Boulder Planning Board's site review of the proposed Macy's redevelopment is happening now.
I've heard so much over the years about the Crossroads Mall, but it was gone by the time I arrived in 2007. So appreciated that city staff's presentation started with this history: Image
The proposal for office and a small amount of retail adds about 12,000 sq ft to the existing building.
For you land use nerds, that brings it to 1.59 Floor-Area-Ratio. 2.0 is allowed by right here. And it *could* go up to 4.0 FAR with review. So, still not anywhere near maxing out building envelopes in this highest-density area of Boulder.
Staff presentation spent quite a bit of time on the question of height. The proposal goes up to 51ft, though it only presents as two stories on all sides except the east. Incidentally, the Two Nine North apts (where some residents have complained about height) are 55ft tall.
Sarah Silver asking the first of what I assume are many questions about housing capacity in the area. Staff clarify that Two Nine North apartments were built to satisfy residential requirements attached to building 29th St. Mall.
John Gerstle wants to know if Planning Board has any discretion over changing uses (office vs. retail) in mixed use business zones. Answer: Office was a by-right use in 2018 when application filed.
Further clarification from city attorney: Boulder Valley Comp Plan expresses preference for housing, but isn't prescriptive, which means City can't require it as a condition for approval.
Sarah Silver now asking about potential requirements for affordable commercial space - which might be forthcoming from City Council's community benefit project. Staff: usually these policies are not applied retroactively.
Macy's team presenting now. Hello, corporate speak. They're thinking creatively about 'recycling' their department store, part of the 'mixed use evolution of retail'. Are there planning boards in the world that like this kind of language?
Apparently the Macy's building is exceptionally energy inefficient. Development team claims interior lights are the primary source of winter heating.
Danica Powell of Trestle Strategy reviewing public outreach. They've met with most of the major local political and business groups, and the city's Dept. of Community Vitality to talk about affordable commercial space.
She's taking about potential community benefits of the redevelopment. This wasn't specifically on the list, but imagine 29th St. Mall with...wait for it...PEOPLE. Image
Speaking of gatherings of people, three members of the applicant team are in an office together, (distanced and masked) as they make this presentation. When will this not be jarring?
Maybe you would like a 3D rendering? From the northwest: Image
Planning Board, those lucky ducks, are getting a simulated fly-over. I'm struck by the sheer amount of cars being shown driving through on 29th St. Realism, maybe, but why show the ugly?
Sarah Silver has a question for the applicants: How many jobs could be co-located in this building? Applicant demurs: It depends on the tenant(s).
Silver is not satisfied. Implies that linkage fees are based on expected number of jobs, and linkage fee has been estimated already (at $1.4M).
Danica Powell (backed by city staff) says linkage fees are estimated based on square footage, not expected occupants.
John Gerstle is concerned about public plaza to south, and parking to north, both of which are owned by the mall, not Macy's. How much control does the city have over future changes to those areas?
Site review agreements are binding.
Lisa Smith and Harmon Zuckerman have questions about energy savings. Will adding so much glass actually result in an efficient building? Is saving the bones of the old building a savings of embodied energy? Mostly curiosity, I think.
Lupita Montoya asking about after-hours activation. The building is beautiful when lit. Will it stay alive in the evening?
It will be lit. Public access to outdoor deck/sunken plaza is a question of safe egress - to be worked out with city building code.
Ok, it's public comment time. This is the fun part?
Lori Call is here repping the Boulder Chamber. Revitalizing this area helps local businesses, esp. adjacent retailers.
Boyd Hamilton from 29th St. owner Macerich is talking about the evolution of retail centers. Will miss Macy's as a tenant, but this is the way forward.
Lynn Segal probably doesn't like the proposal.
I thought she might leave her comment at a single word: 'Nope'. But she's elaborating. Surprised amongst other things the PLAN-Boulder signed off on this (me: did they?).
Wow, that's it for public comment? After all of the general community angst about building height and commercial development?
Planning Board deliberation starts with Sarah Silver saying she doesn't feel it fits the Boulder Valley Comp Plan priority of jobs-housing balance. Retail space had relatively few jobs, and we don't know how many might be added.
Silver: "It is a concern of mine that there will be many more jobs...but we are not building housing at the same rate that we need to be to keep up with this kind of job growth."
John Gerstle agrees. We shouldn't move ahead with a project that exacerbates the jobs-housing problem.
Some wishful thinking from the board moderates as well about adding housing right here. But seriously, y'all, there are plenty of places you can approve abundant housing in the city if you care that much.
City staff reminding board of original plan for the mall to have an anchor in this site. The office building serves that purpose.
Harmon Zuckerman: Our charge is to determine if the proposal 'on the balance' meets the goals of the Comp Plan (me: many of which are contradictory). It gets there with infill development, reuse, other criteria.
John Gerstle sharing his understanding of 'anchor' in a mall. It's supposed to attract people. A few hundred people working in an office building doesn't do this.
But John, neither would a few hundred people living in super-expensive (whether subsidized or not) apartments on the site.
David Ensign: There may be too much going on at this particular site already for housing.
Lisa Smith concurs, though using a slightly wider lens would like more housing (and less car parking) in this general area
Lupita Montoya: Retail is changing, ok. But we do have a lack of projects making a significant impact on housing. We need to be more forceful about our housing commitment.
John Gerstle wants to know why the applicant didn't include housing in their plans. "We're all assuming its an inappropriate place for it, and giving them a free pass."
Danica Powell is going to own this one: BR-1 zoning requirements would allow a max 64 units (2500-3000sqft each) in this building footprint. Sounds like a great deal for the city's housing goals, right?
Sarah Silver wants to know if the Opportunity Zone moratorium would have changed the proposal the came forward. Developer: Nope. They arrived at this plan before the Opportunity Zone was even a thing.
David Ensign suggests another look at the use/zoning tables if the rules in business zones truly result in such limited housing potential.
Harmon Zuckerman plugging reducing required open space for housing in business zones.
Sarah Silver and Lupita Montoya want some assurances of affordable commercial space, but there is no legal mechanism for doing this at this point in time.
Harmon Zuckerman back to the Comp Plan goals: projected daily vehicle trips for the office redevelopment will be about 1500 less than retail (healthy retail, I assume).
And now we're going to talk about building height. Or not. Nobody thinks it's inappropriate given site review criteria.
Instead we're moving on to a motion to approve. It passes. But only 4-3 with Silver, Gerstle, and Montoya opposed. All concerned about jobs-housing balance.
That seems to be an invitation to a City Council call-up, if anyone there is itching for a public fight about jobs vs. housing.
Board is debriefing the message their 4-3 vote sends. Will future proposals bring housing to the table? Will there be some movement (from City Council?) on zoning limitations?

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More from @CHThiem

20 Aug
Some of you Boulderites are following the Muni hearing tonight, but I - and a not insignificant number of city staff - am hanging with the Planning Board.
Some jokes amongst staff about double-screening it tonight. Let's try not to inflict too much brain damage on them, ok?
Anyway, tonight's meeting is starting an hour early because it's a big agenda: There's a site review for the NoBo branch library, and a discussion of Use Tables and Community Benefit - two zoning projects that deserve far more public attention than they've gotten.
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