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Ballot issues are not radical measures—Karen Sandburg

Daily Camera, Boulder, Colorado
POSTED:   04/28/2015 07:11:07 PM
Link to Daily Camera letter

Boulder citizens have come up with two initiatives to address concerns that development is unchecked and unconcerned with what the community wants. Many of us don’t feel that our city planners are listening to the people of Boulder and feel the city government is weighted in favor of high- density development.

One initiative, called the “Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote on Land Use Regulation Changes” addresses the possibility that the city, in the near future, will try to change land-use zoning in many neighborhoods to make way for denser development, such as increased occupancy limits or taller buildings. The initiative will give every neighborhood impacted by city-directed land-use changes an opportunity to put to a vote whether or not they want the change. Essentially, this amendment is about who gets to decide about land-use changes in your neighborhood. Should it be the city planning department or you and your neighbors?

The other initiative, called “Development Shall Pay Its Own Way,” addresses the need for development to pay for its impacts. Currently, taxpayers are subsidizing development because developers are not required to fully fund the increase in city services and facilities made necessary by their particular project. The initiative attempts to bridge the gap between what developers are paying and the actual cost of the increased city services. The net result is that taxpayers will no longer have to subsidize development.

Neither of these are radical measures. One gives us the right to require a vote on upzoning in our neighborhoods and the other makes those who profit from development pay the full cost associated with it.

To be sure that these initiatives are put to a vote in November, several thousand Boulder voters must sign petitions requesting they be put on the ballot. Look for petition circulators soon.

Karen Sandburg

We do not oppose growth—John Price

Daily Camera, Boulder, Colorado
POSTED:   04/27/2015 07:47:16 PM

[Editor’s Note:  John Price is one of five petitioners for an initiative entitled “Development Shall Pay Its Own Way.”]

In the baldest misrepresentation I have seen in the Daily Camera, the April 23 lead article (“Voters may join development debate”) has a sub-headline “Growth opponents propose pair of charter amendments,” and in the first sentence …”growth opponents on Wednesday announced….” Both are false. We do not oppose growth, we do not oppose development. We request more stringent controls; development exceeds what we feel is desirable. Now opponents of our proposals can QUOTE the Camera as a source for these misstatements.

John Price

Let people speak on neighborhood rights—Jenny Devaud

Daily Camera, Boulder, Colorado
POSTED:   04/26/2015 07:24:39 PM

I support the right of neighborhoods to voice their opinion about development changes that affect them. The significant onus to collect signatures to allow representation is more than adequate to discourage a small subset of the population from dominating the conversation. This is what democracy is all about. It’s not top-down, nor should decisions be made simply by those whose livelihood depends on more construction. The funny thing is that many of the pro-development/housing folks, in my experience, don’t even live in neighborhoods that will ever be affected, such as Newlands, Mapleton Hill, South Boulder. I have personally lived through a four-year protracted fight against up-zoning in Goss-Grove, which is already the highest density neighborhood in Boulder. The new zoning would have prevented building of any single-family home over 800 square feet, thereby ensuring that any available property would only be developed into yet another multi-unit. There has to be a balance, a human scale, a mix of housing. I am really tired of the mantra of the development folks about “green, sustainable, new urbanism, affordable.” It’s a whitewash. I’m also tired of the scolding about how selfish are those who throw in their hat to preserve what is unique in Boulder, and to grow in a manner that reflects the respect for that uniqueness. Let’s have an honest conversation where everyone has their say, not just the pro-growth faction. I support the neighborhoods’ right to vote on changes to land use that affect them.

Let the people speak.

Jenny Devaud

Neighborhoods’ right to vote a good thing—Mike Marsh

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   04/25/2015 08:48:12 PM MDT

I support the Neighborhoods’ Rights to Vote on Land Use Changes initiative. The city of Boulder has recently proposed a dizzying array of land-use changes for existing neighborhoods that would essentially ignore neighborhoods’ actual zoning. Many proposals have come from the planning department’s hand-picked “working groups” that lacked proportional representation from people opposed to the changes to the affected neighborhoods. The process ran so far off-track that City Council convened a special housing process subcommittee to try to right the process.

Since then, many residents have asked the city to allow all citizens to vote on competing visions for Boulder’s future, or at the very least,survey all residents to measure actual public sentiment for what they’re proposing. It remains unclear what the city will do, but a full-fledged democratic vote by the people doesn’t appear to be forthcoming.

With regard to neighborhoods, when people sink their life savings into a home, it’s a major commitment that tremendously stretches their finances and monthly budgets. They don’t make the decision lightly or arbitrarily. People buy into a neighborhood with the reasonable expectation that their property values won’t decrease due to zoning changes in which they had no voice.

Most importantly, I believe that neighborhoods themselves know their neighborhoods best. They know the challenges, issues, and likely success or failure of various proposals. The problem is that city officials, and some outspoken zealots, profess to know what’s best for your neighborhood, though they’ve hardly spent a moment there. They want to re-design and re-engineer your neighborhood, but don’t want you or your neighbors to have a say. This is precisely why neighborhoods should have a pathway to voting.

Here in Martin Acres, we welcomed and happily co-exist with Alvarado Village, one of Boulder’s first affordable housing efforts. And we recently welcomed the Bridge House, a multi-unit transition home for formerly homeless individuals. We embraced these proposals because we knew our neighborhood, and knew these would work. We live here, and know traffic levels, noise, and parking issues and can actually predict with accuracy what things might work and which won’t. Just knowing that citizens have a right to referendum on a change proposal will encourage the city to do a better, more inclusive job on anything they propose. If they do a good job, a neighborhood referendum won’t be needed.

A stereotyped narrative, embraced by the city, is that young people prefer urban density to suburban situations. However, facts actually support the opposite. The American Community Survey, released earlier this year, found that most young professionals still want a traditional suburban experience, complete with single-family homes and yards. (For Boulder purposes, we can use our single-family neighborhoods to represent “suburbs.”) According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 529,000 Americans ages 25 to 29 moved from cities out to the suburbs in 2014; only 426,000 moved in the other direction. Among younger millennials, those in their early 20s, the trend was even starker: 721,000 moved out of the city, compared with 554,000 who moved in.

Thus, the city’s efforts to change Boulder single-family neighborhoods into dense, urban-style settings, with high intensity of use and impact, may well be flawed. Many people, even the young, seek single-family, suburban-style neighborhoods. If Boulder insists on aggressively changing single-family neighborhoods into something else, people will simply seek these neighborhoods elsewhere — most likely, somewhere further down U.S. 36. Our 60,000 daily in-commuters will simply increase. It would be a shame if Boulder neighborhoods are sacrificed for an ultimately flawed experiment like this, with no say from the neighborhoods.

A critic said neighborhoods aren’t capable of intelligent planning. I have more faith in neighborhoods and neighbors. Affording them checks and balances through the democratic process is appropriate. Before anything happens, 10 percent of registered voters in the neighborhood would have to sign a petition asking for a vote. This itself is a high hurdle. But it’s worth remembering that citizens petitioning their government is a constitutional right. In the coming weeks, ask yourself why opponents will be so committed to you not having a vote on what happens in your neighborhood.

The macro question of whether neighborhoods can have a pathway toward voting will appear on the November ballot only if enough people sign a petition requesting it. I’ll sign that petition, and encourage you to, as well.

Mike Marsh and his wife Lisa live in a net-zero single family home he built in south Boulder.

Growth should pay its own way —Jane Angulo

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   04/25/2015 08:46:02 PM MDT
Link to the Daily Camera letter

I believe that growth should pay its way and support an initiative recently proposed by concerned Boulder citizens.

This initiative seeks to ensure that growth and development pays its way and doesn’t unduly transfer costs to existing residents and businesses.

The fact is, Boulder hasn’t actually done a study of the true impact costs of development. And as a result, development brings a huge cost burden on the taxpayers of this city.

A recent study for the city of San Diego found that the public impact costs for new office buildings there are $72 per square foot! In other words, San Diego would need to charge that developer $72 a square foot in order not to go in the red due to the true costs associated with the development. And the study considered only affordable housing costs (meaning, how much affordable housing the city of San Diego would have to fund, in order to help house the additional workers brought in by this new office building who couldn’t afford market-rate housing).

This study didn’t even attempt to measure the additional costs to the city (and therefore, existing resident taxpayers) for increased city services including increased traffic mitigation, transportation demand management, emergency response services, school programs, parks, recreation centers, open space, etc. Had it done so, the study would have found actual costs to the city, and ultimately the taxpayers, of more than $100 per square foot for the new office building in question.

Boulder’s costs can’t be that different from San Diego’s.

But the city of Boulder charges linkage fees (i.e. affordable housing impact fees) of only $9 per square foot, and these fees are applied to only 44 percent of the building that’s above 38 feet (in the downtown area). So averaged over the entire new building, the rate is only $3.96 per square foot. That leaves a giant gap that we taxpayers have to pay, rather than the developers who will benefit the most from the development. It means you get to subsidize development, rather than the growth paying its way.

I see this Boulder’s citizen initiative not as a referendum on growth, but merely a means of ensuring that it pays its way and doesn’t transfer costs to existing residents and businesses, many of whom are struggling as it is. Growth should achieve a net benefit for everyone. In order to do that, growth needs to be properly regulated.

The consequences of unregulated growth may be explained in a recent study by planning consultant Eben Fodor. Fodor studied the 100 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. and found that the 25 slowest-growing metro areas outperformed the 25 fastest-growing in every category and averaged $8,455 more in per-capita personal income in 2009. The study found that faster growth rates are associated with lower incomes, greater income declines, and higher poverty rates. Unemployment rates tend to be higher in faster growing areas, too. The findings raise questions about conventional urban planning and economic development strategies that pursue growth of metro areas to advance the economic welfare of the general public.

I suspect that the fastest-growing cities were the worst performers because so many costs of development were transferred to existing residents. The initiative proposed by citizens is reasonable and fair. For it to get on the November ballot, several thousand citizens must first sign a petition calling for this. I’ll be signing that petition, and encourage you to, as well.

Jane Angulo lives in Boulder.

Help gather signatures—Stacey Goldfarb

Daily Camera
POSTED:   04/25/2015 08:36:58 PM

A group of concerned Boulder citizens from different neighborhoods throughout our city got together to address development issues. On April 21, they delivered two proposed petitions to the city of Boulder addressing those concerns. With your help, if we gather enough signatures, these petitions will put two citizens’ ballot initiatives on the November ballot. The initiatives are:

  1. Development shall pay its own way — Requires that new development must fully fund the additional city services and facilities needed because of the demands it creates. This will have the effect of lessening the impacts of development and put the onus on developers, not citizens, to address these impacts through impact fees, linkage fees and other mechanisms.
  1. Neighborhoods vote on zoning changes — Neighborhoods get a voice in zoning changes that may affect them. This initiative would guarantee that neighborhoods have the opportunity to require a neighborhood vote on proposed zoning changes that would impact their neighborhood, such as multi-unit apartment buildings replacing single-family housing.

High voter support for the above initiatives was indicated in a 2015 poll. That is why these particular initiatives are being pursued and why they have a good chance of passing. But we need your help! We can’t do it without you.

We need most of you to help gather the over 4,000 signatures required to get these initiatives on the November ballot. To help gather petition signatures, sign up at Go to the “Initiative” tab and select “volunteer.” We can’t succeed with these initiatives without your support.

This November is a critical moment in Boulder’s history. Thank you for helping to protect and preserve the Boulder we love!

Stacey Goldfarb

Boulder’s insane densification — Paul Danish

Boulder Weekly

Thursday, April 16,2015

The Boulder City Council’s latest mantra seems to have been taken directly from the Vietnam War: It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.

How else can you explain all the crap it has allowed to be built in the 28th and 30th street corridors — and in a lot of other parts of town as well?

The council’s land use and development decisions, motivated by a mindless, delusional obsession with affordable housing (whatever that is) and sustainability (whatever that means) has led to an explosion of dense, ugly development that is destroying the character of Boulder, is degrading its quality of life, and is, to paraphrase former CU President George Norlin, an affront to the Flatirons.

While densification in the name of sustainability is being inflicted on any number of Boulder neighborhoods (in order to save them from the heartbreak of unsustainability), the most egregious examples are found along 28th and 30th streets (and oozing several blocks to the east in some places) from Iris to Baseline. For simplicity’s sake call the area 28th/30th Street corridor.

This new development is not doing what it was supposed to do.

It is not making Boulder a less autodependent and more pedestrian-friendly city. The 28th and 30th street corridor is choked with traffic, and each new multi unit housing, office and commercial complex adds more. There is so much traffic in the area that it is threatening to exceed the carrying capacity of the roads. Driving in the corridor sucks.

The people who live in the housing complexes are not getting a higher quality of life in exchange for higher density. They’re getting a degraded one.

They are getting more congestion, more noise, more pollution, more crowding and (paradoxically) more isolation from the rest of the city.

The 28th/30th Street corridor is hands down the single least livable part of the city — yet that is the area that City Council has chosen for some of its most intensive residential development. Why?

If you ask a council member or a planner or a developer, chances are you will get a song and dance about the virtues of “primary mixed use” development — development in which housing, shopping, restaurants and entertainment exist cheek by jowl with residential housing. This is supposed to reduce the need for cars (and the impact of an auto-dependent civilization on the environment) and make for a more pedestrian-friendly, social and humane community.

It’s a beautiful theory, and there are places where it has worked, but in Boulder the theory is getting mugged by a gang of ugly little facts.

The new residential housing is not gracefully connected to the nearby commercial areas by pedestrian-friendly streets with wide sidewalks lined with shops and restaurants. ( Jane Jacobs, arguably the greatest urban planner of the 20th century, called such streets “seams” between neighborhoods.) Twenty-Eighth and 30th Streets are not seams. They function as barriers, that cut off the residents of the new dense housing from the commercial areas. The commercial development along the streets is for the most part not adjacent to sidewalks, but set back from the street by parking lots, some of them hundreds of feet wide. They are auto-friendly, not pedestrian friendly.

The people who live in the corridor will find it more convenient — and more pleasant — to drive to Whole Foods or to the Twenty-Ninth Street mall than to walk there.

The new housing projects show little sense of proportion and less sense of place. They are not inviting. Aesthetically they run the gamut from indifferent to irritating. And collectively they are making Boulder feel more claustrophobic. Judging by outer appearances, there isn’t a mobile home park in the Boulder Valley that isn’t a more attractive housing option.

Speaking of mobile home parks, if the city council is serious about providing affordable housing options, it should approve some new ones — ones in which the residents can buy the pads their homes occupy instead of having to rent them. When you don’t own the land under your house, and when your house can be evicted at the whim of the landlord, you can’t make long-term investments in maintaining and improving it. Your home is a depreciating asset, like a car. But when you do own the land under your house, you can invest in your home, maintain it and improve it. And then it becomes an appreciating asset.

Mobile homes are the private sector’s great affordable housing success story. Boulder has a long history of treating them and their owners shabbily and giving them short shrift, which is as stupid as it is rude.

Boulder’s problem is that it is trying to stuff too much stuff into the town. It isn’t that it can’t be done. It’s that it can’t be done without doing real violence to the town’s environment, character and quality of life.

The City Council does not have a political mandate to densify Boulder. Quite the opposite. Projects that remotely smell of increasing the density in existing neighborhoods routinely draw ferocious opposition from the neighbors — mixed use, affordable housing and sustainability be damned. It’s been that way for more than 30 years. I can’t recall a single public hearing — and I’ve sat through two or three dozen — at which a neighborhood welcomed densification or mixed-use development. The political mandate is for less development, not more — even if it has been green-washed in the name of sustainability or white-washed in the name of affordability.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

A false dichotomy — Catharine Harris

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   03/18/2015 06:17:31 PM MDT

Dave Krieger, for the editorial board, wrote that he is opening a discussion about how “aesthetic” environmentalism and a “modern carbon footprint” definition of environmentalism (“Redefining environmentalism,” Daily Camera, March 1) impacts Boulder’s decisions about growth and density. This is a false dichotomy. Environmentalism is action that conserves and preserves the health of our earth, air, water, wildlife, plants, and humans for today as well as for tomorrow. Yes, it also includes aesthetic values that feed our souls, but is more than being able to see the green of our mountain landscape and open space. True environmentalism is valued by people by all ages.

Monitoring our carbon footprint is just one method of monitoring our human impact on our soil, air, water, wildlife and plants with which we are interdependent. It is not environmentalism in itself. Carbon is a significant but not the only abuse of our environment. Population pressures also abuse our environment.

Dave Krieger uses his false dichotomy between aesthetic and carbon footprints to advocate for height exemptions in the east part of town and more density. I wonder if all the additional people coming to fill urban-style, expensive, high-rise apartments really will reduce our carbon footprint in their transportation habits or in their lifestyles. More people harm our environment by disturbing animals, birds, and plants; use of pesticides, creating waste, using water, needing more services and infrastructure, covering land with concrete. Wise people of any age know that not all change is for the better. New density and erasing height limitations (which are not new but were passed by Boulder voters in 1971) do not create a better place to live.

Catharine Harris

High drama at the Boulder City Council — Steve Pomerance

POSTED:   03/16/2015 06:33:49 PM MDT

The last few months have certainly changed the city council’s discussions about growth and development. It was only last fall that council member Sam Weaver was roundly abused by some of his colleagues for even suggesting the notion of a moratorium on buildings requiring site review. (Site review includes projects requesting height exceptions over the by-right height limit of 35 feet, or 38 feet downtown.) Weaver’s objective was to put on hold the large development projects while the city deals with the long-term implications of Boulder’s significant growth potential, which was becoming a concern as more huge buildings were under construction.

Weaver then moderated his proposal, which he called the “Comprehensive Development Strategy,” and eliminated the partial moratorium. His thoughtful, far-reaching proposal was supported by Lisa Morzel, Mary Young and Suzanne Jones. But it lost 5-4 to a substitute motion brought forward by Macon Cowles and Tim Plass, which was clearly inadequate to deal with the big issues that Weaver was focusing on. And unlike Weaver’s motion, the Cowles/Plass proposal was brought forward at the meeting with no public notice, and was passed at that same meeting.

Early this year, apparently in response to citizen outcry, the city planning staff surprisingly put forward their own partial moratorium, allegedly to help reassure the public. But their moratorium included height exemptions for so many areas of town that it was pretty much irrelevant. Irrespective, the council passed it on first reading as presented. Then they sent it to the city planning board for a recommendation. The planning board held a hearing and recommended applying the height moratorium to almost all areas of the city.

Then the board’s recommendation went back to the council, and the fireworks started. Innuendos were made that planning board member (and former council member) Crystal Gray had discussed her motion with other board members prior to the meeting in a way that would have violated open meeting rules.

Adding fuel to the fire, Cowles asserted in a city Hotline, “…the Council heard from hundreds of stakeholders in the community who were not notified that the PB might consider and pass a blanket moratorium.” But the planning board has no power to pass a moratorium; only the council can do that. Also, the planning board meeting was properly noticed (by the way, that is the staff’s job, not the board’s) and a variety of people with many viewpoints did show up to testify.

Fortunately, the majority of the council did not support these attacks. But they did ask the city attorney to look into the open meeting issue, in spite of his observation that from what he had heard, there was no problem.


So now we have a gratuitous witch-hunt. And even though the planning board members didn’t do anything wrong, and have been totally open about what they did do, they will be stuck with these unfounded rumors. (This makes me question the motivation of their attackers; could it relate to this being an election year?)

The irony is that the Cowles/Plass motion brought forward last fall should have received the same or even more scrutiny. Unlike the planning board’s motion that was only advisory, the Cowles/Plass council motion told the staff what to do and what not to do. And it was brought up at the meeting with no notice, so that the public was blindsided. The scrutiny that’s good for the geese ought to be equally good for the ganders.

The council revised its moratorium at second reading to make it more meaningful. But they included a height exemption for projects with 50 percent affordable units, and then dropped the exemption percentage to 40 percent. Allegedly, there was some pressure from developers. Council members ought to have an obligation to disclose inputs from parties (like developers) who have a direct financial stake in such decisions. When such decisions come up again, we’ll see how the votes go and whether such lobbying is disclosed.

As a policy matter, providing more affordable housing should not be a bargaining chip to gain a height exemption. More affordable housing doesn’t make a building’s shadows more acceptable or block fewer views. And the council still has to deal with some other big issues before letting go of the controls on growth. Examples of this include implementing full cost jobs-housing linkage fees, preventing growth from causing increased traffic congestion, setting realistic housing priorities, and having our zoning regulations produce good design.

Steve Pomerance is a former Boulder city council member.

Keep Boulder special — Dawn Taylor and CJ Wires

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   03/06/2015 06:26:02 PM MST

Palm Springs is a desert city known for its modernist architecture. This unique and aesthetically arresting environment is comprised of residential and commercial buildings that emphasize sleek mid-century-modern horizontal lines. Visitors come from all over the world to view the effects.

Austin, Texas is universally renowned for its music scene. Unchecked development there is threatening the city’s musical identity. Urbanization and multistory high-density buildings are driving out music venues and musicians.

Boulder, although a “city” by some standards, has historically been a place with a small-town feel and a Western flair. It’s known for its sunshine, outdoor lifestyle, laid-back vibe, and stunning views. Many who live in Boulder would like to retain that charm through this development boom.

Regarding the developers who will make less money; our values go more to the greatest good for the largest number for the longest run. As for the young professionals who want to live in an urban environment in Boulder, we are skeptical about how many of them there really are. If they want to live in an urban environment, wouldn’t they aspire to live in LoDo or someplace similar? Business representatives say that the density debate/process has not been democratic and that Boulder will stagnate without constant growth. What could be more democratic than for residents to speak up and City Council to respond? We think current development is unsustainable and represents a much greater risk than “stagnation.”

We want to ensure that growth is managed in a way that does not destroy the unique quality of life we have here. Let’s keep Boulder special.

Dawn Taylor & CJ Wires

A housing solution — Nancy McCurry

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   02/27/2015 06:30:39 PM MST

There has been much talk about the housing shortage in Boulder and ways to solve it. The recent development boom has raised widespread concerns about the direction our city is heading to provide housing for people to live and work in Boulder. According to a January 2014 news article on CU’s website, approximately 22,000 students live off campus. That’s over 70 percent of CU-Boulder’s students. Assuming four students per dwelling, that’s at least 5,500 dwellings occupied by students. While some live out of town, many do not and thus thousands of Boulder dwellings are occupied by students which increases the competition for our town’s limited housing.

Given this imbalance of on- and off-campus student housing, wouldn’t it be reasonable for CU to provide more on-campus housing? Doing so could provide thousands of modest dwellings for working professionals who wish to live and work in Boulder. This would reduce the need for new development, reduce the daily influx of traffic and provide affordable dwellings that are in such short supply. One trend to solve Boulder’s housing shortage has been through in-fill and densification. Perhaps CU could be a good neighbor and do the same, including at one or both of the locations proposed for a new conference center. Getting more students to live on campus would solve a host of problems.

Nancy McCurry

We are not LoDo — George Kasynski

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   02/27/2015 06:31:31 PM MST

In the years preceding the building of Coors Field, the surrounding area was mostly blighted. Much to the credit of the city of Denver and entrepreneurs (and Major League Baseball), the area was transformed into a successful “neighborhood” known as LoDo.

Last week, at the Boulder Planning Board meeting, during public testimony, a Boulder resident said “If I wanted to live in LoDo, I’d live in LoDo!” He asked that the Planning Board recommend to Council to not persist along its path of transforming Boulder into something the majority of its residents don’t want,

Boulder’s history fostered the creation of building height limits, the Blue Line, the Danish Plan and Open Space. These efforts weren’t undertaken to purposely be exclusionary or against growth, per se. They were created to preserve that which the residents of the city and county deemed important. Those measures were (and are) an attempt to arrest cancerous growth emanating from special interest groups.

We’re not a blighted area! We don’t need to provide economic incentives, such as anemic linkage fees and what seems to be a rubber stamping of height exceptions to lure businesses to Boulder. Businesses want to come here because of what we’ve created with our measured approach to growth. But this process of exception has become the new normal. Well, it’s time to stop before we lose what most of us value. It’s time for a two-year moratorium on height ordinance exceptions (as suggested by the Planning Board),and to reevaluate embracing the thinking that gave us projects like the Great Wall of Pearl St. (Boulder Junction) or the purposed S *#!$* Park and other forms of urban density.

Let’s all pause, take a collective breath and create a sensible Comprehensive Plan that reflects the will of its constituents not just those of the development community.

George Kasynski

Let’s do it right — Jenny Devaud

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   02/22/2015 07:32:01 PM MST

It used to be that the majority of City Council heeded public sentiment, which supported growth control and protection of natural resources. Those protections are what allowed Boulder to be a mecca for recreation, science, new businesses, all of which make Boulder what it is. Boulderites, as well as folks in surrounding areas, have benefited from this with an offering of high-quality jobs, access to trails, great restaurants, etc. It appears that era has disappeared with all the “green, new urbanism, sustainable” development, which to my eyes actually looks like unbridled development with little consideration of human scale, aesthetics or practical realities. Boulder will never be able to house everyone who wants to live here, and more and more, the opportunities for families who would like a single-family home are out of reach. Putting up more apartment buildings (rentals) and more office space does not address this problem, but only makes it more acute. Issues of increased traffic and gridlock are not being honestly discussed, affecting all those who live and work here. The concept that a much larger percentage of workers will willingly commute by bike/bus/walk is not supportable, nor is the idea that soon everyone will have self-driving cars which drop you off at work as suggested at a developer’s event a few months back.

Those of us who work and have families have scant time/energy to go to Council/Planning meetings, write letters or make phone calls to voice our concerns. The folks who are working full time to develop their mega-projects have all the time in world, and frankly a high financial incentive to get their projects built. Redevelopment, aesthetic design, green spaces, sensible expansion of housing/business are all desirable. Let’s do it right; the wrong decisions will haunt us for many years.

Jenny Devaud, Boulder


Where does growth stop? — Sally Schneider

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   02/20/2015 04:10:07 PM MST

Coming soon: 680,000 square feet worth of buildings called S*Park, short for Sutherland Park, on Valmont between 30th and Foothills. And you thought there was a new height limit ordinance? Guess again!

Twelve football fields fit into 680,000 square feet! It’s one-quarter the size of the huge IBM complex on the Longmont Diagonal. The plans for S*Park call for a mix of four- and five-story buildings in order to fit 680,000 square feet into the lots they have. S*Park will bring in another 2,000 workers!

Remember, within a few blocks of this are Solana’s four- and five-story apartments, and soon, the four- and five-story Googleplex with 1,500 employees, Reve’s four-story housing complexes, and the big glass hotel and low income housing complex next to the railroad tracks. All of these buildings will soon be flooding people and traffic onto 30th, Pearl, Valmont, and Foothills.

Boulder’s Comprehensive Plan specifically states that the impact on transportation and other city services must be studied and used to determine whether new development will occur. I’ve seen no data from any studies done on the impact of all this new development along 30th street. Boulder should not go forward with any new development until the transportation department provides Boulder citizens with an analysis of the impact on transportation and other city services. Citizens should be allowed to vote on whether they want all of this.

On Jan. 20, it was announced that Council would vote on a height limit ordinance that night. The ordinance defined numerous areas where zoning could change and height exemptions would be allowed. One such area is Boulder Junction, which is now defined as 30th Street from Pearl to Valmont and east almost to Foothills highway. That is why S*Park will be able to be so huge. The city planning department recommended the height ordinance, but a copy for public review wasn’t available until the day of the meeting. Nothing in the ordinance speaks to setback variances. When did we citizens vote on allowing all these exemptions anywhere?

The rapid announcement of the height ordinance was supposedly an “important response to citizens’ concerns about development.” However, it felt more like a giant surprise smoke screen. Some citizens scrambled to find and read the height ordinance and prepared to talk about it at the Jan. 20 Council meeting. However, most citizens left the meeting that night because Council didn’t take up the height ordinance until after midnight. Council also discussed allowing more big buildings to be built in more areas than the ordinance originally recommended; for instance, on Arapahoe between Folsom and Foothills.

It’s unknown when the next version of the height ordinance will be available for public viewing. But we finally know the dates the height ordinance will reviewed again. City Council’s second and possibly final reading of the height ordinance will be at a special meeting next Thursday, Feb. 26, in the council chambers at 1777 Broadway at 6 pm. Concerned citizens should attend and/or write letters: and Consider:

1) Boulder’s unemployment rate is currently 3 percent. This is historically low. Why, then, the need for so many new companies, all needing height and setback exemptions? All these new complexes will accomplish is to add to our excessive in-commuting and push up housing prices even further. If we’d stop the manic drive to attract more companies, we’d have less need for housing.

2) Do developers need to build four to five stories in order to “cover their costs and the risk of investment”? 29 North, the huge, boxy apartment building at Walnut and 30th, was built within the past 10 years. The developer was able to build it because he gave roughly $4.5 million to the city to build low-income homes in north Boulder. However, 29 North recently sold for $40 million more than it cost to build. Risk? This was a great 10-year return on investment. A reasonably-sized development would have still turned a handsome profit.

3) Last fall, the planning department produced a document summarizing building permits from 2011 to 2013. It showed 40 of the 43 large approved buildings received exemptions for height, density, setbacks, and/or parking.

Let’s manage growth and development in Boulder before it’s too late. This height ordinance needs serious revisions. As currently drafted it is a smoke screen to disguise all the huge buildings that are in the pipeline already, will be coming down the pipeline, and will forever change the character of our beautiful city. Our elected officials can and should do better.

 Sally Schneider lives in Boulder.

Affordable housing takes a hit — Jerry Allen

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   02/20/2015 04:09:33 PM MST

The American Dream of owning a home is shared by most, but in a city where 60,000 workers commute in every day and median housing prices are in the half-million-dollar range, the challenge of owning one’s own home is significantly greater. So it’s no wonder the Boulder City Council seeks to increase the number of affordable housing units. However, while council members wrestle with this very important need, they best keep an eye on the foxes guarding Boulder’s existing, unsubsidized, affordable housing.

Vista Village Mobile Park near Airport Drive and Valmont Boulevard, one of the nicer parks in Boulder, has recently implemented an oppressive rule that is sure to increase affordable housing prices. Where the city intends to transfer 3.2 acres of land to Boulder Housing Partners for a plan to develop 44 new affordable housing units, Vista Village alone is home to 300 existing affordable housing units. And whatever affects the residents of Vista Village affects all mobile park residents in Colorado, as well as the city’s affordable housing goals.

Though mobile parks are private businesses, they aren’t just any for-profit business, for they provide the foundation for whole communities to exist. People rely on them, trust in them to provide the security of “home” — and “home” requires a long-term commitment of years, decades, even whole lifetimes. And so it is the moral responsibility of those engaging in the incredibly lucrative business of mobile home parks to unwaveringly stand by a commitment to provide stability in the lives of their residents.

What Vista Village is now doing is apt to push mobile park communities off their foundations, setting a precedent not only in Boulder but across the state. In 1976, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued standardized rules for mobile home manufacturers, now a requirement for continued residency in Vista Village that the park is using to deceitfully push out older mobile homes for costlier newer ones. I bought my 1975 mobile home in Vista Village eight years ago with the full intent of someday selling and moving on, but when I recently told management of my intent, I was informed that I’d have to remove my unit at the time of its sale.

Yet Vista Village had not prevented the previous owner of my unit from selling it to me, when I took over its possession inside of Vista Village. I was a prime example back then of what Vista Village now claims is prohibited. And we aren’t talking about dilapidated mobile homes, either. On the contrary, Vista Village notifies us all of even the slightest of park rule infractions — a mobile home’s condition and visual appeal are certainly on that list. Drive through Vista Village and you’ll see a nice clean park. And like most any homeowner, over the years I’ve made many improvements to my home, as have many of my neighbors to their homes.

Further, the park’s recent HUD certification requirement will devastate the financial status of many mobile home owners, causing them undue hardship and a possible total loss of their home values. This will essentially force many into continuing their lot rental against their will, as no other mobile park will accept a unit of such age. Thus the very essence of the American Dream is at stake, where California-based Vista Village takes as much as $150,000 of rental income each month out of state, yet feels pressed upon to squeeze out just a little more profit from those least able to afford it.

Imagine a graduate student thinking of his own American Dream. He answers an ad where an elderly mobile park resident needs to sell her pre-1976 home so she can move into a nursing home. A perfect match, except that under this arbitrary rule, the owner would not only lose her investment in her home, she’d have to keep renting her lot space because she can’t afford to have her home moved. And where would Vista Village propose she put it, anyway? The dump? That would be worse than a total loss. And the student, of course, would miss out on a sound financial opportunity to get ahead.

So to make gains in affordable housing units, we must first prevent the loss of more-affordable housing already in the state’s midst. City Council, county commissioners, our legislative representatives, and the governor ought to do something to protect the American Dream from these uncaring, oftentimes out-of-state mobile park owners — for though housing costs have certainly changed, the American Dream has not.

 Jerry Allen lives in Boulder.

No height exemptions — Ruth Blackmore

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   02/19/2015 06:45:32 PM MST

Throughout the past 15 years, Boulder’s approach to growth management has been policies with so many exceptions and holes that they are more like dysfunctional junction. The effect: our actual growth rate far exceeds our theoretical growth-limit level.

Now planning staff have proposed an ordinance that would create a two-year pause on height-limit exemptions (i.e., allowing buildings to be built to 55 feet rather than the 35-foot zoning limit). Great idea, at first glance, but closer examination shows that it exempts all the areas where tall buildings are being built or are planned: downtown, Boulder Junction, North Boulder, and the Hill. Buildings in all those places could continue to go up to 55 feet.

Citizens are clearly concerned about tall buildings. That’s why this ordinance was proposed in the first place. So make this a meaningful Height Modification Ordinance. Remove all the exemptions. Place a two-year hold everywhere until we’ve sorted out the Comprehensive Housing Strategy, Comprehensive Plan Update, piloted form-based zoning and had a community dialogue about visioning and Boulderites have made it clear how they feel about current development trends. In its current form, the ordinance is simply a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I’m also concerned about which projects are “grandfathered.” The city ought not enable a development gold rush by saying those in the pipeline are exempted. City of Boulder: people make mistakes. We’re in a whirlwind of development. It’s OK to admit that mistakes have been made. The best way to make it right is to plug the holes and apply the ordinance throughout the city, including projects currently in the pipeline. Otherwise, just give it an honest name: the “won’t have any effect” ordinance.

Ruth Blackmore

Boulder staff restricts citizen input — Gail Promboin

POSTED:   02/17/2015 05:26:10 PM MST

The Camera’s report of a recent Code for America gathering about citizen involvement (” Boulder seeks tools for outreach,” Feb. 12) included several assertions that Boulder’s efforts to obtain and use citizen input are numerous, effective, and exemplary. They are indeed numerous, but my own efforts to be an involved citizen suggest they are anything but effective, in that they fail to engage the vast majority of Boulder citizens and they place an excessive burden on citizens who might be inclined to participate.

To speak directly to power (council, planning board, or other boards), citizens must give up having dinner with their families because our elected and appointed leaders only meet then. To speak at one of their meetings requires arriving early for sign-up and waiting one’s turn to speak for three minutes at most. If one wants to weigh in on a public hearing agenda item, it may require a very long night. People who juggle work and family can’t do that. People who don’t go out at night can’t do that. People who can’t take the bus or bicycle must pay to park — if they can find a space. One can always write to council or board members, but who knows if they actually read it?

All other citizen engagement opportunities are structured, run, interpreted, and reported by staff. They, too, require sacrificing dinner with family. “Open houses” on particular issues (I’ve attended many) are typically limited to listening to staff, responding to staff-defined questions, and being led to predetermined conclusions. Our elected and appointed leaders only know what staff tells them about citizen views. When was the last time Council was told that the citizens who participated did not support the staff’s positions?

More sustained “working groups,” such as those under way for the Housing Boulder process, are composed mainly of carefully selected advocates and individuals with vested interests, with very few ordinary citizens. Staff control of the structure, process, options, and outcomes is even stronger than for open houses. If working group members want to pursue a different direction than that defined by staff (gasp!), the staff goes ahead and imposes a predetermined structure and process.

The city uses several web-based methods to gather citizen input, but only on staff-defined topics, in response to staff-defined (shallow) questions, and with a limited time window in which to comment. They may be easy to use for the generation that grew up digital, but they are far from user-friendly for the adult dinosaurs that make up Boulder’s fastest-growing demographic group.

None of these methods provides any insight into what Boulder’s silent majority thinks, believes, or wants. Obtaining authentic citizen input isn’t easy, to be sure. City leaders would have to find citizens where they are (neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, shopping centers, recreation centers, coffee shops, etc.), when they are there (not just weeknight dinner time), ask them open-ended questions about what they want the future of Boulder to be like, and report those findings accurately and without bias. Public opinion polls and mail surveys also can be helpful in reaching a more representative sample of Boulder citizens.

It’s not easy or cheap to broaden citizen participation in local government. Reaching beyond those motivated enough (by passion, self-interest, or other powerful drivers) to sacrifice family and personal time would result in a more accurate picture of citizens’ values, beliefs, and priorities. They may not be congruent with what our leaders and city staff want to hear. But it would be worth it, and only then could Boulder boast of its exemplary citizen participation.

Gail Promboin lives in Boulder.

Change needed in planning department — Alan Boles

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   02/13/2015 07:07:51 PM MST

In her Jan. 17 op-ed piece in the Daily Camera entitled “Planning our future, together,” City Manager Jane Brautigam identified “respect” as a “core value” of the city of Boulder, and declared that, despite trying circumstances, city staff members “believe in and strive to facilitate an inclusive, respectful dialogue in which all voices are heard.” Later in the piece, she called for Boulder residents (and apparently city staff) “to truly listen to each other; and to engage in a respectful dialogue around complex and difficult issues.”

As we subsequently learned from the Camera, internal comments by a leading member of the city’s planning staff — which were apparently intended as potential source material for Ms. Brautigam’s op-ed piece — castigated certain people who, in the commentator’s view, oppose all new development. “They believe that if we don’t build anything new, no one else will move here. Our home prices will not go up. The eclectic mix that ‘keeps Boulder weird’ will stay in place,” the author asserted. This staff member denounced the purported vision of this group as “fantasy,” and then expressed a wish for “an end of the year item that sets the record straight on a number of development related diatribes of the past months…something that responds to the drivel, maybe takes some folks to task (not by name, of course)….”

Shockingly, these comments directly contradicted the city manager’s laudable emphasis on “respect” and her plea for “an inclusive, respectful” community dialogue. They also exposed the real beliefs and attitudes of at least one critical member of the planning department staff and may well — given the prominence of that individual — reveal the true beliefs and attitudes of a significant number of others.

PLAN-Boulder does not oppose all new development (it does not even oppose most new development), and we know of only a handful of people who do. So we don’t interpret this staff person’s remarks as disparagement of our organization.

But we have traditionally maintained a commitment to good governance, and we are concerned that by reserving their disdain for those on one extreme of the issue, the city’s planners have demonstrated a lack of impartiality on the central questions of growth and development. After all, the comments contain no similar derogation of those on the other extreme of the issue — those who want nearly all new structures built at or above the 55-foot height limit and to turn Boulder into a version of Lo-Do in Denver, or a land-locked Amsterdam.

When staff members consult with developers dozens of times over the course of a project and perhaps with neighborhood groups or others holding reservations about that project one or two times (as happens here in Boulder, and elsewhere), bonds of familiarity and even identification are bound to develop between the regulators (i.e. planners) and the industry they purportedly regulate. “Capture” of the regulators by those they are supposed to regulate is a common phenomenon in federal, state, and local government.

A change of culture is needed in the Boulder planning department. Changing a culture is always a very difficult challenge, but it can be done. It starts with determined leadership at the top. Personnel adjustments may be warranted. Much more interaction between the planning department, neighborhood groups, and ordinary citizens concerned with the direction of the city needs to be promoted. We do not know all of the other measures that may have to be implemented. But one thing is certain: delaying this reform will not make it any easier. The time to start is now.

After the City Council narrowly rejected the proposed Comprehensive Development Strategy proposal on Sept. 16, 2014, those who supported it were assured by Council that their concerns would be addressed as part of the next periodic revision of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP), which was supposed to start within a few months of last September. Given the apparent bias of the planning department — as revealed by the staff comments connected to the city manager’s op-ed piece, it is also probably time to entrust the crucial public process for the BVCP revision to another entity.

Let us not forget that the most important land-use decisions in Boulder have usually been instigated by “grass roots” movements of the people, not by city staff members, or even the City Council. Thus, it is critically important that the full voice of the citizenry be elicited, heard, and heeded as part of the BCVP revision.

Alan Boles is secretary of PLAN-Boulder County and is writing here on its behalf.

A livable Boulder? — Jane Angulo

POSTED:   02/10/2015 06:59:27 PM MST
Daily Camera, Boulder, CO

A recent guest opinion (“Will Boulder embrace change?” Daily Camera, Feb. 1), asked, “Could you afford to move to Boulder today”? That’s the wrong question. The right question is, would you want to move to Boulder tomorrow? The author said younger people are “much more likely to forgo car ownership, ride bikes everywhere and use transit.”

I ask, are they really going to want to live in up-zoned, crowded neighborhoods or tiny apartments or condos when they get older? How about hiking on overcrowded trails, and biking on our congested roads and mountain bike trails? And just try getting on a climbing route at Eldorado Springs Canyon (or anywhere else nearby) these days. It doesn’t matter what day of the week or what time of day it is, Boulder is just crowded! What’s truly funny is that the architect Michael Pyatok (the keynote speaker at the recent eTown Boulder Housing public forum) said that he didn’t like to use the term dense. He’d rather call dense “cozy.” Does Boulder Junction look cozy to anyone? Well that’s apparently what we’re getting told to believe.

Anyone who attempts to drive across Boulder these days can attest to the traffic congestion and delays we already have. (And yes, people chauffeuring children to activities, or tradesmen with their tools, etc. do have to drive). Imagine what it’s going to be like with the building of 24 major, new development projects (on the scale of Boulder Junction, 29 North and Reve) that are already in the planning board pipeline. On top of this, we have 60,000 commuters coming into Boulder every day. Are these people going to want to live in tiny houses? How about in neighborhoods without occupancy limits, (i.e., up-zoned so as to have no limits on the number of unrelated people per dwelling)? No they’re not. As people get older, get married, have kids, and a dog, they tend to want single family homes with yards. That’s why they live in the subdivisions east of town which they can better afford.

Does making Boulder denser really help reduce urban sprawl? I think that urban sprawl has already happened. Preserving a livable patch of habitat here is appropriate considering the out of control growth surrounding us.

Perhaps solutions will come from more frank discussions (?) that our council folk seem to be offering. But it’s up to us to decide what our future will be. Do we want a dense, overcrowded, congested city? Or are our city leaders forcing us to accept a paradigm that’s wrong for us? Boulder established the Blue Line and height and density restrictions long ago to prevent what our city planners are allowing to happen now. Are we going to keep chipping away at every open piece of land, building higher and wider and more cheaply to accommodate as many people as we can possibly pack in? Where does it end?

Many important issues are at stake. Protections and limits have made Boulder a great place to live. People who bought in long ago made many sacrifices to live here. And many more people desperately want to live here and grow old here who (quite frankly) can’t afford it. We can and do already provide much assistance for them and that’s a good thing. Perhaps we can do better. But this is our nest we’re soiling — for everyone and forever if we don’t get it right.

Jane Angulo lives in Boulder.

Boulder skipping an important step — Cathy Conery

POSTED:   02/03/2015 06:49:37 PM MST
Daily Camera, Boulder, CO

These comments regarding community planning may shed light on recent contentiousness and may provide some direction in future planning.

According to the American Planning Association, “Planners help the community and its various groups identify their goals and form a particular vision. In the creation of a plan, planners identify the strategies by which the community can reach its goals and vision.” Boulder’s approach to development seems to go directly to strategies, without defined end-game targets or goals in terms of population, traffic, daily in-commuters, etc.

In comprehensive planning, according to Wikipedia, “Goals are community visions. They establish priorities for communities and help community leaders make future decisions which will affect the city. Stating goals is not always an easy process and it requires the active participation of all people in the community.”

It’s critical that Boulder planners include all citizens in the community.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) notes, “Ideally, all government programs should have goals and objectives explicitly stated as part of the program planning process. In reality, very few government programs have explicit, meaningful goal and objective statements. This poses a problem in program evaluation, since there is no clearly stated direction with which actual performance can be compared.”

Boulder seems to lack a community-defined goal for maximum population. Is it 110,000 residents? 150,000? 250,000? The same could be said for the city’s quest for more companies locating here and the resultant increases in daily in-commuters. Is the threshold of acceptability 80,000 in-commuters, 100,000? How many more Boulder corporations do we seek and what length of traffic jams on U.S. 36?

If Boulder lacks defined goals in these areas, but plunges ahead with policies, we’re likely to arrive at accidental and unintended results — many of which we’re likely to regret.

Cathy Conery  Boulder

Boulder is a Great Place to Live!