December 16, 2015

Dear Members of Council,

On behalf of Better Boulder, we would like to thank you for your service to the community, and we would like to share our perspective on issues related to housing, land use, and transportation, as you prepare for your deliberations at the 2016 council retreat.

Better Boulder supports sustainable urbanism in Boulder. We bring together members of the business community and environmental and social justice advocates to support changes to Boulder’s land use policies. We believe that more well-designed density, combined with a focus on sustainable transportation, can help Boulder meet many community goals – reducing carbon emissions, sustaining a dynamic economy, providing affordable housing, and providing a welcoming community for our young people and our seniors.

Over the last two years, as a portion of the community was very active in opposing infill and redevelopment, we have watched with some distress as a number of council initiatives that had real potential to make a positive difference in the community have been slowed or scaled back. The Housing Boulder process stalled out, council abandoned several “quick wins” on housing policy, adopted a height moratorium in most of the city, and came close to approving a complete building moratorium.

We now have far more information on what Boulder residents think about these issues – and it is very different than the impression many had over the last year. The elections this fall sent a strong message through the rejection of 300 and 301 by a large margin, the fact that no candidate who supported 300 or 301 was elected – and that all three new council members were explicitly supportive of more housing.

Added to this, we now have the results of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan community survey. Housing affordability is the top concern, with a multimodal transportation system that works for everyone – not just cars – coming in second. 82% of respondents think we should either add more housing than the 6,300 more units that current zoning allows (47%) or maintain the existing potential (39%) – only 12% think we should build less. Only 10% are opposed to mixed use development, only 25% believe that buildings should be limited to 35-40 feet in height all over the city, and only 15% believe that we should tighten our existing limits on residential growth rates.

Randomly chosen focus groups also showed support for gentle infill: “Many participants felt that housing diversity can be enhanced through some creative adjustments – e.g. increasing the occupancy limit (focusing on the problems that might be caused, not just the number of people), allowing (or easing the review process for) accessory dwelling units, splitting lots, coop housing, more density (duplexes and condos), mixed use, protecting mobile home parks, and potentially limiting house sizes, among others.”

We believe that there is a strong message to the council here that the city was on the right track with efforts like Housing Boulder and the East Arapahoe planning process. We encourage the council to re-engage on these important issues with the understanding that the majority of city residents support moving forward. Our recommendations on top priorities follow:

  1. At the top of the list is moving quickly on multiple strategies to address housing. These include looking for opportunities to address the jobs/housing balance by adding housing in commercial areas, looking for opportunities to address both middle class and permanently affordable housing, modifying rules that incentivize larger, more expensive units, and loosening code restrictions that have made it so difficult for people to share their houses, whether through cooperative housing or accessory dwelling units, cottages, and granny flats. We would encourage you to be willing to experiment in this area. Don’t insist on rules that try to prevent every conceivable problem – instead create some reasonable rules, monitor how they work, and make adjustments if necessary. Please don’t allow fear and over-regulation to prevent ordinary people from finding creative ways to afford to live in Boulder, while lowering their footprint on the planet. And we don’t need to reinvent the wheel – we can use the good work of the affordable housing taskforce and of Housing Boulder, and can learn from the many other peer cities that have tackled these issues with vigor.
  2. Make the most of our transit corridors. We believe that it was a mistake to stop looking at land use along the East Arapahoe corridor. Land use and transportation are intimately tied. Please broaden the focus of that study, and set a precedent of integrated planning.
  3. With the AMPS study coming to its end, we strongly support reform of Boulder’s parking regulations. As city consultants have found, we are forcing the private sector
    to build more parking than is used. Outdated minimum parking requirements drive up the cost of new housing, use up valuable land, and undermine our efforts to promote travel options.
  4. We think it is critical to expand the city’s approach to public process. As in most communities, those who are most financially well off tend to be the ones with the time to participate. There are many constituencies that tend to be less involved in city processes including younger people, Latinos, renters, and lower income residents. Too often, as well, City of Boulder outreach tends to secure insufficient input from commercial property owners, businesses and their employees. We believe that the city should engage in active outreach to assure that these voices are represented in important decisions that affect them. Further, this input should receive consideration throughout all phases of public outreach – not discarded at the conclusion of a long public process in the face of well-organized voices during the final phases of City Council hearings. This is particularly important after the last two years, as concerted opposition of a small minority thwarted support of the majority for addressing our housing and transportation challenges, in part, through thoughtful infill.

Once again, thank you for your service, and we look forward to working together to make Boulder an even better community.

Yours Sincerely,

Ken Hotard and Sue Prant, co-chairs of the Better Boulder Steering Committee