I respect Mark Wallach as a hard-working councilmember whom I voted for although we disagree on some key issues. Yet his Guest Commentary “More pro-development myths: Cities do not magically grow their way toward affordability” (Feb. 27) was a big disappointment.
As our elected official, Wallach should be seeking solutions to issues large and small. Instead, he demonizes “opponents” with the smear of “pro-development” while failing to provide alternatives. He does mention developing the Planning Reserve and Airport as for-sale, middle-income housing. Much needed, but both outcomes are far into the future, while both sites are far from transit and services.
Wallach suggests that encouraging housing development will only result in “ultra-luxury” housing, while neglecting to mention that projects-in-progress like Diagonal Plaza, Boulder Junction and (certainly we hope) Alpine Balsam contain substantial affordable housing for people who work in Boulder.
He states that Boulder is already denser than Houston, et al, and asks “how dense does Ms. [Jan] Burton want Boulder to be?” (Re: “Boulder is moving away from its anti-growth past toward social equity” Feb. 22)
One answer is: “dense enough to support transit use and walkable neighborhoods with local services.” Which is the opposite of Houston and not possible in most of Boulder’s neighborhoods.
Creating more density does not have to mean handing plots over to developers to destroy neighborhood character. For example, we can achieve gains by tweaking zoning to allow duplexes, triplexes and ADUs on otherwise single-family lots. This puts power in the hands of homeowners while adding to the diversity of rental and for-sale housing.
(I am always puzzled when self-styled defenders of neighborhood character remain silent about the onslaught of 5,000-square-foot monster homes in older neighborhoods. Would you rather see one looming house for three people or three homes for three families?)
Regarding land use, we can do better. In 1940 Boulder had but 11,000 or so residents. Now we have 100,000-plus. Much of the city was developed after World War II. And that means low-density, auto-oriented sprawl that destroys the very biodiversity that Wallach and his PLAN-Boulder County colleagues purport to safeguard.
Initiatives such as the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan are a good start to transform acres of habitat-smothering parking lots into housing (much needed in this jobs-rich area) in a walkable setting with access to transit.
“Boulder Bubble” is a popular phrase. Fact is, Boulder does not exist in a bubble. Jobs and homes we could reasonably accommodate will go elsewhere, which means more sprawl. We cannot influence climate change by looking inward and pretending this is not happening.
Since 2001, low-density sprawl in Colorado has consumed natural and open lands far exceeding the footprint of Rocky Mountain Park. This doesn’t suggest a sustainable future at any scale, from town to globe.
Wallach presents a false choice between high-rise luxury condos and putting the brakes on growth. He misses a wide middle-path that can engage homeowners, employers, nonprofit homebuilders, government, and yes, the private sector in a direction for a somewhat larger but more sustainable city.
I don’t support unfettered growth but I moved here myself and cannot stop others from coming to live and work, or for procreating, for that matter. When we erect barriers to housing more of our growing population, we set ourselves up for a housing mix limited to trophy homes and student rentals. That outcome excludes Boulder’s service, essential and white-collar workers and even our own kids.
For more I commend Conor Dougherty’s book “Golden Gates: The Housing Crisis and a Reckoning for the American Dream.”
“There is no easy remedy,” Dougherty concludes, “… for solving problems that cut to the very nature of being human. And yet … a lot of things get worked out, messily and imperfectly, once we accept that the hardest problems are everyone’s to solve, and actually decide to try.”
Michael Leccese retired in January 2022 as Executive Director of Urban Land Institute Colorado — a Real Estate Development advocacy group. He moved to Boulder in 1993. He is chair of the Housing Advisory Board, but the opinions expressed here are his own.