The Boulder City Council is in the process of crafting a new “Cooperative Housing” (or “Co-op”) ordinance. The essence of this proposed ordinance is to grant a special exemption from Boulder’s current occupancy limits (no more than 3 or 4 unrelated persons per dwelling unit), to any group of people who can claim to “live cooperatively,” thus constituting a “co-op”. The proposal currently before the council would provide for both equity and “rental co-ops” with a density as high as one person per 150 square feet of living space, and would be allowed in every zoning category, including Low- and Medium-Density Residential neighborhoods.
The members of the Boulder Neighborhood Alliance (BNA) take issue with many of these proposed provisions. BNA’s positions on the co-op ordinance follow. For more information about the proposed ordinance, see The Cooperative Housing Proposal Information Page. If you agree with what you read here, then Sign our petition on Co-ops, and Take Action on Co-ops.
All references to the “proposed Co-op Ordinance” refer to the following sources:
- May 17th Draft of the Ordinance (Attachment B)
- June 21st Proposed Amendments (Attachments D-I)
- Minutes of the June 21st Council Meeting
- October 4th Draft of the Ordinance (when available, September 29th)
- Before allowing this co-op ordinance to move forward, the City must budget for and hire sufficient occupancy enforcement staff, and specify requirements for enforcement.
- Co-ops of any type should be allowed only in existing high-density, mixed-use, and converted commercial/industrial/office zones. Co-ops, which are by nature high density, should not be permitted in low-density or medium-density residential zones.
- Co-ops as defined by the currently proposed ordinance provide very little benefit to the community in terms of affordable housing or workforce housing. The city should instead look to other solutions such as a co-housing model based on equity ownership.
- Co-ops based on any form of rental model are not acceptable. There is no verifiable or meaningful way to distinguish a “rental co-op” from any other high-occupancy rental or boarding house.
- We do support the idea of an “Equity Co-op”, in which the members of the co-op would have a long-term stake in the property and the surrounding neighborhood. An “Equity Co-op” should be defined as a property in which 100% of the adult/non-dependent residents own a meaningful share of the property, and 100% of the owners have the property as their primary residence.
Enforcement and Revocation
Before allowing this co-op ordinance to take effect, the City must allocate sufficient budget and have hired staff and developed a code to enforce compliance with the regulations.
- Regular inspections for occupancy and other compliance should be conducted at least twice per year.
- Co-op licensing fees should be set at a level sufficient to fund the City’s enforcement effort.
- The burden of enforcement of regulations should not fall on the shoulders of the neighbors. The city should actively enforce regulations related to co-ops and occupancy without relying solely on complaints from neighbors.
- There should be a clear procedure for neighbors to report issues with co-ops to the city, without the inter-mediation of some quasi-governmental third-party organization. The city should be obliged to conduct an investigation and respond to the complaints within a reasonable time (say, one week).
- Data on the number and types of complaints against a co-op, along with resolutions must be made public and readily available.
Definition of a “Legitimate Cooperative Housing Organization”
- Regulation must be based on objective factors, such as ownership structure, inspections, number of occupants, legal relationships, and length of tenancy. Definitions based on subjective and unverifiable criteria, such lifestyle choices, mission and values, sharing of resources and household duties, democratic decision-making structure, regular meetings, etc. are irrelevant and unenforceable, and should not be included in an ordinance.
Certification and Licensing
Certification must be done by the City, not by a non-governmental third-party or quasi-governmental agency. Multiple layers of certification and management agencies would only serve to obfuscate the process.
- Licensing for an equity co-op must be tied to the property ownership, since it is the ownership arrangements that define the co-op.
- The City is providing a special opportunity and privilege to a limited set of people; therefore co-ops should pay yearly licensing fees sufficient to contribute to the cost of enforcement.
Occupancy Limits and Density
Occupancy limits for a property must be included in the co-op license. Requests for changes to the occupancy limit for a property must be submitted to the city for approval.
The maximum number of occupants should be limited to a specific number of persons based on the zoning district. In high-density, mixed-use, or other zones designed specifically for co-ops and other high-density purposes, occupancy should be based on existing codes related to health and safety.
Separation/Concentration, Neighborhood Limits
In high-density, mixed-use, or other zones designed specifically for co-ops and other high-density purposes, concentration and separation of co-ops would not be an issue. It could be beneficial to have a mix of co-ops and other high-density residential units in proximity to each other.
Limits on Licenses per year and upper maximum
- No more than five co-ops of any type, per year.
- Expired, revoked, or unused licenses do not go back in “the pool” of licenses for the year.
- An upper bound on the total number of co-op licenses should be set at 20 for the entire city.
Neighborhood Notification and Input
Neighborhoods must be notified in advance of an application and have an opportunity for meaningful input, consistent with conditional use requirements. There is no rational way to determine neighborhood compatibility without consulting with the neighborhood. Neighborhood input on proposed land-use exceptions for co-ops is not “profiling”, it’s the normal process of the city to decide on any change in a residence.
Property owners and residents within 300 feet of the co-op’s property boundary should have an opportunity to comment. This process should be repeated before co-op license renewal.
Any form of neighborhood notification must include (1) the number of proposed occupants, (2) the name and contact information of the property owner(s), (3) contact information for the responsible residents, (4) any other information that will inform the neighbors of the potential benefits or impacts, and (5) explanation of applicable rules and regulations, and contact information for appropriate city departments for enforcement thereof.
- There should be a simple limit on the number of vehicles per co-op that can be parked on-street and also off-street. Off street parking should be required per neighborhood rules. On-street parking should be limited based on the width of the lot adjacent to the street.
- Vehicles should be defined to include not just cars but also: motorcycles, trailers, buses, campers, boats, etc.
- Bicycles should be stored in an orderly fashion and not be allowed to be chained up to trees, light poles, street signs, etc., or to stairways or entrances where they would be in violation of fire and safety codes.
Property Right for Equity Co-ops
The use of a property as a co-op must remain revocable and non-transferable, and should not become an allowed by-right use of the property.
- Individual owners in an equity co-op should have the right to sell their “share” in the co-op. But if all members of the co-op sell the entire property to a new owner, the right to operate the property as a co-op should not be transferred to the new owner.
Restrictions on Short-Term Rentals and Subletting
Co-ops of any type should be prohibited from offering short-term rentals or subletting individual rooms, units, or shares of the property.