2015 Council Retreat

sgmcclainGood Governance

To: Boulder City Council
From: PLAN–Boulder County Board of Directors
Subject: Recommendations for Council Retreat

Dear Councilmembers:

We hope that you will have a productive retreat and that you will be able to focus your attention and that of staff for the coming year to the issues of greatest concern to Boulder citizens.

We’d like to point out that one of the most important themes dominating community dialogue in the last year has been citizen concern over the lack of good public processes on many issues of broad community concern. We would like to applaud some of the staff input at the pre-retreat City Council meeting that indicated some awareness of this community dissatisfaction, as well as Council’s intention of taking up a possible preliminary action on reforming the process of granting zoning modifications for building heights above 35/38 feet outside of downtown and the transit center area. P&DS’s recent efforts at use of email lists has also been a welcome trend.

However, this belated acknowledgement, particularly by Planning staff, of public demand for greater transparency and citizen participation in community decisions needs to be strongly reinforced by City Council, which should mandate a far better job of outreach, particularly by the P&DS staff. Boulder has a long history of effective and productive public processes that can be drawn upon. The municipalization efforts and much of the planning by the Open Space and Mountain Parks Department are good examples. These represent extremely controversial areas of public policy with divisive community opinions. However, after vigorous, often contentious public outreach and participation, Boulder citizens reached consensus and contributed to much better outcomes. The same transparency and genuine citizen involvement should be applied to decisions involving Boulder’s growth and development.

Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan
PLAN–Boulder County urges City Council to make the BVCP revisions the centerpiece of its efforts this year. Several other planning activities should be put on hold, so that adequate Council and staff attention can be devoted to the BVCP. In particular, we urge that you suspend, at least temporarily, the Envision East Arapahoe project and the Comprehensive Housing Strategy. Staff and Council need to be able to concentrate on the BVCP and associated issues, and these two projects would benefit from the BVCP discussions.

During the meeting in September when Council considered and rejected a Comprehensive Development Strategy, many councilmembers assured the public that the associated issues would be considered thoroughly as part of the BVCP update. It is time to deliver on that commitment.

The most critical matter requiring attention is to plan and begin with a vigorous and transparent public process for the BVCP. Staff seems reluctant to do that and appears to prefer to move ahead without a real community-wide discussion of the issues or of what should be included in the revision. PBC believes this is a huge mistake, much like the mistake of attempting to initiate ‘easy wins’ to start the Comprehensive Housing Strategy. The BVCP revision provides a perfect opportunity for the conversation that many citizens clearly want to have. At meeting with staff, PBC has offered to help facilitate public meetings on BVCP-related issues, and we remain willing to do so, with other interested community organizations. Staff seemed distinctly uninterested. We urge Council to prioritize as much public discussion as possible. The discussion should not be put off until the summer of 2015. It needs to begin as early in the process as possible.

The BVCP should be more closely linked to zoning and other regulations. PBC urges that Council seriously consider ways to make the goals outlined in the BVCP enforceable during the permitting process. At a minimum there should be virtual links between the aspirational goals in the plan and the regulations in the Boulder Revised Code.

City Council should immediately begin work on renewing the BVCP IGA (which expires at the end of 2017). It is unwise to put this off until completion of the BVCP revision, since the inevitable delays in the revision could result in a sudden rush in the necessity of dealing with expiration of the IGA.

The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan should include provisions for neighborhood plans, similar to those in force in Madison, Wisconsin. The neighborhood plans should be developed by residents, and the BVCP should include provisions that require adherence to those plans in making changes to zoning and regulations affecting the neighborhoods and adjoining commercial office/retail and or service industrial that borders neighborhoods. For this update, we recommend establishing the framework of the neighborhoods- defining areas, creating maps of zoning and BVCP land use classification, and writing a brief statement about neighborhood compositions, character, needs, pluses and minuses, and aspirations. This would give neighbors a voice they are asking to provide, and once approved by 4-body review it would have significant weight.
The City should create 3D visualization tools so everyone can better understand the outcomes of proposed development. While not necessarily tied to the BVCP, the update provides an excellent opportunity to introduce these tools into our planning process, so that the citizens can see what build-out looks like in specific areas.
Related Planning and Development Issues
PBC supports limiting building height to 35/38ft in all areas except the downtown and Boulder Junction. Any building approved at 55 feet should have a clear, well-defined, enforceable community benefit as part all permits granted.
PBC urges Council to put the Comprehensive Housing Strategy and envision East Arapahoe on hold. Staff efforts are better directed elsewhere, and these projects would be more likely to have acceptable results after the community discussion of the BVCP revision.
City Council should establish a Council-appointed Housing Board.
Council should consider creation of a rental regulation board or staff area to deal with enforcement, VRBOs, occupancy, and smartregs. Council should reexamine the Residential Growth Management System and eliminate most of the exemptions that have reduced its effectiveness.
Council should study commercial linkage fees and broaden their areas of application and use them for affordable housing. Council should quickly initiate a pilot form-based zoning project —possibly at Boulder Junction, but perhaps somewhere else.
Open Space & Mountain Parks
Among Council’ “Two Year Desired Outcomes” for Open Space is the following item: “Overriding policy issues: Carrying capacity, night time use, on/off road trail use, temporal restrictions”. This arose originally when Council passed the West Trail Study Area Management Plan.
The Department brought in an experienced retired planner, Dave Kuntz, to lead this effort, but the 2013 flood resulted in his being reassigned. While these issues have not yet been addressed by OSMP, they are still important. With the increasing number of visits on our open space lands, the resulting pressures on the lands and the resources found there, and climate change impacts, the viability and resilience of our open space system depend on our attention to these issues. Please don’t let them slide off of your plate of Desired Outcomes.

As you prepare for your City Council Retreat, please note the importance of these overriding policy issues and make sure that they remain on the list of issues to be addressed by OSMP in the coming year. This is particularly important in light of personnel changes in the department and public pressure to move forward with the North Trail Study Area.

Yours truly,
Sarah McClain and Ray Bridge, PLAN–Boulder County Co-chairs