Boulder City Council members on Tuesday discussed ongoing projects to address and potentially modify building height, density and land use in order to support organizations that are beneficial to the community or create more walkable neighborhoods.
The community benefit code change project is an effort to allow taller buildings and more density in those buildings if developers build or fund additional affordable housing or the buildings are meant for specific community benefit.
Phase one of the project, approved by the City Council in October, requires developers to build a higher percentage of affordable housing in exchange for being allowed additional building height — four or five stories instead of three — or more square feet.
Those taller buildings can only be built in certain parts of the city — like University Hill, 29th Street Mall, Boulder Junction and Gunbarrel — that are exempt from the 2015 ban on buildings taller than 38 feet.
Phase two of the community benefit project will look at whether to allow similar exemptions if buildings will be used for below market rate commercial space; arts and cultural spaces; or human or social services like day cares, health clinics and services for seniors.
Council members largely agreed with moving forward with phase two of the project at a study session on Tuesday, with the exception of Mark Wallach, who said he wanted to see City Council members keep their focus on addressing affordable housing. Councilmember Mirabai Nagle was not at the meeting.
“The highest priority that we have is housing, and it seems to me that it’s most appropriate to give away a little extra floor area and height for our most important need,” Wallach said.
Councilmember Rachel Friend asked senior planner Karl Guiler whether anyone had applied to take advantage of the phase one benefits. Guiler said there had been no applications and cited the coronavirus pandemic for slowing down interest in development.
Councilmember Mary Young said she wanted to make sure there was a balance between the proximity of affordable housing to the types of businesses that would take advantage of the community benefit program.
“We need to balance out the fact that the people who have low-wage jobs are generally the people who are driving into town because they can’t afford the housing,” she said.
The companies and organizations that would use the community benefit exemptions are “critically needed in this community,” Councilmember Aaron Brockett said.
“We lose small businesses, arts organizations and others this (project) would be designed to serve from our town on a regular basis,” Brockett said.
After other Council members spoke in support of moving the project forward, Wallach said he would like to see a change to the recommendation so that only nonprofit organizations could take advantage of the program, as opposed to nonprofit and for-profit businesses.
City Council members expressed similar support for moving forward with changes to land use codes in order to bring them in line with the Boulder Valley Comprehensive plan.
The changes would allow different kinds of development to promote more walkable neighborhoods — the city’s term is 15 minute neighborhoods of a “string of pearls” — so that people can live, work, get coffee and go to the grocery store in close proximity to their homes.
Young again raised the issue of making sure that affordable housing was being considered when developing walkable neighborhoods.
“If we look at the string of pearls, we have to consider that affordable housing residences would benefit the most from walkable neighborhoods,” Young said. “To the extent we can think … a little more holistically about who is going to be walking to this, who is going to be driving to this and finding synergies between what is there and what could be there.”
Additional public hearings and community engagement sessions on the community benefit project and land use changes are expected to continue through the winter and into 2021.