Dave Krieger’s Jan. 8 editorial inaccurately rendered the Boulder Neighborhood Alliance’s concern about City Council’s recently passed co-op ordinance as belief that neighborhoods have a right to stasis. That’s never been BNA’s position or belief. Nor did we hear this from hundreds of Boulder residents opposed to the co-op ordinance.
BNA’s issue with council’s new co-op ordinance is that it’s bad legislation, and a lack of real public process.
Change is one thing. We agree with Krieger that change is inevitable. But change is best done at a reasonable pace people can handle. Unfortunately, for the unsuspecting low-density neighborhood resident who wakes up one day to a co-op next door, with quadruple the previous number of allowed occupants, the co-op ordinance’s change won’t be measured, reasonable, or fair.
Many homeowners purchased in low-density. single-family neighborhoods because they’d lived next to high density before, and didn’t like it. High density shouldn’t be force-fed onto residents who don’t want it. What about freedom of choice for everyone, including people who don’t want to live next to 12-15 unrelated people? Evidently, only co-opers have the right to choice. The co-op ordinance creates a Russian Roulette situation whereby thousands of single-family-neighborhood homeowners can rely only on luck, to not end up next to 12-15 unrelated people (in neighborhoods where houses, on-street parking availability, plumbing, sewer lines, etc. were all designed for far fewer).
It’s wildly specious to say co-ops of 12 to 15 unrelated people are somehow unfairly treated by previous zoning rules, because zoning allows families of 12-15 to live in such houses. Reality: average family size in Boulder is 2.79 people. Co-op proponents and council would have you believe that 12-to-15-person families commonly exist throughout Boulder, and therefore, co-opers are discriminated against. Basing policy on falsehoods is irresponsible.
Further, council and co-opers used only macro analysis to describe co-op impact: “Ten to 14 co-ops a year, out of all the single-family homes, is a small number.” But that was never the point. BNA repeatedly pointed out that it won’t be small for the homeowner waking up to find their next door dwelling’s density has quadrupled or quintupled. Council’s lack of concern for this ordinance’s highly localized impacts was a major failure. We can only assume council is willingly throwing under the bus the unwilling individual homeowners surprised by co-ops next door.
Among the many problems with this ordinance is that it’s extraordinarily unlikely that any council members will get a co-op next door to them. A primary goal of co-ops is cheap rent. Thus, our prediction is that Boulder’s most expensive neighborhoods (such as most council members’) will remain that way. While, despite this bill being sold to the public as a city-wide ordinance, there are no provisions whatsoever to prevent Boulder’s lower-middle income neighborhoods from getting most, if not all, the co-ops in the future. The paltry 500-foot radius does nothing to prevent this. These cheaper neighborhoods are already diverse and already experience heavy impact due to their proximity to CU, student rentals, etc. And 12-to-15-person co-ops, with deeper pockets (collectively), will price out lower-middle-income families vying for the same houses.
Finally, while nearly 100 percent of co-op supporters were intimately familiar with the ordinance’s details, perhaps 2 percent of typical low-density, single-family residents were. Council frequently quoted public surveys showing affordability as a core concern. We agree. That’s why we’ve suggested other solutions that would accomplish real affordability, rather than this co-op ordinance, whose few dozen beneficiaries won’t represent a statistically measurable gain in affordability. And having no rent caps on co-ops is inexplicable.
Boulder’s surveys never asked, “Would you like the density in the house next door to you quadrupled, or quintupled, despite your living (intentionally) in a low-density neighborhood with occupancy limits of no more than three unrelated?” Shame on council for never asking that question, yet charging ahead with this ordinance that pits one group of residents’ gains at the expense of others. Yes, there’s divisiveness in Boulder. And it’s created by City Council, through winner/loser policy like this. There’s a better way to govern, that doesn’t pit residents against residents.
Greg Wilkerson is on the BNA steering committee.