Editor’s Note: A version of this statement has been published as a Guest Opinion in the Daily Camera.
The Boulder Neighborhood Alliance (BNA) has been a consistent opponent of the co-op ordinance now being considered by the City Council. We believe that the ultra high density permitted by the legislation will be disruptive and damaging to the low and medium density neighborhoods that are at the heart of the Boulder community. Despite community concerns, it’s clear that Council intends to embark upon this program of social engineering that will do nothing to produce the affordable housing so desperately needed by working families of Boulder. However, if Council intends to go forward with the ordinance, BNA offers some suggestions for reasonable compromises that would soften its impact upon Boulder’s vulnerable neighborhoods, while still permitting the program to go forward.
This ordinance has been drafted as a win/lose proposition, in which the interests of co-op advocates have been accepted almost in entirety, and the interests of the communities likely to be most affected have been largely ignored. There is a better way. Some modest adjustments to the ordinance would let the co-op experiment proceed largely intact (and, yes, it is an experiment), yet still provide some comfort for those who will bear the brunt of the program. And, if co-ops of 12 unrelated young adults prove to be benign neighbors, despite evidence to the contrary, some of these adjustments can be later relaxed or modified to accommodate the results of actual experience.
First, BNA strongly supports maximum occupancy limits of 6 residents per co-op in low density neighborhoods, 8 residents in medium density areas and 12 residents in other zones. These limits are more consistent with the character of the neighborhoods in which they will be located. There is no factual basis for the claim that higher limits are necessary for the proper operation of co-ops, other than a desire for ever lower rent. We also urge that the same occupancy limits be applied uniformly to all co-ops, whether non profit, equity or rental. This is an occupancy limit; there’s no substantive basis for varying it depending on the financial structure of the co-op.
At the same time, we support an adjustment to occupancy limits based on lot size. The occupancy cap in each zone should be applicable to lots between 7,000 to 7,900 square feet. For smaller lots, the cap should be reduced by one person; for larger lots the cap should be increased by one person.
Second, BNA supports action to prevent the concentration of new co-ops in only a few neighborhoods. The current 500 foot separation requirement does nothing to prevent all, or nearly all, the co ops from landing in one neighborhood. We strongly urge Council to adopt some form of yearly per neighborhood limit, or per grid square limit, to promote equitable dispersal of co ops. Section 7.13 of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan dictates precisely this type of dispersal for affordable housing.
The proposed minimum of 2,000 square feet of habitable space to make a house eligible for co-op use is acceptable, provided that the five year hiatus on speculative expansions is maintained (note, this limit would only be on homes applying for co-op status). This will prevent small, more affordable starter homes from being expanded simply to make them “co-op eligible.” Few such homes are available to single families now; we shouldn’t shrink the supply further.
The currently drafted formula requiring 250 square feet per person in RR/RE/RL zones and 200 square feet per person in other zones is acceptable, provided there’s serious enforcement of these limits.
We urge Council to require each co-op to provide a parking plan limiting the number of vehicles to that which can be accommodated by off street parking, plus no more than two vehicles on the street. Each co-op should also be required to prepare a plan showing legal bedroom spaces sufficient to accommodate the proposed number of residents. We support an annual review process for co-ops, with opportunity for community input.
Addressing these concerns will go a long way toward mitigating neighborhoods’ concerns, and repairing the rupture in our civic discourse that this program has caused, without substantially impairing co-op advocates’ ability to form the intentional communities they desire. We urge Council to take a moderate approach toward the initiation of this program, and represent the voices of concerned citizens, not just co-op advocates.
Stacey Goldfarb is on the Steering Committee of the Boulder Neighborhood Alliance.