Two unanimous Boulder City Council decisions within two months of each other illuminate a deep-seated ambivalence about city priorities.
The Nov. 7 election for the Boulder City Council will be one of the most important in the city’s history. There, I said it. Sound like hyperbole? Then consider this: The results will determine who will decide policy surrounding the extremely important planning issues of growth, housing and zoning/density — the NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard) or the YIMBYs (Yes in My Backyard).It’s going to be a very contentious race, based on candidates’ stands on these issues facing the city in the next few years.
Will new council members, YIMBYs, increase density and encourage the building of more housing to attract more people to move here and ease pressure on ever-climbing home costs? If we do increase density, will the housing supply ever keep pace with the demand in Boulder, which is becoming an even more desirable place to live because of its beauty and a rising high-tech presence?
Or will they, NIMBYs, leave density laws untouched? That would discourage, for example, the relaxing of the present regulation that limits the number of unrelated people that may live in one dwelling.
Boulder is the most expensive city in the region. With average single-family home prices near one million dollars, and many apartments renting for thousands of dollars a month, it is not affordable for most middle-, median- and low-income households. The City of Boulder has implemented a variety of affordable housing policies to address the issue, yet we continue to lose ground. Job growth continues to outpace residential growth causing upward pressure on housing prices, the local real estate market continues to skyrocket, and existing housing that is still relatively affordable is being redeveloped as high-end. If the current development trends continue, Boulder will be a place for mostly the very wealthy and a few lower income people in subsidized units.
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The implicit theory of growth behind Boulder’s current expansion is that it can become a fast-growing commercial center and retain its residential quality of life at the same time. That idea is proving to be a fantasy, along with many of the other visionary positions of our local government.Now the City Council has voted overwhelmingly to insert co-op housing in virtually any zoning district in the city and is pushing density through such bizarre ideas as “density transfer.” The inadvisability and destructive quality of this pro-density and anti-neighborhood position has been ably described in dozens of letters to the Daily Camera, as well as in editorials by Leonard May, Steve Pomerance, Spense Havlick and others.The indisputable fact is that the unaffordable housing problem is being driven by the push for commercial expansion. As one letter write wrote prior to the 2015 election, “You can’t build your way to affordable housing” — as has been demonstrated in San Francisco and Aspen. Boulder has fallen behind the wisdom of Palo Alto and other cities, which now understands this fallacy well. “Affordable” housing is really only more building, and not affordable at all. Indeed, much of the so-called affordable housing built in the city over the last two years opts out of the affordable housing requirement. Millions are being made, to a great extent by non-Boulder residents, by selling off beautiful downtown and neighborhood space.
There are viable options to consider other than the controversial development of CU South. Why not cap the enrollment of CU, so that additional housing, classrooms, and playing fields are not necessary?Since the doors to the University of Colorado opened in 1876 with 44 students, the University of Colorado has expanded and become a four-campus system including Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, and the University of Colorado Medical Campus. With a combined enrollment of over 62,000 students from these four campuses. CU Boulder supports over 31,861 students. In 2015, 6,208 freshman students were enrolled and more students are being admitted every year. It is time to cap the enrollment and consider what is best for the community of Boulder.
I recently scooped the Daily Camera when several pro-growth City Council members sat down with me to outline their thoughts surrounding density and subsidized housing programs.
First, I asked if they were aware that higher density has only driven up home prices, reduced quality of life, and has never, ever, solved affordability. “But it’s sustainable” was the response. I then asked: “Is there any data that shows sustainability will actually increase for the specific case of Boulder?” “Not really, but Will Toor said it would” was the reply.
Chloe Pachovas’ May 11 letter suggested that ultra high occupancy co-ops are necessary for there to be artists and innovators in Boulder. Actually, Boulder’s low-density neighborhoods are filled with artists and innovators who abide by the zoning regulations. If Pachovas attended an “Open Studios” tour, she might be surprised at the number of participating artists in low-density neighborhoods.