Is this the end of Boulder as we know it? Yep

Wikimedia Commons/Sunil060902

Former Boulder City Councilman Steve Pomerance had an op-ed piece in the Daily Camera last Sunday that appeared under the headline “Is this the end of Boulder as we know it?”

The brief answer to the question is yes, and for the reasons Pomerance marshals.

Pomerance’s thesis is that the basic charter amendments, ordinances and resolutions that have protected Boulder’s environment, character and quality of life for half a century are being systematically dismantled.

Nearly all of these core policies, which constitute Boulder’s unwritten environmental constitution, are under attack or soon will be. The hit list includes:

The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan: A pro-growth/pro-densification faction on the City Council — consisting of Matt Appelbaum, Aaron Brockett, Jan Burton, Andrew Shoemaker and Bob Yates — wants to change it to eliminate the provision that requires urban development outside the city but in Boulder’s planning area to pass “four-body review.” Four-body review means that changes to the plan that would allow such development have to be approved by the City Council, the City Planning Board, the County Planning Commission and the County Commissioners.

The pro-growthers want to cut the County Planning Commission and the County Commissioners out of the decision-making process — probably out of fear that the county bodies might stand in the way of some of the pro-growthers pet projects — as happened when the County Planning Commission shot down the Twin Lakes high-density housing atrocity.

Four-body review was written into the plan in the 1970s, precisely because local governments, including Boulder’s, routinely tore up comp plans whenever the flip-chart and wing-tips crowd showed up with a “very special, once-in-a-lifetime” mega-project — often with the pig wearing affordable housing or new urbanist lipstick.

The 55-foot height limit: The 55-foot height limit was added to the City Charter in 1971, and has succeeded in keeping high rise buildings out of Boulder (with the exception of those built by the University of Colorado Boulder, which isn’t covered by the City’s charter provisions). Pomerance says he expects to see a push to scrap it.

“There is a plan, supported by the Boulder Chamber, to massively densify the East Arapahoe area, including buildings of well over the 55-foot height limit,” he says. He expects the current majority on council to put a charter amendment to do this on the ballot for the next election. He also expects to see the city’s current moratorium on buildings higher than 35 feet (but lower than 55 feet) abandoned.

Current zoning densities: It’s no secret that the current council majority has been flirting with a back-door up-zoning of Boulder’s existing residential neighborhoods, using gimmicks like allowing so-called mother-in-law apartments in the single-family homes. Now they’re evidently going to try the front-door approach.

Pomerance says there is a survey in progress “allegedly done by an ‘independent organization,’ asking people about their support for cutting minimum lot sizes in half, allowing duplexes in place of single-family residences, and legalizing two homes on one lot. It also asks for favorability ratings for local organizations, including Open Boulder, Better Boulder, the Chamber of Commerce, Boulder Neighborhood Association, and PLAN-Boulder.”

Surveys of this sort generally cost $20,000-$30,000, and are often followed by a full-court press at the ballot box. (Chances are a developer front group, like the Chamber, Open Boulder, or Better Boulder, picked up the tab. Pomerance said PLAN Boulder and the Boulder Neighborhood Alliance told him they didn’t.)

The usual justification for densifying Boulder is that it will make housing more affordable and, when combined with mixed-use zoning (zoning that allows various residential and commercial uses in the same neighborhoods and sometimes in the same buildings), reduce traffic.

It’s a beautiful theory that has been repeatedly mugged by ugly little facts.

For years, Boulder’s social liberals and the Boulder City Council have been obsessed with creating more “affordable housing,” whatever that means — to the point of sacrificing more and more of Boulder’s environmental values on the affordable housing altar. Boulder pro-growth interests have seized on this opening and used affordability and diversity as pretexts for maximizing build-out, by rebranding densification and high-rise development as environmental goods.

And the libs drank the kool-aid.

The result? According to a story in the March 17 Camera, a study by the Longmont Association of Realtors and Land Title Guarantee Company found that there is no affordable housing currently available in Boulder County, let alone the City of Boulder. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

At the time of the study, there was exactly one single-family home for sale in Boulder under $250,000 and two attached units for sale under $150,000.

As for traffic being reduced by greater densification and mixed use, Boulder’s traffic congestion has taken quantum leaps upward in the last three years, and it is at its worst in the areas that have seen the most intensive densification — starting with the 28th and 30th street corridors, which are also among the least pedestrian-friendly and most architecturally oppressive areas of the city.

The upshot is “Boulder as we know it” is no longer Boulder as we knew it — even a few years ago. And if the madness doesn’t stop, what’s left of Boulder as we knew it is toast.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

  • rougy

    “For years, Boulder’s social liberals and the Boulder City Council have been obsessed with creating more “affordable housing,” whatever that means….”

    Oh, gee, Paul…I couldn’t imagine.

    “…there is no affordable housing currently available in Boulder County, let alone the City of Boulder. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.”

    Imagine my surprise.

    Freedom must have a dollar sign buried somewhere in it…and a big bank loan.

    • Sirius

      “There is no affordable housing currently available in Boulder County” — political hooey. From a buyers perspective, you can get a townhome/condo in Longmont for 100-200K, and a house in Erie or Longmont for under 300K, still. In the City of Boulder, you can get a townhome for 300K. And there are numerous permanently affordable units available — yes, you have to qualify for the affordable buying program and wait for your number to be called — but there is affordable housing both in the County and in the City of Boulder.

      • rougy

        And by “smaller” we usually mean in a trailer or a slum.

        • Sirius

          Ummm, no: smaller means smaller in terms of square footage. What you could get in NYC opposite what you could get in Boulder would be a lot less square feet. The more dense and the desirable any City is, the higher the cost of housing, and the less square footage you can get for your money. What aspect of housing economics don’t you understand? It’s the same everywhere. And of course if you buy a trailer or live in a slum (don’t know of any ‘slums’ in Boulder) than your housing costs will be less as well.

          • rougy

            The greedy landlords are turning Boulder to shit.

          • Sirius

            The greedy developers are doing that in an even bigger way. And the landlords get the trickle down.

          • rougy

            I won’t argue with that. The bankers are certainly taking their “fair” share, too. I just love that town so much, but it seems to be falling apart at the seams.

          • Sirius

            You are right, it is.

          • gunga galunga

            This has nothing to do with greedy landlords and has everything to do with people who forty years ago had the foresight to set Boulder up to be a beautiful place to live, in perpetuity. Now you have developer-interests who want to tear those constructs down primarily for profit, spurred on by the entitled millennial whiners who don’t make enough money to live in Boulder yet who feel they deserve to live in Boulder just because. Those are the people who are turning Boulder to shit.

          • rougy

            I agree with most of what you say, but I wish you’d stop it with the “entitled millennial whiners” line of thinking. It’s a college town, for heaven’s sake. It’s a town filled with restaurants where the employees live hand-to-mouth. I was born in the area, lived there in the mid-1980’s — loved it. Lived there again a few years ago. Still loved it, but there was a desperation in the air that wasn’t there back in the day. I don’t know the solution, but clearly something’s wrong.

      • MarieT123

        Not affordable – subsidized. A big difference.

        • Sirius

          Yea, affordable has become the new way to referring to subsidized housing, and it is confusing.

  • Julius Pepperwood

    I grew up in Boulder, still love it, and defend it when people hate on it. After reading this article, all I could do was laugh. The wealthy Boulder elitists have spent the last 3 decades pricing out the people that love Boulder and its environmental policies, replacing them with rich people that don’t give a f–k about anything other than THEIR view of the mountains. Clearly the clowns in charge didn’t think that bringing in all that money would affect the city in a negative way. They were dead wrong.

  • Kim McAllister Mallek

    He neglected to mention the co-op push by some city council members. Also disguised as a way to combat more affordable housing. Allowing for rezoning in certain neighborhoods of single family residential homes to house more than 4 unrelated people with a minimum of 150 sq/ft per person. An 1,800 sq/ft house could theoretically house 12 people!

  • JTC

    The transformation of Boulder into a bedroom community for wealthy tech entrepreneurs, Denver CEOs and high-level execs is complete. Now their greed and worship of unregulated capitalism is spreading like a virus into the body politic, to turn Boulder into just another project for plunder and profit (as long as their own views aren’t obstructed). Height restrictions and greenbelts are for commies who don’t appreciate the heartless, soulless genius of spoiling things for short-term cash.

    • Erik

      Just based on traffic, Boulder used to be a bedroom community for Denver, but hasn’t been for a long time.

  • Mark Van Akkeren

    Cue mr burns diabolical finger tapping and put him in a robe with a white pointy hat.

    Sooooo, you folks that dont want “density” and consider yourselves progressive… what you got to say about this?

  • MarieT123

    And Sadly, this Boulder virus is invading the L-towns too…