Shay Castle Profile picture
Mar 24 73 tweets 10 min read
Now city council is talking about how to get more and smaller housing units? You may remember this from last year:…
Kind of a must-read if you want to understand what's happening here. You'll notice the second part of that headline says that "rules" are part of the reason Boulder gets so many big, luxury housing units. So the city is looking to change 'em — the rules, that is.
What's unclear — though hopefully they'll touch on it — is how the governor's plan to overhaul local zoning will impact the work, bc some of the things they're considering will be pointless if that passes.…
So basically, the city has many rules that limit how much housing can get built, and it has the unintended (or maybe not, given the history of zoning) consequence of making it easier/cheaper to build big, expensive homes.
Such as: limiting the number of dwellings per acre, and also requiring payments for affordable housing per unit — not per square foot. Also parking requirements.
Per notes: "Some zoning regulations, particularly the intensity standards that specify maximum density that were developed decades ago and predate the problem, often discourage or prevent affordable housing opportunities."
Staff is recommending a number of changes to try and allow for more housing, and smaller housing (that will also hopefully be cheaper) which will also = more affordable housing bc of Boulder's inclusionary housing requirements.
"By allowing more housing in certain areas, it will increase the amount of deed-restricted housing we will get," planner Karl Guiller explains, bc 25% of units (or the cash equivalent) have to be deed-restricted.
The city actually prefers the cash option, bc they can leverage it to get 3X the amount of housing. But again, bc those fees are per unit, more housing = more affordable housing.
Staff is recommending working within existing land use, bc requiring changes to the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan — basically the Bible of Boulder's built environment — will take a long time and be v controversial.
So all of these recommendations are simply changing the *other* layer of rules on top of the BVCP (aka Comp Plan) to fully take advantage of the density that is allowed by the Comp Plan.

Want to re-state that, bc ppl will no doubt freak out.
Bc the Comp Plan is such a big deal — updated every 5 years? — it tends to be more aspirational than the city's *actual* rules for building.

Put another way: It's our stated goals, but zoning doesn't actually live up to it always.
Anyway, here's what staff is recommending:

Revising the density calculation for certain zones to allow the maximum density under the BVCP. Those are commercial zones, industrial zones or high-density residential zones.
Specifically: BR-1, RH-5, BC-2, IG or IM
They have a density-limiter of 1,600 sq ft per unit
They're also only 15.96% of all city land (according to my 2018 table, so maybe slightly outdated) bc most of our land where housing is allowed is zoned low-density residential.
A sub-option in that recommendation is to adjust the density limits for BC-1 zones (Business Commercial, which is 0.94% of all city land) and currently requires 1,200 sq ft of space per unit.
This is in the story I linked to above, but when we talk about "space" required per unit, it's open space. But not Capital O open space — it can be a balcony, or a retention pond, or a strip of grass.
Staff also recommending that Boulder eliminate use review for efficiency units (475 sq ft or smaller); currently 40%+ of efficiency units requires use review, a process that is lengthy and expensive and requires touch-ins with council and/or planning board
Folkerts breaking into the presentation to disagree with staff's assertion that some more drastic changes would require a change to the Comp Plan.
Guiler: "There are areas with some flexibility, but bc so much of these low-density areas were maxed out, that's why we're saying it would require a revisioning of those areas in the Comp Plan b4 there is any change to the zones."
Which goes to one option they put in the packet but are NOT recommending: Allowing attached housing in low-density residential zones RL, RR and RE — which make up 33.42% of all city land, and 64.4% of *residentially* zoned land. (Again, 2018 data)
Idk if I said above, but in the recommended option of doing away with density-limiters in specific zones, staff is recommending using FAR as a limiter.

FAR = Floor Area Ratio, a concept I always struggle with
It's basically the ratio of developed land to non-developed land on a particular site.

City council members specifically requested an FAR component in these options, according to staff notes.
Another story important to this issue is Diagonal Plaza: There were limits there on how much housing they could built, bc it's BC-1 zoning, with 1,200 sq ft of open space required per unit. Council did a special workaround to allow more housing there.…
This is an area where the Comp Plan calls for more housing, Guiler says. Getting rid of that density limit cut the average size of the units in half.
Not all of the density limiters are open space requirements; sometimes they are requirements for a certain amount of lot area per unit. But they have the same effect: Fewer homes, bigger (and therefore more expensive) homes.
Anyway, back to staff recommendations: Changing up some parking requirements.

They want to require 1 parking space for 1 bedroom units, rather than the current 1.25 (in projects with 60%+ 1BR units)
And they also want to stop requiring site review for projects that request 25% or smaller reductions in required parking. Site review, like use review, takes time and $$, and has to go to Planning Board and/or city council
Parking requirements add a lot of cost.
Underground parking = expensive.
Surface parking = less space for housing = fewer homes
Anyway, ALL of these recommendations would become completely pointless if Gov. Polis' "More Housing Now" plan passes the Legislature.…
This is the bill that council debated whether or not to support if and when it came up. Well, it's up. Mayor Brockett was on hand to lend support; it remains to be seen whether all of council will, but the last vote was 6-3, and I'm told Winer has changed her mind.
Thread from that meeting:…
The city's occupancy limits work would also be null and void under this bill, bc it outlaws those in cities like Boulder.
Wallach: What was the original theory behind requiring use review of efficiency units?
Guiler: I think it was just bc it was a new idea when they introduced efficiency units in the '80s, to assess impacts. The use review in our opinion is kind of extraneous.
Anyway, back to the recommended changes: Some of them have been floated before, but always pulled back due to community opposition.
Tonight isn't a vote; just a study session with council feedback. There will be community engagement, then actual votes of Planning Board in August and city council in September — again, if Polis' bill doesn't pass. Bc if it does, none of this is necessary.
"We've been hearing concern from single-family homeowners about any kind of change that would introduce more density or change to their neighborhoods," Guiler says.
Boulder's Housing Advisory Board supported this work, but also "some more aggressive parking-related changes" and changes to the Comp Plan to allow more housing in low-density zones.
Just want to clarify that these changes would *allow* more housing in areas, not mandate it. That's the issue with single-family zoning: Detached houses are the ONLY thing you can build. Duplexes, triplexes, apartments, etc. are not allowed.
And that's the majority of Boulder's residential land. As with many communities across the U.S. more affordable and smaller types of attached housing (which is also more naturally eco-friendly) are not allowed on the vast majority of land.
That's what Polis' plan calls for: allowing those types of housing.
Guiler: "Obviously, there might be some legal response to this, if the state were to pass a mandate on there has to be these types of housing types, we'd have to move forward to comply with the state. But we don't know what the outcome will be just yet."
That's Guiler on Polis' plan, which will probably be challenged in court. Staff noted to council that Minneapolis, which outlawed single-family only zoning, is being sued over that.
Brockett: Not all of these things are impacted by the governor's plan," like switching to FAR from density-limiters and changing the process for efficiency units. "Those are changes we could make on our own that there will be no impact either way."
Wallach: How is our demolition ban in the opportunity zone working?
Guiler: I'm not aware of any demolition in that area. It was meant to freeze that during the duration of the opportunity zone.
Wallach: We refer to modest-sized unit. What does that mean?
Sloane Walbert, from housing and human services: I'm not sure we have an exact number, but it goes back to that attainable definition Guiler gave.

Wallach Sigh-O-Meter: 1
Wallach: "You see houses selling for $1,000 a square foot in Boulder, so yes it's cheaper than a mansion in Devil's Thumb. Attainable can't be cheaper than that mansion; it's got to have some (value?) in and of itself."
Kurt Firnhaber, director of HHS: Our deed-restricted units are in the 800-1,200 sq ft range. 1,600 is the biggest we would see. In the context of this convo, I'd say anything smaller than 1,800 sq ft.
Firnhaber: "We can't really control the market rate price. What we can do is encourage smaller units. And our code actually doesn't encourage smaller units. It actually encourages larger units."
Wallach: A few years ago, we did a study on what in-commuters want, and that should be a key strategy. "Are we doing anything to provide housing for a couple that's in-commuting who would be happy to live here, but they're not gonna live here in a 900 sq ft 2BR apartment?"
Newsflash, buddy: Plenty of couples would LOVE to live in a 900 sq ft 2BR. That sounds spacious as hell!
Also, that survey he's referencing, from 2014, identified that many in-commuters would live in SMALLER, ATTACHED HOUSING if it was more available.
So exactly this.
Wallach: People make that claim that we have an inelastic housing market — I've made it. Have we ever analyzed it to find if fact conforms to reality or not?

Oh, boy, I've got an entire document of studies that show what happens to supply/demand in high-demand areas!
I'll email it to you, Wallach.
"We don't have any data specific to Boulder," Guiler says.
Folkerts: "I wouldn't necessarily want to live in 800 sq ft. An architect and my partner are very happy to live in 800 sq ft. It works for people. But I understand wanting to look into what in-commuters want."
"I would like to see us look at more zones and allowing things that have historically been allowed in this community," she says, referencing a client(?) who can only redevelop their old, multi-family building into a 4,000 sq ft home.
She wants the options for multi-family attached housing in low-density zones back on the table. Staff was not recommending bc of community opposition and needs to change the Comp Plan.
Context for Folkerts' anecdote: Boulder was downzoned in the 60s/70s (and parts of it again in the 90s). That's in addition to redlining and other historic density-limiting (and racially motivated) practices.
Speer suggests we go "farther, faster" than the pending state changes.
(Sorry, had to stop for cuddles with the S.O. since I've leaving town tomorrow. I'm back now.)
There was a lot of wonky discussion I didn't tweet because well, it's wonky. But it related to Folkert's disagreement with staff's recommendation to not pursue changes in low-density zones bc it would require comp plan changes.
That proposal — which, again, staff is NOT recommending — was to allow attached housing but NOT adjust density standards. So if the density standard is 2 dwelling units per acre, you could do a duplex. That's now allowed now.
Staff is not recommending it bc of the aforementioned comp plan process, community opposition, and also bc it wouldn't get us that much more housing anyway — bc those density standards are pretty low in those zones.
Very Low Density Residential [RR]= Less than 2 dwelling units per acre
Low Density Residential [RE, RMX, RL] = 2 to 6 DU/acre
Medium Density Residential [RM, RMX] = 6 to 14 units per acre
High Density Residential [RH] = More than 14 units/acre
The proposal was for RR, RL and RE zones. Some council support for it despite recommendations.
Overall, council support for the options to redo parking requirements and lot area / open space requirements.

"We've been hamstrung" by these density limitations "for decades," Brockett said.
Just to clarify, these density limiters were things that, well, limited the amount of housing in certain zones beyond what the underlying land use would allow in the Comp Plan.
These rules are layered
Land use is the base, zoning on top of that.

A property's land use might say it can fit 14 units per acre. But zoning (these open space / lot area requirements) might only allow 6 units per acre in reality.
Add things like height limits and FAR and other stuff, and in reality, density is much lower than is technically allowed in an aspirational plan like the BVCP, which is meant to reflect the city's goals of affordability, diversity, environmental sustainability, etc.
Anyway, a much quieter discussion than expected. I don't recall hearing anything from Yates (I was listening even when I wasn't tweeting), and much less pushback than I expected from Wallach.
Again, nothing final, just council feedback. Expect ordinances in August/September and opportunities to give feedback much sooner.

Should be an interesting one to watch, along with Polis' land use plan.
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More from @shayshinecastle

Mar 24
K, first discussion: Downtown streets as public space.

Basically, folks were upset that West Pearl was no longer closed to cars after the pandemic, so staff is tryna find other places to use streets as non-car spaces.…
A city team was put together to brainstorm ideas for this spring/summer. West Pearl will *not* fully close to cars again, but it might get some parklets.
13th Street, though, where they do the farmer's market, might have full weekend closures to cars (rather than just during the farmers market).
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Next up: What should Boulder do with the ~$10M that will be freed up once the library district is up and running?

Library's 2023 budget: $11,067,355
The earliest this will be available is 2024, but as I stated earlier, the budget process for next year starts soon. So we need to have this discussion.
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Mar 17
OK, got my interview done in time for the board and commission appointments to start.

Presentation here:…
I cover these every year (although I might have missed last year...?) and while it seems pretty boring, it's actually fairly important in sneaky ways. Kind of like judicial appointments at the federal level: They influence policy.
How do I mean? Boulder's boards govern things like liquor licenses, development, open space, parks & rec, transportation.

Some of these boards are more powerful than others, and therefore some are more political than others.
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Mar 10
Hello, luvs. Council meeting starting in 15. We're talking occupancy limits tonight — you know, the rules barring 3 (in some places, 4) unrelated adults from living together in Boulder.

No vote, just council discussing options.
Also, it will come after an update on tribal consultations, so even though the meeting starts at 6, the occupancy discussion might be ~7 ish...?
Since I've got some time, let's go over the history of occupancy limits in Boulder, shall we?

As you'll see on slide 7, it used to be a "family" — as defined by the city — or 5 unrelated people.…
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Feb 10
Next up: Boulder's state lobbying agenda. This is a public hearing, and given that the 2 main changes are around land use/ housing, I might expect some Thoughts™ from folks.

Read more about those here:…
Basically, for the first time, Boulder is really beefing up its position regarding housing density, saying it will support state legislation that, among other things
- Requires minimum density along transit corridors
- Reduces parking minimums
- Removes barriers to ADUs and MF
ADUs = accessory dwelling units
MF = multi-family. Actually referred to as "mutliplexes" in the text. It means duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, etc. — anything that's not a single-family home
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