January 5, 2022

Dear Mayor Brockett and Members of Boulder City Council:

In advance of your retreat and priority setting, Better Boulder offers the following recommendations regarding code changes and process improvements:

  1. Expedite processing of permits, tech docs, and land use review applications (site review, use review, concept review) with a priority focus on affordable and workforce housing projects. The Planning and Development Services Department should be fully staffed to meet reasonable review and permitting timelines for all residential and commercial development projects. In the near term, Council should consider priority processing for housing developments that are attainable for Boulder’s workforce. Priority for processing can be accomplished with no cost to community to implement, aligns our actions and policies with our stated priorities and would reduce interest and holding costs during review times. This would help keep projects more affordable and reduce reliance on subsidies from city, state, and federal resources. We recommend a measurable and objective service standard such as 30 days maximum to review time or 60 days to a scheduled hearing date, with failure to do so resulting in automatic approval. In addition, for affordable housing, we would recommend waiving any of the city discretionary fees, such as what has been done for years at the City of Longmont.
  2. Remove the “units per acre” and “min required open space per unit” intensity calculations from BR, BT, BC, RH, and RMX zones and rely on FAR, or form and bulk, or development standards to craft project outcomes.‘Units per acre maximum’ and ‘min open space per unit’ has the unintended consequence of encouraging the development of larger (and therefore more expensive) units and has historically been an impediment to market-rate affordable and genuine permanently affordable development. Open space per unit requirements are code relics of a time when cities didn’t have adequate parks, recreation, and other civic infrastructure and residents needed these outdoor amenities on-site for access to healthy light and air. Boulder is extremely well-served in the neighborhood and city-wide context for open space and parks.
  3. Amend the parking code Citywide to require a minimum of only one (1) parking space per dwelling unit and enhance staff-level discretion for reductions.Providing parking is a major cost impediment to almost every residential project, whether market rate or affordable. Our current minimum parking calculations encourage car usage and storage. Underground parking burdens projects with astronomical costs (currently $70,000 per stall, increasing each year), as well as increased construction timelines and holding costs. Surface parking displaces other valuable uses, such as the dwelling units themselves or other on-site amenities, and increases impermeable surface which results in higher stormwater detention costs and burden to the municipal storm sewer system. Currently, City staff is allowed to approve parking reductions up to 25% without a planning board call-up. Better Boulder recommends increasing this to a 50% reduction (even after amending the parking code to 1 space per DU) at the staff level and the criteria should be more clear and easier to achieve. Finally, many communities are embracing the parking principle of SUMP, an acronym for having all parking at new developments be “Shared, Unbundled, Managed, and Paid”. When done correctly, SUMP allows residents and the market to determine their parking requirements. This worked well at Boulder Junction and we need to implement this citywide.
  4. End barriers and process hurdles for housing development. In two areas, our community is losing the opportunity for additional housing development opportunities due to barriers Council can take swift action to eliminate. First, they can repeal the Community Benefit program to encourage developers to build a fourth story on a project. There IS no greater community benefit than housing.

    City Council can also fast-track work on Transit Village Phase II, implementing the required code changes to encourage building affordable and workforce housing. Community engagement and the planning process for this zone has long been complete; let’s encourage development when we most need it.

We understand City staff, especially in the Planning and Development Services Department, is stretched to the limit. However, we have a desperate need to make progress in housing. That is why, in general, Better Boulder recommends creative approaches to removing some of the unnecessary processes bogging down City staff and our residents. Please solicit and accept the top three ideas from City staff about how they can save time and effort.

As to all of the above recommendations, Better Boulder proposes a series of exchanges (perhaps Study Sessions) between City staff, Planning Board representatives, and some key developers, architects, and planners from the community to further fine-tune our ideas for the quickest and best execution.

Finally, we recommend that Council impress upon staff that these ideas be implemented quickly, without a huge amount of process by City staff, as these are programs that can be tweaked at a later date. Let’s not let perfection be the enemy of the good when staff is overworked and the community is in such desperate need for housing.

Thank you for your consideration of this input and for your service,
Better Boulder