Posted: 04/13/2017

After reading recent letters to the editor after the Planning Board appointments, one would believe that Boulder’s demise is just around the corner. Boulder’s growth rate is an emotional topic for both long-term residents and would-like-to-be residents, so I’m not surprised to read these reactions. However, I urge the community to give the board and its new members a chance to see how they will balance decisions that come before them.

The Planning Board and City Council are both limited by several restrictions that will keep members in line, even if they were to turn out to be extreme growth proponents. Some of these measures include:

  1. The height limit. The 1971 charter amendment limits maximum height to 55 feet city-wide, which is further restricted to 35 feet in most places without a height exception. There was quite a bit of confusion that the extended height moratorium stood between us and unlimited height, but that is not true, it merely froze requests for buildings between 35 feet and 55 feet. When the height moratorium expires, the 55-foot limit will remain without any further regulations. There are zero initiatives to modify the charter amendment to allow taller than 55-foot buildings.
  2. The growth limit. Boulder has growth limits that restrict the number of new housing units that can be permitted each year. There are a few exceptions for completely affordable projects, but we’ve seen from the Attention Homes and Palo Parkway projects that these projects face considerable push-back and delays and are not guaranteed to be built. Between the years 2009 and 2016, Boulder added 2,868 homes (about 478 units per year city-wide). While the construction cranes make it feel like we’re building at a rapid rate, the numbers show that we built below the 1 percent growth rate for many years.
  3. Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. The BCVP’s limits on new development lag behind the current and future needs of Boulder’s residents, and reduces the number of developments that can be built without exception requests. Any exception requests should be considered for merit and in context, which a planning board that has a variety of viewpoints is better prepared to have meaningful discussions.
  4. Open space and the Blue Line. There are no reasons why either of these should be under consideration for change, and I’d be surprised if anyone on Planning Board or City Council wanted to change these.
  5. Condo defects law. Although not a Boulder restriction on growth, this law has discouraged condo development. Colorado is attempting to revise this law to find a balance between developer risk and homeowner protections, but the reality is that we have fewer for-sale condo developments being built than apartments because of the defects law. This is outside of Planning Board and City Council’s control.

We’ve been here before and have come through stronger. Many neighborhoods that would be considered desirable and integrated with Boulder today were once opposed and despised. For example, Martin Acres when it was built was considered “a blight on the earth” by Boulder natives and longtime residents in the 1950s. At the time of Martin Acres’ development, Boulder’s southern boundary was NIST, so this new development created sprawl that did not previously exist. It is likely that the developers, the Williams brothers, made a profit building these new housing types that were based on pre-designed plans and no longer the custom homes that were previously built. A new wastewater plant was added to accommodate Martin Acres’ homes (and was built in anticipation of Boulder having a population of 125,000 by 1985, a number we still have not reached).

Accounts of early Martin Acres residents described longtime residents being resentful of the newcomers and afraid of change. Times change, and our Martin Acres neighbors are welcome and productive citizens. Times will change again, and our new neighbors in Boulder Junction and the 30th Street corridor will also become incorporated into daily Boulder life, at which time we can all unite against any new or perceived threat to Boulder.