is a priority of this plan.

The August Area Plan’s new affordable and market housing means stand-alone residential buildings such as two- to four-story apartments, condominiums and townhomes. The plan also includes mixed-use buildings with ground floor services or retail and housing above.

Recent Development

Per recent City council decision after public hearing on Tuesday August 27, in response to angry residents, land-use changes for the entire Alpine-Balsam area have for now been tabled.  This decision cancels out the potential push to remove and redevelop hospital property’s neighborhood and adjacent shopping centers east of Broadway, known as Ideal Market and Community Plaza. Instead, City will focus its development on solely the 8.8 acre hospital site land parcel. 

Currently, the land-use and zoning at the two shopping centers allows for some housing, but not the mixed-use development that was previously on the table.

However, Ideal Market has made it clear they would not be opposed to housing being added that would allow for its employees to live closer to the area. The idea seems to follow building on what already exists rather than redeveloping and starting over, a change that many long-term residents fear for the well-loved shopping centers.

A joint public hearing between Planning Board and City Council is set for September 24, and possible adoption of the Alpine-Balsam Area Plan sans land-use changes to be discussed and set for October 1st.


September 24, 2019

  • Joint Public Hearing where City staff will present revised draft plan based on feedback from both the Planning Board and City Council.

August 27, 2019

  • Public hearing on the Area Plan before City Council

August 15, 2019

  • Planning Board meeting to review the draft Area Plan

July 2019

  • Staff provided an update to the Transportation Advisory Board, including the Draft Connections Plan and Access and Mobility Strategy. Staff also provided an update to the Downtown Management Commission, sharing materials and land use options.

June 2019

  • City staff presented options for land use and urban design to City Council and Planning Board, who directed staff to work with Boulder County decision-makers to assess potential benefits and challenges of locating Boulder County facilities and services at Alpine-Balsam and the implications for potential redevelopment at the Iris and Broadway campus.
  • Staff also provided an update to the Board outlining flood mitigation analysis and recommended approach to design flood mitigation on the site and not in North Boulder Park.

May 2018 – Fall 2019

  • Guided by the Alpine-Balsam Vision Plan, the city is working with the community to create an Area Plan for the Alpine-Balsam site that will provide a greater level of detail on the desired character, land uses, and urban design as well as address the economic and financial viability of the development options.

January 9, 2018

  • A City Council Study Session on the Alpine-Balsam Area Plan scope of work

June 6, 2017

  • Boulder City Council accepts the Alpine-Balsam Vision Plan

Fall 2016 – Spring 2017

  • The city worked with the community to develop the Alpine-Balsam Vision Plan, which is intended to guide the transformation of the site and inform future planning and development.

December 2015

  • The City of Boulder purchased 8.8-acres of property from Boulder Community Health in a community investment to shape the redevelopment of the formerly health-service driven area and address the city’s needs for a City Service Center and affordable housing. BCH was still allowed to lease the property until May 31, 2019 while its Foothills campus was completed.

1925 – 2019

  • The Boulder Community Health (BCH) Hospital served the community in this location from 1925 to 2019

[Header Image: civic area rethought, sketch sourced from Alpine-Balsam Area Plan]