Co-op Ordinance – Limit the Damage

John Dugene pointed out last week that the fix was already in on linkage fees long before the City Council “debated” the issue.  Now it is increasingly looking like the fix is also already in on the so-called “Cooperative Housing Ordinance”.  At their October 11th meeting, after dismissing or ignoring most concerns from neighborhood residents and granting the co-op activists more than they had originally asked for, the Council made it clear that they were not really interested in hearing more input from the community.  Now they are sending clear signals that the Co-op Ordinance will be approved on December 6th with little debate.  The only questions remaining are how much more the Council will give in to the co-op activists’ demands, and how much more damage they will inflict on the residential neighborhoods of Boulder.

But perhaps I have become too cynical after observing our City Government for just a few months.  Perhaps there is still a possibility for the Council to restore a tiny bit of balance to this ill-considered legislation.   I realize that it is probably too late to stop the Council from legalizing over-occupied “Rental Co-op” boarding houses in residential neighborhoods (that was decided at least a year ago).  But they could still take a few simple steps to reduce the extent of the damage.

1) Limit the number of new co-ops each year to no more than one or two per neighborhood.  It’s well-known that most of the demand for co-ops is from long-term graduate students at CU and Naropa, and that certain neighborhoods surrounding the campus, which are already under enormous pressure from student rentals, will bear most of the burden.  By imposing a yearly per-neighborhood limit, the fourteen new co-ops created every year will be spread out more evenly and more fairly across the city, and provide some small relief to the campus-area neighborhoods.

The good old days - coming soon to Boulder!
The good old days – coming soon to Boulder!

2) Increase the minimum unit size for a co-op to something greater than 2,000 square feet, and/or reduce the maximum number of residents to something less than 12-15 adults.  Twelve people in a 2,000 square foot house with 4 bedrooms is already pretty close to Dickensian squalor.  And the number of residents is only the starting point – we must also allow for the frequent “guests” and couch-surfers, and multiple pets that every co-op will undoubtedly host.   A more reasonable number of residents would be 6 to 8 adults in a 2,000 square foot unit, or 12 to 15 in a 3,000 square foot unit.

3) Increase the separation distance between co-ops to something greater than 500 feet.  At the October 11th City Council meeting, the City Staff presented huge maps that significantly under-represented the density of co-ops that would be allowed with a 500-foot “separation buffer”.  In most neighborhoods, a 500 foot separation will allow for a co-op on every block.  A more meaningful separation distance would be closer to 1,000 feet.

4) Require a re-assessment of the co-op program after 2 years.  This re-assessment should include hard data, such as how many co-ops have been created in each neighborhood, how stable or transient the co-op population has been, the level of affordability, the diversity of co-op residents, etc.  But most importantly, it should include feedback from neighbors of the licensed co-ops as to the effects on their quality of life and enjoyment of their homes and neighborhoods.   The re-assessment should be structured so that the City Council must vote affirmatively to continue issuing co-op licenses.

5) Require all new residential development projects in Boulder to include some units designed specifically for co-op living, with shared living spaces and sufficient bedrooms, storage, and parking to accommodate 12-15 adults or more.  Designing co-op living into new projects such as the former hospital site and the Pollard site would provide ideal opportunities for those who actually prefer high-density co-op style living and relieve some of the pressure on neighborhoods whose residents would prefer to live in lower density surroundings.

None of these suggestions would put much of a dent in the goals of Boulder’s co-op community, but they would help our neighborhoods to a considerable extent.  Of course, City Council is unlikely to take any advice from me.  I urge everyone who reads this to send an email right now to council@bouldercolorado.gov (before December 6th) and let them know what you think.  Take Action on Co-ops Now!

Steven Meier, Boulder

Editor’s note: A version of this post has been submitted to the Daily Camera as a Guest Opinion.