Boulder weighs proposal to allow denser housing projects
Daily Camera (Boulder, CO), 2014-08-07
Aug. 07 --If Andy Allison had not had to dedicate roads to the city of Boulder as part of a recent development at 820 Lee Hill Drive , he could have built 38 units instead of 31.
At 1000 Rosewood, a 50 percent affordable housing development, he could have built 23 units instead of 16.
A proposed change to Boulder's land use code would allow developers to make their density calculations before setting aside land for roads so that they get the same number of units they would be allowed if they didn't have to dedicate roads.
In a memo to the Planning Board , city planners said the change would encourage development of properties that have remained vacant due to right-of-way requirements and promote more affordable and moderate-income housing.
"It is a huge cost of development," said Allison, who specializes in affordable housing development but has also done market-rate projects.
He noted that developers not only have to set aside the land but also build the roads and tie up additional money to guarantee the infrastructure.
"I think this is something creative from staff," he said. "We're having developers put in all our roads for us. We can let them have some more density. We're going to trust that they're going to do some more affordable units. I think it's a good idea."
'Windfall' for developers?
But some Boulder residents and elected officials are questioning whether the change would benefit the public or only developers.
"If this had been in place when most of north Boulder was developed, it would be 25 to 35 percent denser," said north Boulder resident Gail Promboin . "And those were denser than anything that had been built in recent decades. They embraced new urbanism. They are trying to enact something that would be that on steroids, and it would be a huge windfall for developers, which they don't really need right now."
Developer Bruce Dierking , who hopes to redevelop the Armory site on north Broadway as a mixed-use project with an arts focus, sighs at the term "windfall."
The Armory site is 8.5 acres. After paying for every acre, the road dedications will take up 2.6 acres, he said. He will then deed that land to the city, leaving just under 6 acres for development.
"When you go to develop an infill area that doesn't have all the connections and roads and sidewalks, there is effectively a penalty in place," Dierking said.
All that new road infrastructure, built at the developer's expense, is one of the public benefits of redevelopment, Dierking said. The proposed change to density calculations makes up for that penalty but doesn't represent a windfall.
Dierking has submitted a concept plan to the city based on the density calculation changes that would provide an estimated 55 units, with 11 of them being permanently affordable units marketed to artists.
He said that level of density covers the cost of other project amenities, like putting parking underground to allow for a plaza.
If the density calculation changes are not approved, he'll be back to the drawing board and the project may not meet as many of the city's other goals, such as dense, walkable, transit-oriented development without a lot of surface parking.
Board reconsiders decision
The density calculation changes were already approved by the Planning Board in May and approved on first reading by the City Council . A second reading is now scheduled for Sept. 2 .
But the Planning Board is rehearing the matter Thursday night after several members who voted for the change now want to reconsider it.
Planning Board member Crystal Gray said she was surprised to see the density calculation change listed as an "easy win" in the city's Comprehensive Housing Strategy, when affordable housing was not part of the Planning Board discussion.
There is no explicit affordable housing requirement tied to the increased density, though projects would be governed by the same 20 percent permanently affordable housing requirement that governs all new development. That housing can be provided on- or off-site, or developers can pay cash in lieu.
"We are not going to get those goals that the Comprehensive Housing Strategy is aiming at if we don't make a clear linkage," Gray said.
Boulder planner Karl Guiler said the city gets more permanently affordable housing just by allowing more units to be built. The change also gives developers more flexibility in offering moderately priced housing and still covering their costs.
The dedication requirements have been a barrier to redevelopment for some sites. For example, some sites in Boulder Junction have a 50 percent dedication requirement.
The density changes would apply in parts of Boulder with area plans, such as north Boulder and Boulder Junction, on sites that have right-of-way dedication requirements that tie into the city's larger transportation and connectivity plans.
Guiler said it "equalizes" the density allowances between sites that require developers to put in roads and sites that don't.
Guiler said he's not sure what would happen if the Planning Board wants significant changes to the ordinance or no longer recommends it. Planners may not bring it forward to the City Council and instead look for changes that could get broader support.
Promboin said Dakota Ridge and Holiday were developed without the additional density allowances. She doesn't see a problem that needs solving.
She said the Armory redevelopment is an important project, and she would have no problem with the City Council granting higher density there in exchange for certain benefits the project brings to the city.
She doesn't see a need, though, for a citywide change when there is no guarantee developers will build more affordable housing.
Allison agreed there is an element of "trust" involved in the density calculation change.
"It's a gray area of trust between entities that don't typically trust each other," he said.
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