On January 3, PLAN-Boulder sent a letter to the City Council in respect to their 2014 retreat with suggests for community priorities in housing, climate change, transportation and open space.  (For comments on the 2015 retreat, go here)

Dear Councilmembers,

At your forthcoming retreat, you have a substantial agenda. PLAN-Boulder County suggests the following topics as important community priorities:

We feel this is an important year for affordable housing and council has the opportunity to make some big changes in the future of housing in Boulder and our community as a whole.
The Needs Assessment and Choice Analysis that are currently under way will collect important and valuable data regarding the current state of housing in Boulder and provide a basis through which to evaluate and implement new housing strategies. Plan-Boulder looks forward to comprehensive data on housing in Boulder and the community discussion that follows.

We encourage council to thoroughly evaluate and assess the data collected and to look at solving our housing problems with an open mind. There are numerous tools available, including buy-down programs, housing replacement programs, voluntary real estate transfer taxes, micro-units and housing preservation programs, many of which could be integral to our new strategy. We also strongly urge that you consider increasing current requirements for payment in-lieu of affordable units and adjusting the inclusionary requirements to achieve community affordable housing goals.
In evaluating housing in Boulder, council should consider the relationship between new jobs, housing, and transportation; and that council set goals regarding new growth and potential re-zoning with these relationships in mind. Staff, the Planning Board, and developers need council guidance on what the goals of the community are. It is particularly important that worker housing and small market-rate units be considered, in addition to low-income needs.

In these deliberations, it is important to consider the provisions of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan and the current city growth restriction of one-percent per year (BRC 9-14-1). Any implied changes in the BVCP should be wrapped into the 2015 major revision, and any changes in growth goals should be the subject of thorough community discussion.

We encourage council to consider goals for downtown development regarding the distribution of worker housing, vs. luxury condos, vs. “class A” office space and to realign zoning and bonuses with city goals.

We also suggest that council considers goals for development across Boulder and defines what we want to see out of future development, what it should accomplish, what it should look like, and who it should accommodate. Setting these goals will help guide staff, the planning board, and the development community resulting in developments that better serve the community as a whole.
Parking requirements for new commercial and business developments need reconsideration, along with approaches to shrinking our legacy of too much subsidized parking, which encourages automobile trips.

The North Boulder Subcommunity Plan is now underway, a process that PBC strongly supports. It deserves council’s attention as much as downtown and University Hill, and every effort should be made to encourage community participation. The area is changing rapidly, and residents and businesses are struggling to adapt. Equity issues are particularly important, since our policies have skewed the housing mix.

PLAN-Boulder County supports the Resilient Cities initiative, and we hope that council will emphasize the importance of citizen input to the “resilience coordinator” who will be hired. Coordination with interested departments at the University would also be valuable.

Climate Change (and Transportation)
We commend council for the priorities established in 2013 and for its continued work on climate issues, including, but not limited to, the work on Boulder’s Energy Future.

The housing and development work mentioned above has major implications for carbon reduction. Boulder needs to do everything it can to encourage higher energy efficiency and renewables for all new buildings, together with standards for facilitating recycling. Boulder should move ahead with a commercial energy conservation ordinance (CECO) and mandatory commercial recycling.

A community-wide Ecopass received a great deal of favorable discussion in the recent election. We need to proceed with investigation of feasibility and discussion of funding mechanisms, as well as viability for commuters to eastern parts of the city, particularly in-commuters. Many council candidates and other community leaders did not want to confuse the discussions of the transportation tax issues in the election with discussion of a community-wide Ecopass. That was a reasonable concern, but now that the transportation taxes have passed, it is time to look at the county study and move forward. PLAN-Boulder County recognizes that discussions with RTD will be delayed due to RTD’s other problems, and they are likely to be protracted, but it is time to move forward.

Open Space
City Goals and Work Plan items listed from 2013 include “OSMP natural resources undefined overarching policy issues,” but the detail listed under that topic neglects to mention the main question that was originally raised by city council during the discussions surrounding the adoption of the West Trail Study Area Management Plan. That was the question of sustainability of the resources given current and growing recreational pressures, heavy use from the entire northern metro area, and climate change. The specific bullet items listed are all relevant to the question of overall sustainability and management, but the fundamental question is the one that was raised by council: “Are we loving our open space to death, and what do we need to do to manage it in a way that is sustainable for future generations and that results in healthy ecosystems?” That must be the central theme for staff to report back to council.

Clearly much of OSMP staff time and resources this year will be devoted, of necessity, to flood recovery, but long-term sustainability must still be the foundational goal.

Yours truly,
Sarah McClain & Ray Bridge, Co-Chairs,
PLAN-Boulder County