Category Archives: Opinions

Protecting our neighborhoods - Jan Trussell

Jan Trussell: Protecting our neighborhoods

Boulder does not have a good record for protecting neighborhoods. Our city staff and elected officials have not served us well in this regard. This has led to many battles that we should have never had to fight.

Some years ago, neighbors near the former Washington School had to do the impossible — gather petitions with signatures of 10 percent of all registered Boulder voters to try to stop the project on that site, which was so inappropriate that the council had to in effect “spot zone” the land, arguably illegally, to let it proceed.

Before that, there was the furor over building high-rise apartments along South Lashley Lane, on the east side of south Broadway. This went forward with the support of the council and staff until a huge protest was staged in the NIST auditorium.

More recently, there was a battle over the potential annexation of the Hogan Pancost property near East Boulder Community Center. City staff supported this foolish project in a flood-prone area with high ground water. The neighbors’ efforts to explain the problems fell on deaf ears until the planning board unanimously turned the project down. Council could have shut this down at any time by designating the land as not annex-able under the Boulder Comprehensive Plan, but so far the land remains in limbo.

The Baseline Zero project, a massive office park and hotel, was proposed in Martin Acres on land zoned for neighborhood-benefiting retail and services. It would have buried the neighborhood in traffic, parking, height, and potential flood impact (being fully located in the neighborhood’s 100-year floodplain). That neighborhood had to fight this tooth and nail to even get it put on hold and it’s likely to be back when the city lifts its temporary height cap. City staff should have never let this project start forward and council should have stopped it.

The final straw was the city’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy, now called “Housing Boulder,” whose staff-generated goals were approved by council. These goals called for wholesale densification of essentially all neighborhoods in Boulder. There was never any scientific polling of all citizens to see if that’s what they want. There was never any consideration of what this might mean for property values, or for the quality of life and what’s really galling, there was never any real analysis as to whether the identified outcomes would achieve much of lasting value. Finally, according to some citizens who are involved in this project, the process is so flawed, it’s a waste of time.

So now citizens are fighting back. There is an initiative, “Neighbors’ Right to Vote,” that, assuming enough people sign the petitions, will be on the ballot this fall. This would empower a neighborhood that is subject to up-zoning, or changes in city land use regulations that would increase the density or intensity of development, to refer those measures to the voters in the neighborhood by gathering signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in the neighborhood. (This is not easy, but it’s easier than what the Washington School folks went through; they had to gather signatures from 10 percent of all Boulder voters.) If the majority of a neighborhood votes “No,” then these changes in regulations would not apply to that specific neighborhood.

Contrary to a letter to the editor published April 29, this initiative does not give the neighbors power to turn down a project that is legal under the current zoning. And it certainly doesn’t give 10 percent of the voters the power to do anything but put the up-zoning or regulation change to a vote of all the neighborhood residents.

What is quite insulting is that some current and former council members are now saying that the same Boulder neighborhood people whose votes they courted last election are selfish and mean-spirited. I suggest people look at a map, so they can see that almost all Boulder neighborhoods are diverse.

And perhaps more to the point, if city council and staff made the effort to reach out and talk to the real neighborhoods rather than doing Internet surveys that automatically favor one demographic, they might learn that Boulderites are quite happy to absorb some change. They just don’t want to have it jammed down their throats by some planner who has just moved here, or by city council members that are more interested in nice-sounding generalities rather than the on-the-ground realities.

Jan Trussell lives in Boulder.


Editor’s Note:  This 1600 word history of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan is part of an unpublished history of PLAN-Boulder County written by then Board member Eric Karnes in 2009.

The Danish Plan and the open space program were only two parts of a more comprehensive attempt to control and manage development in Boulder. These efforts built on a tradition that was slowly evolving toward better planning.

In 1956 the City of Boulder prepared a Guide for Growth, culminating three years of public involvement and staff work. The guide was developed by an ad hoc body known as the Boulder Regional Planning Board, made up of representatives from the City Planning Board, the Boulder County Planning Commission and a school advisory committee. Several future members of PLAN-Boulder County were intimately involved in the guide process.

After a series of public meetings the Guide for Growth was adopted by both the City of Boulder and Boulder County in 1958. For the first time a planning document was adopted that required development approvals, if often cursory, by local governing bodies. In 1962 with PLAN-Boulder’s support, the Boulder County Commissioners approved a study of suburban zoning outside the county’s municipalities.

As mentioned previously, building upon the Guide for Growth local governments (mainly the City of Boulder) began to consider means of planning for the longer term. In July of 1965 voters rejected a concept known as “spokes of the wheel” which meant to direct growth by use of utility extensions.

In 1967 the first move towards a more unified planning process was made through the consideration of a Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. The first comprehensive plan, only one page initially, was adopted by City and County governments in 1970 after a long series of public meetings. The Comprehensive Plan included a number of topics that would become familiar issues in the future, including affordable housing, increasing residential densities and studying alternatives to cars.

One of the earliest threats to growth management in Boulder County occurred in 1971 when the Denver Water Board sought to extend water lines into southeastern Boulder County. This effort was designed to encourage development in the Broomfield area. PLAN-Boulder County and a number of community organizations, including People United to Reclaim the Environment (PURE) worked to stop the extension.

With the adoption of the original comprehensive plan public interest in limiting growth and not just managing it began to come to the fore. A failed effort in 1971 by Zero Population Growth to limit the city’s ultimate size to 100,000 was rejected by voters but the level of support (about 40%), and the defeat of four of five incumbent City Council members, encouraged local governmental leaders to scale back the population projections to a growth rate “substantially below that experienced in the 1960s.” PLAN-Boulder County was one of the community organizations supporting measures to slow the rate of population growth, although it did not support the ZPG initiative.

During the balance of the 1970s growth remained a frequent topic of debate. Several studies about growth were conducted, including a Boulder Area Growth Study which was completed in 1973. Action by the Colorado State Legislature also tightened some planning requirements and encouraged better cooperation between county and municipal governments.

In 1975 Boulder County commissioners created a County Comprehensive Plan Review Team. After some dissention between City and County officials the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, originally adopted by both governments in 1970, was brought up for renewal and reconsideration in 1975. The plan was readopted by both bodies in 1978 after strong involvement by representatives of PLAN-Boulder County and included, for the first time, classifications of areas under three categories. Under the new concept, Area I was land within the City of Boulder, Area II land adjacent and suitable for future annexation and Area III land not intended for annexation for at least fifteen years. In 1990 the Comprehensive Plan update designated most of Area III as a Rural Preservation Area that would not be developed in an urban character.

Even with the adoption of the comprehensive plan there would be periodic attempts to chip away at its growth management requirements. In 1983 Boulder County Commissioners approved a policy, initially known as the Large Scale Industrial Concept, and later renamed the “performance industrial concept” to allow industrial development outside Boulder’s urban boundary. Although approved no major projects occurred, including the ill-fated attempt by NDI, Inc. to build a facility near Sixmile Reservoir.

In fact, with a change in the composition of the Boulder County Commission, attention to planning became more of a regional interest. Just two years after the “performance industrial concept” debate the County initiated a plan to bring zoning in the unincorporated areas into compliance with the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan.

About 38,000 acres of land was ultimately downzoned, with strong support from PLAN-Boulder County and an endorsement by the Boulder City Council. The downzoning was not without controversy, with opposition from real estate interests, some property owners and conservative political groups. A rally in Niwot in support of the plan was even disrupted by organized “property rights” activists. After the County Commission implemented the changes a recall effort was initiated against two of the commissioners but it was unable to generate enough signatures on the required petition to even make it to the ballot.

During the 2000 update process for the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan a statement from PLAN-Boulder County stressed several major topics for consideration:

  • Incorporation of affordable housing goals.
  • Allowing higher residential densities in appropriate areas to help justify transit.
  • Requiring affordable housing in mixed-use redevelopment of existing commercial centers.
  • Building more student housing on the University of Colorado campus, thus lessening effects in adjacent neighborhoods.
  • Considering the rezoning of some commercial and industrial areas for housing, especially affordable types.
  • Maintaining the integrity of the Area III Planning Reserve.

Due to Boulder’s relatively low population growth rate PLAN-Boulder County began to address the growth in commercial and industrial development. In 2001 PLAN-Boulder County became involved with a study of the proper balance of jobs and housing in the city. Ultimately known as the “jobs/pop” study the issue divided environmental and neighborhood activists from developers and business representatives who wanted no limits on employment growth.

The “jobs/pop” study was conducted under a task force appointed by the City Manager, on which PLAN-Boulder County was represented. Between 2001 and 2003 PLAN-Boulder offered recommendations on how to address the imbalance, which resulted in excess commuting into and out of Boulder by non-resident employees. In particular, PLAN-Boulder County suggested:

  • The desired levels of future jobs and population should be determined by the impacts on City services and amenities.
  • Priority should be given to creating housing that would be affordable for those who would be filling the new jobs in Boulder.
  • Small-scale existing retail and service industrial uses should be maintained.
  • Concurrency standards should be established, requiring new development to provide adequate public infrastructure.
  • The City should study what the current and projected water needs and carrying capacity are for the Boulder Valley.
  • Impacts should be closely monitored over a period of time.

One of the major issues was the identification of the amount of space that could be constructed in the existing commercial and industrial districts and where in the city more worker housing could be developed. Ultimately PLAN-Boulder County put its greatest emphasis on requiring that the number of expected jobs be reduced in the planning process and that development be based on concurrency, or requiring development to not exceed the carrying capacity of City services, such as utilities and streets.

PLAN-Boulder County’s input was generally ignored by City Council, which approved a policy on February 18, 2003 that PLAN-Boulder County called vague and disappointing. In particular, PLAN-Boulder County found that the policy contained no mitigation of transportation impacts nor any impact fees or concurrency requirements.

Planning for the 2005 update of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan started in 2004, and would become even more controversial than that for the 2000 update. PLAN-Bolder County was once again involved in the discussions and made several recommendations for the update, including:

  • Require that population projects be updated.
  • Determine the actual carrying capacity of the Boulder Valley, especially water supply.
  • Reserve the Area III Planning Reserve beyond the 15 year horizon.
  • Retain the “four body review” requirement that requires approval of the Comprehensive Plan by the Boulder City Council, Boulder Planning Board, Boulder County Commission and Boulder County Planning Commission.
  • Create a design review capacity, including the addition of an architect to the staff of the City’s Planning and Development Services Department.
  • Reconsider addressing the imbalance in jobs and population.
  • Give attention to how infill development affects existing neighborhoods.
  • Design multi-modal corridors (streets, transit, sidewalks and bicycle lanes or paths).
  • Maintain the City’s historic preservation regulations

The 2005 update was finally approved without many of PLAN-Boulder County’s suggestions, reflecting the political views of a City Council majority more oriented to business and development. That majority was replaced by a new Council majority in 2007 that was more cognizant of Boulder’s environmental and planning traditions.

The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan is still in effect and is mandated for updates every five years. Both the City of Boulder and Boulder County have also been involved in numerous other planning activities, all supported by PLAN-Boulder County. In 2007, for example, both jurisdictions began to investigate ways to require building and development standards that took environmental consequences into the equation. PLAN-Boulder County supported the Boulder County Commission’s transfer of development rights concept and the Boulder City Council’s adoption of “Green Points” building codes.

In 2008 several new issues regarding development emerged. The increasing prevalence of “pops and scrapes”, or large residential additions and “McMansions” replacing smaller houses, created debate in Boulder about the affects on neighborhood character and design. PLAN-Boulder County requested City Council to initiate a study of how such development could be controlled to better address impacts on adjacent property owners and neighborhoods in general.

Housing Workshops - What about the 7,000 New Jobs, etc.?

Housing Workshops - What about the 7,000 New Jobs, etc.?

The Boulder Planning Department recently released the following data: For 10 years (2000-2010) the number of jobs in Boulder stayed level and actually dropped by 2,000 jobs in 2009. However, in just 4 years (2010-2014) Boulder has added 7,000 new jobs. In two years there will be at least 3,000-4,000 more jobs due to Google, S*Parks, etc. - and we wonder why we have traffic, housing, and infrastructure problems?

The Planning Department also announced their housing workshops for citizens to “share what they love about their neighborhood and collaborate with small groups”. Last week I went to the East Boulder workshop and couldn’t wait to discuss my ideas about slowing down job growth in Boulder and other ideas for the housing issues.

However, that did not happen. Instead of facilitating a collaborative dialogue among neighbors the Planning Department handed out a list of 12 pre-determined options for making housing more affordable and asked me to choose my top three from those options. I didn’t like any of the options.

For instance (I kid you not) the 12 predetermined options included: 1) Repeal the 55 foot height limit in Boulder, 2) Make zoning changes in neighborhoods to allow more density in quiet residential areas, 3) Increase the occupancy limits which would result in increased noise and traffic in residential areas and give landlords more opportunity to make money. Furthermore, there was no data to indicate that any of the 12 proposals would even be effective.

The following sensible options were not even considered: 1) Limit commercial growth and new jobs to limit the need for new affordable housing, 2) Increase the minimum wage to help people pay for housing in Boulder, 3) Generate more revenue from development/impact fees and taxes on short term rentals like Airbnb (if they are approved), and 4) Use the revenues to purchase and remodel existing buildings as they are put up for sale (i.e. apartments and condos).

The second half of the housing meeting was even worse. We used clickers to vote on numerous questions related to the 12 options (but no other ideas). As the results appeared on screen pictures were taken of the results – as if this totally unscientific polling would be important for future policy making.

Even more importantly there were only about 35 “citizens” at this meeting; and, as I found out, about 10-15 of the attendees didn’t even live in the East part of the city of Boulder. Some were from other cities and there was a group of about 8 unrelated people who currently live together (in violation of Boulder’s occupancy limits) in another area of Boulder. They said they were going to all the housing meetings to make sure their votes would carry a lot of weight.

Now more than ever I am concerned about the direction our city and planning department is headed. I am joining others and signing the citizens’ initiatives for “Neighborhood’s Right to Vote” and “Development Shall Pay Its Way”. These initiatives were developed by former City Council members and former City attorneys who are concerned about Boulder’s future. You can find out more about these initiatives at LivableBoulder.org. 4,500 signatures are needed by July 1st. I hope you will sign too!

-Sally Schneider, BA Economics, MA education, JD law A Boulder resident


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.

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

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: [email protected] and [email protected]. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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