March 6, 2016
Dear Members of the Boulder City Council,
On behalf of the leadership of Better Boulder, we are writing to ask that Council not support the Planning Board recommendation to temporarily extend, nor the earlier staff recommendation to make permanent, the about-to-expire 35’ height limit ordinance. There is no logic to support the Planning Board and staff contention for continuing the 35’ height limit in Boulder, even notwithstanding the very limited areas that have been posited that greater height might be acceptable.
How did this recommendation come about? What is the logic that supports it? What public process brought them to this conclusion?
Likewise, by what methodology did Planning Board support its temporary extension, other than to find some form of consensus, when there really was none in the board’s deliberation?
By what form of planning or civic, or even political logic can anyone support limiting the height of a mixed-use building on 28th Street to the same height as a single-family residence on 4th Street, located against the mountain backdrop? This is particularly suspect when we consider that the single-family residence is allowed relief from the limitation because an owner can request a hardship exception related to extreme grade changes on their site, while the 28th Street property owner cannot.
An ordinance making such a limitation permanent is poor public policy and should not be supported by Council.
The original moratorium was put into place to allow the city two years to do an analysis of the appropriateness of buildings over 35’ in height – their locations and conditions whereby they may be supportable – and to hold a community discussion regarding the height of buildings in this community.
- What locational analysis been done? What form did the analysis take?
Staff has stated that exceptions can be made to allow for taller buildings in the identified and so-called transit rich areas are indefensible in the context of the areas isolated in the mapping. It is impossible to believe that the rationale for limiting the excluded areas to those shown has anything to do with those zones being ‘transit-rich’, in as much as the zone are so small that they provide connections to nothing – they are stand-alone pockets of small blocks of land. They make no sense from the perspective of transit and linkage. No bike paths are shown, no transit is identified, no corridors are being linked, no creeks are being accessed, no neighborhoods are being connected by enhanced pedestrian links to neighborhood centers or employment.
There is absolute no transit rationale for the specificity of those zones, with the exception of already-approved areas such Boulder Junction. Even the BVRC, which includes the area of the city that allows more density than any other part of town — including downtown — has more than 50% of its area excluded.
Staff says that any additional area can be carved out later as an exception should it be necessary. Why would staff create a more difficult process, one that is certain to create contention between property owners, as a path to achieve city goals?
- What analysis has been done to determine qualifications based on community benefit?
Whatever the analysis or rationale, it leaves out many considerations that, as a City Council, cannot be ignored. For instance…
The only exclusion identified by staff is to allow for added height in support of additional affordable housing because it creates additional community benefit. However the exclusion is woefully negligent of the largest need identified by Council in terms of housing and increasing affordability – not just for the low income resident, but for middle income workforce and would-be residents.
Lip service seems to be being paid to the desire to achieve the goals stated clearly by council to address the needs of this highly underserved segment of our community. Making further citywide and sweeping changes to the height limit is without question, counter to that intention. It is difficult to understand any rational – and none has been offered in the staff memo – to explain such an omission.
Likewise there is no recognition of a need to develop a more compact, and walkable urban form to our community – one which supports our existing residential neighborhoods with commerce, workplaces and play places that serve our residents and allows greater liveability along our transit corridors.
What form has the community discussion taken? Staff has pointed to the last community survey as proof of sufficient engagement to come to this conclusion. However, this does not take into consideration either the outcome of the vote on 300 or 301, nor the previous survey which led to no similar conclusion. Is this sufficient to conclude that the City Charter is wrong to limit heights of buildings in the city to 55’, not 35’? Building anything greater than 35’ already requires a public hearing and Planning Board and Council approval. This is already, an extensive public process.
What analysis has been done by staff or Planning Board that says that any of this can be better achieved by limiting height in the vast majority of our community to 35’ out of hand?
Some on Council and Planning Board have stated that Area Plans need to be done to determine the appropriateness of greater height. While there may indeed be benefit to embarking on such a process, is there any intention to do so on a citywide basis? To carve the city into actionable chunks where such plans can be made? Is there a period of time identified to accomplish this?
Or is this just another way of saying there should be a permanent kicking-of-the-can down an endless road, since no timeframe or process for accomplishing such an approach is being offered?
City Council should vote against any extension of the 35’ height limit ordinance, in any form. It is unwarranted and bad public policy. It should just end.
Better Boulder Steering Committee