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A fork in the road for Boulder’s heart and soul — Tim Hogan

POSTED:   01/31/2015 04:20:00 PM MST
Daily Camera, Boulder, CO

These pages have recently hosted a lively discussion over the fate of the Joder property, an OSMP parcel north of town, with an array of interest groups weighing in on the issue. Joder is today’s focus, but moving into a future where management of our public lands will become increasingly necessary, recalling some of the watershed events that gave Boulder its abundance of natural areas might be useful.

Beginning in 1967, Boulder citizens made history by taxing themselves to secure open space — the first city in the U.S. to do so — and six years later lobbied successfully for a separate department to procure and manage these lands.

The Boulder County Comprehensive Plan was formally adopted in 1978 with the stated aim that “preservation of our environmental and natural resources should be a high priority in making land use decisions.” That same year the Indian Peaks was designated as a national forest wilderness area, the most secure level of protection within the federal domain. Both of these milestones came about in no small part through the efforts of local activists.

In 1986, an amendment to the city charter providing stronger protection for open space lands was adopted by 77 percent of the voters. This amendment explicitly calls for the preservation of natural ecosystems. Since 1986, city voters have approved three separate tax measures in support of OSMP (1989, 2003, 2013).

The 1980s also witnessed citizen conservationists inventorying high-quality ecosystems in Boulder County, leading to their designation as Environmental Conservation Areas. ECAs were subsequently incorporated into the County Comprehensive Plan and the National Forest Management Plan (1997). In 1993 voters supported these efforts through an open space sales tax, allowing the county to acquire significant tracts of lands such as the Hall and Heil ranches.

Finally, over the course of 25 years, three parcels of OSMP land were designated as State Natural Areas “to preserve some of the finest examples of Colorado’s original and unique landscapes for the benefit of present and future generations.” These included the Colorado Tall Grass Prairie (1984), South Boulder Creek (2000), and 7,000 acres of the Boulder Mountain Park (2009).

These events highlight Boulder citizens’ support to secure protection of our public lands, and the clear intent that the focus of preservation was upon the lands’ ecological values. Yet no protection is permanent. Steady vigilance is necessary to preserve the integrity of this conservation network. The current development proposal at Eldora poses a direct threat to the Middle Boulder Creek wildlife corridor, a principal reasons citizens oppose the expansion.

The specter of climate disruption has understandably consumed the attention of environmentalists over the last decade. Yet it can be credibly maintained, both scientifically and ethically, that the extinction and extirpation of species may be of greater consequence to the diversity of life on earth. The World Wildlife Fund recently reported a 50 percent loss in the collective number of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals across the planet in the last 40 years. Human population doubled over the same period.

One of the consequences of this focus upon climate disruption has been a turning away from traditional conservation and the emergence of “environmental-modernists” — a new version of environmentalism emphasizing technology and urbanism. This new view appears to be more a return to the old, albeit dressed in Patagonia fleece instead of Brooks Brothers tweed. Wild nature is valued for the “ecosystem services” it provides to humans; corporate partnerships are championed; and the idea of wilderness is an obsolete anachronism.

The views of the eco-modernists have become a touchstone for some of the newer critics of OSMP. What they don’t seem to recognize is not only that their science and ethics are suspect, but more importantly, that the loss of wild nature is a profound and disheartening disaster to the spirit of people everywhere.

The future of Boulder’s heart and soul may be balancing on a precipice. Will we move toward increased density with its attendant crowding, noise, and pollution; grow into an expanded urban area with fine restaurants and excellent recreation opportunities; enjoy our glimpses of the Flatirons through slots in the canyons of new buildings?

Or will we guard like rare treasures the places and the institutions protected and established by those who preceded us, here where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains? Will we remember the virtues of moderation? Can we leave a few dollars on the table, walk out into the night air to look up at the tough old stars above the Flatirons, and recall where our true values reside?

Tim Hogan lives in Boulder.


Profit is not Boulder’s highest value — Dawn Taylor and C. J. Wires

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   01/31/2015 03:00:09 PM MST

It’s not easy to characterize what makes Boulder so appealing and unique, but the Pearl Street Mall might be a paradigm case. For the most part, the buildings are different one from the next, with architectural details that provide a sense of place, on a human scale. What’s going up in Boulder in the recent development boom is nothing like that. To us, these projects are huge, monolithic, cheap-looking compounds that block out the sun and our view of the mountains.

A developer’s job is to maximize profits. If developers had their way, the whole town would be built up to 55 feet if that’s what would maximize profits. Boulder city planning and city council’s jobs are to maintain the unique and desirable characteristics of our town (among other things). We very much appreciate the director of community planning and sustainability/City Council’s responsiveness to the outcry of the citizens who are appalled by the direction Boulder’s landscape is taking.

To the developers who say, “Limiting growth will affect the economic climate,” we say we’ve heard that warning repeatedly in the 35 years we’ve lived here. People still want to live here; employers still want to set up shop here. If a company needs a six-story building with a footprint the size of a city block, they should perhaps go elsewhere. If developers feel they can’t make enough money doing a project in Boulder that stays within the code limits of 35 to 38 feet, maybe they should seek out projects in other areas.

When we moved here, buying a house in Boulder wasn’t easy. Relatives advised us to try surrounding areas to get a bigger, newer house for less money. But that’s not what we wanted. We wanted the awe-inspiring Boulder experience (like being able to look west and see the Flatirons from almost anywhere in town) and we sacrificed to get it. It’s not easy to live or build here. We would hate to see that unique Boulder character disappear because it’s easier (i.e. more profitable) to do maximum-height, massively out-of-scale projects. The unique character that is Boulder exists today solely because of the planning, foresight, and careful stewardship of previous generations of citizens. We can’t let a handful of individuals who are seeking to maximize profit capitalize on the efforts of others who have worked hard to create the Boulder that we all love.

Dawn Taylor and C.J. Wires live in Boulder.

City and activists agree: Boulder neighborhoods need more say — Alex Burness

By Alex Burness, Staff Writer
Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   01/25/2015 05:28:52 PM MST

[Editor’s note:  This meeting was arranged by  member of the Livable Boulder Forum’s steering committee.}

On Tuesday night, a group of 20 Boulder residents gathered in the basement of the public library branch on Table Mesa Drive to meet for an hour, over Skype, with two city planners from Madison, Wis.

The planners had been invited to speak on Madison’s neighborhood-based planning structure, in which residents from 120 pockets of town meet with city staff to discuss, early and often, resident concerns about everything from commercial development to road construction.

“We do try to see ourselves as working side-by-side with the residents,” Madison Urban Planner Linda Horvath said. “We have expertise, but just in terms of driving the process, the people on the steering committee who represent the neighborhoods, they’re driving the content of the plan. We’re helping to facilitate the process.”

This sort of neighborhood planning is not uncommon, and has long been employed in cities such as New York, Seattle and Austin, and in smaller cities, including Golden. Tuesday’s library meet-up was little more than a first step, in which the Madison planners explained their system, then briefly took questions.

The conversation was the result, however, of lingering frustration from a vocal faction that believes Boulder residents have largely been rendered invisible in decision-making around controversial development projects and the gradual whittling-down of affordable housing, among other issues.

“Many of us have felt left out, and we’ve been saddened by what we’ve seen happen to our beloved town that will now carry some big, regrettable scars for buildings,” resident Kay McDonald said. “(We) have felt like we are a bother to the city, which thinks it knows best.”

Patrick Dillard, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s meeting, said the end goal is to see a neighborhood planning section written into the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, which informs land use codes in Boulder city and county, and will be updated later this year.

“We believe that the only way to address these problems and have buy-in from the community is to start the planning at the neighborhood level,” Dillard said.

He described the city as “cannibalizing itself” by granting high-occupancy zoning to properties in his neighborhood, East Aurora, just east of the University of Colorado, across U.S. 36.

“I think what the city wants to do is allow absentee landlords to turn their houses into multi-unit buildings,” Dillard said. “Imagine if you own a house and you’ve lived there five, 10, 20 years, and put a lot of mortgage into it. Suddenly, your neighbor turns their house into an apartment building. Well, now the fabric of your neighborhood is irreparably changed.”

That sort of up-zoning, however, does offer additional affordable housing options in a city where they are hard to come by. It could help offset the high-end commercial developments that raise the pricetag of a city already unaffordable to many of the 60,000 who commute to work in Boulder every day.

Projects including Google’s approved future campus, to house 1,500 employees, and the proposed mixed-use, six-acre “Rêve” development that would sit next to Google, will, by Mayor Matt Appelbaum’s own admission, only attract more wealthy renters.

While the linked conversations around development and housing swirl, the city says it is taking steps to solicit much more feedback on the resident level. In fact, two hours after the library meeting adjourned, City Council gave initial approval to what amounts to a two-year halt on development taller than 38 feet, in most of the city.

Additionally, the city will soon announce a hiring for the position of neighborhood liaison, which hasn’t existed in Boulder in more than a decade.

“We always know we can do better,” said David Driskell, Boulder’s director of community planning and sustainability. “There are about 99,000 people who are not involved, for various reasons, and we want to find ways to make it easier for them to be involved.”

Councilwoman Lisa Morzel believes neighborhood planning would be a step in the direction of heightened community awareness and engagement.

“I think it’s cool that they did this Skype, and I think it’s good to have neighborhood area plans,” she said. “For me, the idea of the comprehensive plan and of a neighborhood area plan is to provide stability and predictability for the people in the neighborhoods. They deserve that.

In the 1990s, prior to joining council, Morzel was closely involved in the formation of the North Boulder Subcommunity Plan, a land use vision negotiated between residents and city officials. Twenty years after its creation, that plan has drawn positive reviews from both parties, and is seen by some as a shining example of the benefit neighborhood planning could bring to other areas of the city.

“I came to City Council as a neighborhood activist,” Morzel said, “Out motto used to be that we can’t stop development, but we can have a say in what gets developed and how it happens.”

At the City Council’s annual retreat Saturday, Councilman Sam Weaver said he sees a lot of value in having neighborhood plans, and he would be willing to put more resources — money and staff — into supporting the creation of such plans

“You want to have your neighborhood plans in place in advance of a large development proposal,” he said.

Though Dillard and his associates say they hope to bring the Madison planners to Boulder soon, where they would presumably address council, the march to put neighborhood planning in stone may not gather enough steam to make it onto the next comprehensive plan update.

At council’s retreat, Mayor Appelbaum said Madison is different from Boulder in important ways, namely that many of the neighborhood plans aim to revitalize vacant or run-down areas, whereas neighborhood plans in Boulder might aim for no change at all.

Appelbaum added the city has larger goals, especially around affordable housing and diversity, which neighborhoods should not get to veto.

Council ultimately decided Saturday to look for opportunities to do more neighborhood engagement out of the comprehensive housing strategy process. That process is expected to be completed later this year and lead to proposed code changes, some of which could be tested in pilots in neighborhoods where residents are amenable to those changes.

Staff Writer Erica Meltzer contributed to this report.

We are Boulder’s stakeholders — Jan Trussell

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   01/24/2015 07:45:51 PM MST

The Daily Camera the last few weeks has offered up many interesting editorials, opinions and letters to the editor regarding density, secret meetings with developers, public input or lack thereof, the changing of occupancy limits, restricting parking, upzoning existing neighborhoods and where we should go from here.

Simply put, Boulder cannot be all things to everyone. Those of us with a strong desire to live in Boulder made sacrifices and concessions to live here. We rented until we could afford to buy property. We respected the height limits, occupancy limits, open space, cost of living, etc. We didn’t start a crusade to change the character of the existing neighborhoods or the city for that matter. We accepted those rules and regulations. Simply put, we are the stakeholders in Boulder and our input is not being heard.

The city has moved away from conventional zoning to what is known as form-based code, a relatively new method of managing growth and shaping development to achieve a specific urban form and mix of uses as preferred by a given community. It seems our city leaders and representatives they’ve appointed, like our city manager and planning department, have shied from public input to cater to the whims of developers and a handful of density advocates.

I’ve seen examples of other cities used by those pushing for development such as Zurich, Freiburg, Copenhagen, etc. to promote this density argument. I would, instead, recommend that Boulder leaders consider a neighborhood-based planning approach, such as the one used in Madison, Wisconsin. Madison is much larger than Boulder with a population of 243,000 and approximately 120 neighborhood associations. There are currently 25 adopted neighborhood plans in the city, with several more in progress.

The point being, the neighborhoods themselves are the primary authors of the plan and city planning staff contributes professional services such as mapping, data, drawing, and rendering. The plans provided by the residents are known as neighborhood concentration plans. They include short-term strategies (3-5 years) to address specific challenges, issues and opportunities in Madison’s older neighborhoods. These neighborhood concentration plans typically address some or all of the following issues: community services, economic development, housing development, land use, parks and open space, public infrastructure, safety, transportation and zoning issues.

Should we not return to a more inclusive public forum, especially when development negatively affects the quality of life that many of us considered when we decided to purchase a home in Boulder?

The Jan. 18 guest opinion in the Daily Camera by our city manager was titled, “Planning our future, together.” Sadly, this process is far removed from just that. To quote Ms. Brautigam, “I must admit to being both disappointed and disturbed” at the lengths the city has taken to dissuade neighborhood involvement regarding the ongoing development in Boulder.

It was very interesting to note that two of the letters to the editor printed on Jan. 17 in support of Zane Selvans’ previous opinion piece advocating parking restrictions and density were written by Ken Hotard and Michael Leccese. Both of these gentlemen, along with Mr. Selvans, are members of the Better Boulder steering committee, an entity that pushes for more density, upzoning and parking restrictions.

Finally, the Daily Camera’s editorial written on Jan. 21 speaks of internal notes obtained by the Camera. It appears one of the staffers considers any outside criticism as “drivel.” Is this the type of reaction we should expect from generously-paid public servants that work for the taxpayers of Boulder?

I respectfully request that city council consider a more neighborhood-based planning approach. There are many neighborhoods in Boulder and they all want and need different things. In addition to that, council needs to move up the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan discussion before considering code changes and, most important, involve all neighborhoods in future development projects in the city.

Jan Trussell lives in Boulder.

Is it time for a new blue line? — John D. English

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   01/24/2015 07:44:53 PM MST

An artist’s rendering of the Reve project near 30th and Pearl, one of Boulder’s new developments. (Courtesy Photo / Daily Camera)

Don’t let the issue of Google’s proposed expansion distract us. While Google may be the fall guy, they are not the bad guys. They are simply taking advantage of a zoning situation they did not create. The corruption of our planning process is also a distraction. The real issue is congestion and our quality of life.

Of course we want economic vitality. Boulder is too sophisticated to fall for the specious argument that we must choose between jobs and our quality of life/environment. In fact, we attract high-quality jobs because of our favorable quality of life. By protecting what we’ve worked so hard to preserve, we can continue to attract high-quality employers.

Not long ago, Boulder was a leader; its leaders were visionaries. Today, all of us benefit from that citizen-supported wise leadership. We enjoy a quality of life that is the envy of many and attracts companies like Google.

Boulder real estate is expensive because we have enhanced its natural attributes with good planning. All of us have paid for this. We didn’t plan to increase congestion or diminish our quality of life. Thus, we should continue on the successful path that has made Boulder so special: planning that protects our quality of life.

Boulder voted to be part of the solution for solving the climate change problem. Yet today that guiding principle — responsibility for consequences — is completely ignored when it comes to new developments, which should adhere to net-zero standards, especially net-zero congestion.

Without any public discussion, our direction has changed. Now the public is excluded from the decision-making process. The regulators and those they regulate meet secretly. City officials claim that the solution is more public outreach. No! We don’t need a sales job; we do not need them telling us. City officials need to be asking us. They work for us, the citizens, not some special interest group.

They insult us when they claim that their little rulemaking adventures are inconsequential. For example, Folsom Street was considered East Boulder — in 1955. Today, 60 years later, would you define Folsom Street to be East Boulder? The Planning Department does, which allows developers to make inappropriate developments in Boulder’s core.

The building in question, 1900 Folsom St., is solid masonry. Yet, the developers want to rezone the property so that they can demolish it and put up a building twice its size. Would you be surprised to learn that one of the secret “advisory” members has a financial stake in this venture? Perhaps the secret “advisory” group did no planning; they just manipulated the implementation for their own personal benefit.

We pay millions of dollars every year for a planning department that is supposed to protect our quality of life. Those planners have created a secret advisory group to help them write the regulations. Remember the bumper sticker, “If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention”? Well, even City Council members who are paying attention didn’t know about this blatant corruption of the regulatory process.

We have elected City Council to represent us and to protect us, have a positive vision of the future and proactively work to ensure that we, as well as our children and grandchildren, can enjoy the splendor that we have known.

I believe that City Council does represent us and shares our concerns that city staff has strayed. They know we need people of integrity with good judgment to protect us. Recently they learned that their employees have betrayed their trust. Certainly they will take corrective action.

It’s easy to talk about future requirements, delay making a decision. Meanwhile, irreparable harm may be done. For that reason it seems prudent that City Council will use its emergency powers.

Here are some suggestions:

• Declare an immediate moratorium: no more variances or zoning changes.

• Remove all in the chain of command who allowed the secret meetings.

• Require all new development to adhere to net-zero energy and net-zero congestion standards.

• Require all new development to prepay all costs necessary to mitigate its presence. In other words, you and I should not be paying for the destruction of our quality of life.

A half-century ago, our citizens were wise enough to create the Blue Line. Since those we hire seem incapable of protecting Boulder from predatory special interests, maybe we need a few more permanent lines that we all know will protect us.

John D. English lives in Boulder.

Poor decision on Google — Sally Schneider

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   12/24/2014 05:27:35 PM MST

When the city council and city planning board approved the 1,500-employee Google office complex near 30th and Pearl it was one of the worst decisions the city has ever made. It will take Boulder in the exact opposite direction from where it claims it wants to go regarding affordable housing and strengthening the middle (in terms of income distribution). How the Google complex could be approved is beyond me.

Google and other tech companies’ expanding presence in the San Francisco Bay Area has skyrocketed rents, to the tune of 12 percent increases just last year. And Google, unlike downtown commercial developments, will be exempt from paying linkage fees that go toward affordable housing. My comments are not personal to Google, or about them as a company. I’m addressing the lack of intelligent city policy and planning, given where Boulder finds itself at this particular point in its history.

Also, adding 1,500 commuters to 30th and Pearl, when huge amounts of traffic will soon be added to that intersection due to the large Boulder Junction Hotel, Solana rental apartments, and the likely approval of another complex of four- to five-story buildings called La Reve, is simply unconscionable and not at all respectful of the impact on the current citizens of Boulder. Has the transportation department done any studies on this reality and have they shared them with the planning board and city council? Finally, 1,500 workers actually represent close to 5,000 residents, considering spouses and families.

Next November there will be five city council positions on the ballot. It’s time for citizens to band together to find candidates who won’t keep Boulder heading along this destructive path of massive development, higher rents, disappearing middle class, and clogged roads.

Sally Schneider, Boulder

It’s time to separate planning from development — Steve Pomerance

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   01/17/2015 08:06:32 PM MST

I read in Wednesday’s Camera that the Boulder planning staff is proposing a moratorium on new buildings over 35 feet, except in downtown and Boulder Junction. They are also proposing to implement jobs-housing linkage fees, through which business development would pay for affordable housing for lower-income employees. And they are pushing for form-based zoning, which, if done properly, should produce much better design and, more importantly, eliminate most of the “let’s cut a deal” bargaining where a developer gets more height in exchange for providing some alleged “community benefit.”

Pardon my cynicism, but I am highly suspicious that this will amount to anything. There are any number of 55-foot buildings already approved or in the review process in Downtown, the Boulder Junction area, on 28th Street, and elsewhere. Will all these be put on hold? Linkage fees only count if they are high enough, and Boulder’s existing fee is a tiny fraction of what is required. Form-based zoning only matters if it includes a meaningful height limit.

Our mayor is already trying to push this back, apparently into the meaningless ritual of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan update; simply put, the BVCP policies have no force of law. The great thing would be for those council members on the fence about these issues to actually take a stand and push for stronger requirements that will really make a difference, rather than once again just tweaking things around the edges. People will remember this come election time.

All these ideas have been around for years; linkage fees have been in place in many cities for decades. The time to implement them (and net-zero requirements for transportation impacts, full cost impact fees, etc.) would have been during the development lull in the recent recession. That way, when the building boom came, we would have had in place tools to ensure great design, maintain view corridors, prevent traffic increases, provide adequate affordable housing, and fund our infrastructure needs. But that horse is long gone from the barn: Boulder Junction, Google, the Camera building replacement, etc., are all but cast in concrete. Playing catch-up is better than nothing, but the real opportunity was wasted.

The staff is also proposing to put on hold the “Envision East Arapahoe” project. That’s important, as this project came across more like a planning grad student’s thesis project than the least impactful solution to real needs, like office space for hospital-related activities. This “hold” should also be applied to the city’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy. It has many problems, including that its goal statements are variously vague, overreaching, unrealistic, and/or under-researched. This project is simply not ready for prime time.

If the council really wants to fix what is broken, it needs to deal on a more fundamental level. Physical planning focuses on more growth, as if that were synonymous with progress. But when I look back over Boulder’s last half-century, the big decisions that have shaped Boulder all restricted growth: the Blue Line that limits building up the mountainsides, the Open Space program that set physical boundariesfor the city, and the charter’s 55-foot height limit that helped protect our views. The Pearl Street Mall and design guidelines preserved Downtown from overdevelopment (at least until now) and the Boulder Creek Path kept that riparian area accessible.

We need a planning department that focuses on sustainability, resiliency, and quality of life. This involves understanding the interactions and doing the quantitative analysis, not just writing goal statements or pushing nice sounding concepts. For example, advocating for more housing without limiting employment growth or requiring development to pay for its impacts just leads to a bigger city with increased traffic, stressed services, and higher taxes. And it will produce no real improvement in housing affordability because the increased demand from new employees will push prices up. Besides, adding large primary employers has risks. If one of them goes stale or threatens to leave, as has happened before and will happen again, then there will be pressure to save them rather than letting them go, creating space for the next startup.

There’s a lot more to say about this. But, bottom line, it’s time to separate the city’s planning and development functions. This new department should not be tied to the development business, either in training or in function. Then it would be free to communicate openly with all citizens equally and devise long-term solutions that will allow its “constituency,” the whole community, to thrive.

Steve Pomerance is a former Boulder city council member.

Why ‘smart growth’ and ‘slow growth’ are oxymorons — Cosima Krueger-Cunningham

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   01/17/2015 07:53:24 PM MST

Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam has now granted public access to the controversial real estate developers’ group that has enjoyed 10 years’ worth of behind-closed-doors access to city planning and building services staff over the same time period that controversial growth and development has mushroomed apparently out of control in Boulder. Here in the Camera and elsewhere Boulder residents have recently expressed fear and outrage that growth in Boulder is now apparently beyond the control of both the Planning Board and the City Council, the two official bodies that should be exercising appropriate and needed restraints over growth to the benefit of the tax-paying Boulder residents who elected them and in deference to the growth-limiting parameters outlined in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan.

Does Ms. Brautigam’s action end the controversy? More importantly, does her action solve either of the root problems expressed by Boulder residents here in the Camera concerning a) unwanted and out-of-control growth in Boulder and b) the apparent unwillingness or inability of the city to rein it in appropriately?

Why should population growth in Boulder matter? Why should the rate of population growth in Boulder matter? And why should there be any constraints at all on population growth in Boulder?

Over the past 60 years, Boulder’s population has doubled, not once but twice. It has, in fact, quadrupled over that period of time. Specifically, Boulder went from a population of 25,000 residents to 50,000 residents in one 30-year doubling time. It went from a population of 50,000 residents to over 100,000 residents in another 30-year doubling time. These doubling times occurred at the “modest” population growth rate of approximately 2.33 percent per year.

My guess is that during the past five to 10 years, Boulder’s population growth rate has accelerated beyond this historic 2.33 percent per year growth rate. If you include Boulder’s approximately 60,000 current daily in-commuters in Boulder’s daytime population, it certainly has. If you include the 1,500 new Google employees and their families, it certainly will. If Boulder’s effective daytime population is currently 160,000 people — leaving out the Google employees who haven’t moved here yet — the next doubling time will take Boulder to an effective daytime population of 320,000 people!

Will the next doubling of Boulder’s population take 30 years or will it happen sooner than that? I leave it to you to do the math based upon your best estimates of how fast the current real estate development frenzy and willy-nilly economic development booms are actually proceeding. If Boulder’s current growth rate is still only 2.33 percent per year, which is doubtful, Boulder’s effective daytime population can be predicted to double to 320,000 people in 30 years. If Boulder’s current growth rate is 3 percent per year you’re looking at a doubling time of 23 years. If Boulder’s current growth rate leaps by “only” one percentage point, to 3.33 percent per year, get ready for 320,000 people — 160,000 additional people — wedged into Boulder’s already over-crowded urban landscape in only 21 years from now.

Part of the outrage that Boulder residents should rightly feel about out-of-control growth and development stems from the way in which development proposals have been fast-tracked through the Planning Board while comprehensive development impact data has been denied to Boulder residents who, typically, only find out about such approvals and their negative impacts after the fact.

Another part of the outrage that Boulder residents should rightly feel comes from the fact that this development is not likely to pay more than a fraction of its own way. It will have unintended negative consequences — some foreseeable and some coming as unwelcome surprises. For example, we’ve been told that our water and sewer rates are going up, up, up. How much of these rate increases are actually tied to the costs of upgrading aging and flood-damaged infrastructure and how much are tied to hidden costs of accommodating new development? What about the cost-of-doing-business fees that real estate developers pay the city to obtain waivers from the public-safety and quality-of-life ordinances with which ordinary citizens must still comply? And what proof is there for the claim that increased population growth — masquerading behind euphemisms such as “density” and “infill” or, more accurately, “over-crowding” — will somehow magically solve traffic congestion in a city in which the majority of residents aren’t ready to give up their cars (electric, hybrid or otherwise) anytime soon?

The population numbers and negative impacts of over-development speak for themselves.

Cosima Krueger-Cunningham is a Boulder native.

What does development cost? — Karen Hollweg

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   01/16/2015 07:00:57 PM MST

I am dismayed by the ever-increasing rush-hour traffic and by the pace and scale of development in Boulder, just as are many who’ve written recent letters to the editor. For me, another major concern is what all this is costing you and me.

Since the 1970s, I’ve heard that “development pays its own way” here in Boulder. But development creates extra demand for schools, recreation centers, parks and open space, fire stations and libraries. So why are we continually being asked to pay higher/more taxes to cover these additional costs?

Development pays nothing extra to fund the schools necessitated by their additional pupils. Local property taxes paid by all of us are what pay for the new schools, which is why we get hit with multi-hundred-million-dollar tax increases on the ballot every so often.

For our local transportation infrastructure, I’ve been told that the city of Boulder gets around $500,000 per year on average from new development, as development excise taxes. However, to actually prevent congestion from increasing, the real cost is many multiples higher.

Regarding affordable housing, does development pay its way? Or is this left to you and me? The recently-approved office complex for Google will pay no fees for affordable housing whatsoever. Our planning director David Driskell has suggested that such development could be assessed “linkage fees” to pay for affordable housing for the lower income workers. But the linkage fee that the city does assess, only on the portion of new office buildings built above the by-right height of 38 feet and only in the downtown area, is minuscule compared to the actual cost of providing this housing. And many claim that the current “in lieu of” fees, assessed to build affordable housing when it is not provided as part of a residential development, fall short of the actual costs.

It seems to me that our city needs to do a thorough, independent economic analysis to establish the true cost of development on all aspects of city facilities and services. That would enable us to create a system of fees that is based on the real numbers and enable development to really pay its own way.

Karen Hollweg lives in Boulder.

Development, whose vision? — Martha and John Andrews

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   01/02/2015 06:12:59 PM MST

Steve Pomerance and Erica Meltzer, both writing in the Camera on Sunday, Dec. 28, resonate with our feelings regarding the lack of involvement of local homeowners in plans for re-development in east Boulder. These plans will affect us a great deal. We had no idea that a “Project” was about to begin in this area. We would like to draw your attention to the following website:

Envision East Arapahoe-Planning Project - City of Boulder.…/eastarapahoeplanningproject

Please also look at the maps linked to the page.

My husband and I have owned and lived in our home on Kennedy Court since June 1973. Now we find out that a great deal of our neighborhood falls within the oval study line for this Envision project. The line goes from Folsom St. to 75th St. west to east, and includes several blocks on either side of Arapahoe St. In fact, Envision’s study line abuts 100 feet of our property and also that of the popular Arapahoe Ridge Park.

We had no idea that planning for this project, which would alter an already satisfactory mix of housing types and businesses, was underway. Our question to City Council and all of their unelected planners of whom we were not aware, is this:

Are we not ‘stakeholders?’

About two or three years ago we checked on the addresses of City Council members and found that all but one lived west of Broadway. We would like to see Boulder return to a ward system since we are definitely not represented out here.

We would like the council to put a hold on further progress on this project until they arrange a widely-publicized (not only in the Camera) meeting of residents and businesses within the project study line.

Martha and John Andrews, Boulder

We should be looking forward — David Chicoine

POSTED:   07/13/2014 01:00:00 AM MDT
Denver Post, Denver, CO

Steve Pomerance seems to have been a fairly lonely voice lately championing the connections between local democracy, sustainability, and quality of life issues here in Boulder.

Well, he certainly speaks for me. In my four years here in this remarkable and beloved city I have noticed a real deterioration in the quality of life. Have you also noticed the increasingly congested traffic during rush hours? The boxy apartment/condo building complexes springing up like mushrooms and being squeezed into every last available place? The many new buildings in town that are taller than those neighboring them? That these buildings also edge closer to the sidewalks than the structures adjacent?

Shouldn’t the quality of life of the 100,000 souls already living here — and, very importantly, of the generations to come — be the very first priority when it comes to making decisions about Boulder’s growth? And when does growth tip over from healthy and natural to unhealthy and even destructive? At what point does the increase in Boulder’s population become unwise? Where are the concerns for the aesthetic dimension of the town, with all this new building and the exceptions apparently being granted to both the zoning and building codes?

Boulder is the wonderful city it is today because of the foresightedness, courage, and persistence of earlier generations of town leaders. Didn’t they place preserving and even enhancing the quality of life here as their supreme guiding value? And aren’t these crucial issues facing Boulder today ultimately choices between values?

David Chicoine, Boulder 

Let the citizens decide Boulder’s future  — Steve Pomerance

POSTED:   07/05/2014 10:16:21 PM MDT
UPDATED:   07/05/2014 10:16:50 PM MDT
Daily Camera, Boulder, CO

Recently a friend told me that the Boulder city government is going to use “working groups” to provide input to its long term housing plan. “Working groups” are useful to design and implement programs. But for housing, working groups would be putting the cart before the horse. The first step, and it’s a big one, is to have a vision for the future of Boulder, one that addresses housing, but as a part of whole. And it needs to be a vision that has the support of the vast majority of Boulder citizens, not just of a few elected officials and city staffers.

The “working group” concept came from a 2009 meeting of some 40 Boulderites who were not satisfied with the progress being made in the use of Boulder’s carbon tax, passed in 2006. The most important recommendation from the meeting was to form groups to work on specific aspects of the energy efficiency programs. These groups were to be open to whoever wanted to participate. The point was to include citizens who had expertise but not much time, had different perspectives, or had little interest in going through some involved city selection process. The concept proved highly successful. Some of the program ideas that emerged, like the energy advisor and one-stop shopping, have become standard in many parts of the country.

The working group approach functioned well then because there was general agreement in the community about the overall direction for the energy efficiency programs. It also worked well more recently in evaluating the modeling for the municipal electric utility. Again, there was agreement about the job that needed to be done.

The situation with housing in Boulder is entirely different. There is little agreement beyond the obvious: Housing is getting more expensive; the city policy of encouraging employment growth is exacerbating this price inflation as well as traffic congestion; and trying to play catch-up by encouraging yet more housing has its own set of costs. So the working group notion is premature.

First, we need to have a serious discussion about our future, including job growth, zoning, transportation, water supply, etc., and keep at it until the community consensus is clear.

This brings me to the 1993 Integrated Planning Process (IPP). This was the only time I know of when the council actually went out to the citizens and really interrogated them/us about what they/we wanted (I was on the council then and intimately involved with this, thus the dual pronouns). Another friend recently found the IPP Goals/Actions Items memo that laid out the conclusions from the process. This memo is illuminating, both in the breadth of the issues it addresses and in the lack of “silos” — the IPP was about integrating all city departments’ goals and work plans, not about working separately on one or another as is the current trend.

Four or five council members met with city staff in open meetings for some months to design the public input process for the IPP. Citizens received detailed information about the city’s current situation and possible future development scenarios. Then they participated in surveys using “black boxes,” a pre-laptop/pre-tablet computer device, that allowed easy recording and analysis of the responses. (Remember, this was 20-plus years ago.) City staff took these devices to public meetings, to the Crossroad Mall, and to every neighborhood and group meeting where they could get people to stand still long enough to complete the survey.

The results were overwhelming in their agreement. As I remember, there was about 80 percent support for a future of very carefully managed growth, including “target maximums” for both population and employment. Further, and I quote the report, “The concept of ‘no net negative impact’ is proposed as a condition of growth up to the target maxima … new development will be expected to off-set its impacts on a community scale to the extent possible and reasonable, and remaining impacts will be addressed by city programs. At the same time, impacts could be felt disproportionately within particular neighborhoods or subcommunities and the cumulative effects of new development will also be off-set to a reasonable extent within a neighborhood or subcommuity; … Impacts to be measured include air pollution, water pollution, noise and traffic congestion.”

What happened after all this effort and involvement? Essentially nothing. So we need to go through this process again. But this time, the community should get what it wants.

Steve Pomerance is a former Boulder city council member.

… maintaining Boulder's quality of life