Macon Cowles: Wrong for Boulder: Vote No on 300 and 301

The criteria for every action of city council are the environmental, social and economic impacts of action on the community as a whole. These criteria require the council and residents to consider the good of the whole community. Not “How does this affect me in my neighborhood?” But rather “How will this benefit people across the city?”

Initiative 300 divides Boulder into 66 neighborhoods and gives each neighborhood veto power over city land use regulations (LURs) effecting change within that neighborhood. If 10 percent of registered voters in a neighborhood want to stop an LUR, Initiative 300 gives that 10 percent the right to force an election to veto the LUR from becoming effective in their ‘hood.

What people have to say about change, development and neighborhoods is of intense interest to council members — regardless of what part of the city they live in. Supporters of Initiative 300 contend that the city “doesn’t listen to neighborhoods.” But neighborhoods get what they want from the city most of the time. Here are 10 examples:

1. Safeway wanted to build a mega-store in North Boulder in the early ’90’s, but neighbors wanted something different. The result: the North Boulder Subcommunity Plan that altered many things about the future of north Boulder, including NoBo, Amante plaza and the Holiday residential neighborhood.

2. The 4th Street Junior Academy site.With housing in short supply, consideration was given to medium-density housing (14 units per acre). But Newlands and Mapleton Hill strongly objected, so the property is being developed at low density with larger, expensive houses.

3. The Washington School. An urban cohousing village was planned by the developer. Neighbors on both sides of Broadway objected, and gathered 8,000 signatures to halt the development. The city council put in place a facilitated process at the end of which the property was redeveloped with lower density and shorter buildings while preserving a beloved neighborhood park.

4. Goss-Grove. Some property owners wanted to increase the density of portions of Goss-Grove by upzoning. Consistent with what most of the neighbors wanted, the city council instead down-zoned Goss-Grove.

5. Baseline Zero. A concept plan for a development on Moorhead met strong objections from neighbors, who wanted businesses that served the needs of the neighborhood. It also received a cold reception from the planning board, stopping the development in its tracks. Meanwhile, council members have called for a zoning change that would limit permitted uses to those that serve the needs of the neighborhood.

6. The Hill. It was clear in the summer of 2014 that residents of the Hill would lose the opportunity to have a rejuvenated and robust commercial center if developers were permitted to construct profitable and high-end student rentals. The city council therefore placed a moratorium on that type of development and hired a Hill project manager to sponsor redevelopment of the Hill that meets the needs of neighbors and businesses.

7. 777 Broadway. Selected by the housing authority as a place for the homeless shelter in 2002, Hill neighbors objected and so a new site for the homeless shelter was found at its current location in north Boulder.

8. Reenvision East Arapahoe. Begun as a project to improve the street, foster new restaurants and provide a greater diversity of neighborhood businesses, neighborhood opposition caused the council to put this project on the back burner.

9. Coop housing for seniors. A dozen people, nine from a single neighborhood, spoke against a measure to permit up to six seniors to live together in an appropriately-sized home. As a result of the opposition, council placed the matter on hold.

10. Neighborhood liaison staff. The position was cut in 2001 because of the recession. Neighborhoods requested that this position now be filled, and the city has recently done so.

Initiatives 300 (“Neighborhood Vote”) and 301 (“Growth Shall Pay”) change the city charter in a way that is essentially irreversible. They won’t nurture resident aspirations, such as the Goose Creek Neighbors’ vision for the old hospital site, or what north Boulder people want from the Armory redevelopment; or what Hill residents want for the Hill. They will only offer neighborhoods the chance to say “Not here! Not in my backyard.” Proponents have chosen titles of the initiatives that sound nice, but together they are wrong for Boulder. They pit neighbor against neighbor, and neighborhoods against what a majority of citizens want. The environment, affordable housing, jobs and diversity will all suffer. Vote no on Initiatives 300 and 301.

Macon Cowles is an environmental and civil rights lawyer who is stepping down this fall after eight years on Boulder City Council.

Article originally published in Daily Camera on September 3, 2015