Boulder should continue a moratorium on new residential building on University Hill through March 2015, City Manager Jane Brautigam said in a memo to City Council.
The proposed moratorium would allow commercial projects to move forward and still allow for concept plan review of all projects, a process that allows developers to get initial feedback from the Planning Board before finalizing their plans.
However, there would be no site review applications or building permits issued for projects that would add residential floor area to the University Hill business district until next spring. The moratorium would apply in the commercial district that runs roughly from University Avenue to College Avenue, from Broadway west to 13th Street, zoned "Business-Main Street."
"The current economic environment on University Hill strongly favors rental housing, particularly student housing, over all other uses allowed in the residential zone," Brautigam wrote in a memo to City Council.
If you go
What: Boulder City Council
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Boulder Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway
Info: To read the memo on the proposed University Hill residential building moratorium and to see the rest of the agenda, go to http://bit.ly/1vS7U0R
"An over-concentration of student housing in this area would run counter to the vision in the BVCP (Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan) which describes the Hill business district as 'an activity center that serves a variety of commercial, entertainment, educational and civic functions' and 'also serves as a neighborhood center for the surrounding area.'"
In response to a heated real estate market and several proposals likely to come forward soon for new student housing, the Boulder City Council unanimously approved an emergency moratorium on July 29 that expires Wednesday morning. That moratorium covers all building permits, concept plan reviews and site review applications that would add floor area. The only building permits that can be issued on University Hill are for interior renovations.
'This allows me the freedom'
Developer Mike Boyers, who has been working with city officials and investors on a project near 14th Street and College Avenue that would provide an underground public parking garage, called the revised moratorium a "good compromise."
Boyers said he has gone "back to the drawing board" on his proposal, which initially would have provided high-end student housing and had already been revised, in response to city concerns, to provide housing for faculty and university staff.
Student rentals backed by parents who co-sign on the lease or even pay the rent directly have been seen as a safe bet by banks and investors, but Boyers said he's trying to come up with a different idea now.
Because the city owns one of the parcels Boyers needs and is prepared to sell it to him for a dollar in exchange for the public parking benefit, the city has significant leverage over Boyers' plans, even without the moratorium.
Allowing projects to go through concept plan review will allow him to get the feedback he needs to refine his ideas and prepare a more detailed proposal, Boyers said.
"This allows me the freedom to do that," Boyers said.
If the City Council approves the moratorium, the city's planning department would look at the allowed uses in the Business Main Street zone, which is a mixed use zone originally developed for North Broadway, as well as the boundaries of that zone.
Memo: Solving the issue will require longer-term efforts
If any changes to the land use regulations are proposed after studying the issue, they would go first to Planning Board and then to the City Council.
In the memo, Brautigam said city staff would look at market factors and the financial feasibility of the type of development the city would prefer, but the city would not attempt to "solve" market conditions.
City officials have said they want to see more adults on University Hill, whether they are junior faculty at the University of Colorado or creative class entrepreneurs. While they expect students to remain a significant part of the Hill community, they believe economic revitalization of the area depends on a more diverse mix.
If certain key properties are developed now as student housing, it will be much more difficult to create that diversity in the future, they said.
"The purpose of this project is to prevent a short-term economic environment from imposing long term changes to the character of the Hill," the memo said. "Solving the underlying issues will require a variety of longer-term efforts."
Boulder expects to hire a coordinator with experience in neighborhood revitalization by September and bring on a consultant to work on the formation of a residential services district to pay for more trash pick-up and snow shoveling, said Molly Winter, executive director of Boulder's Downtown and University Hill Management Division and Parking Services.
Winter said enforcement of the city's requirement for bear-resistant trash containers should also help with the amount of trash in the area.
Boulder also will ask voters this fall to approve a three-year, 0.3 percent sales tax that would raise $27.6 million for cultural and safety-oriented projects. The package includes $3 million for University Hill, including irrigation for street trees, pedestrian-scale lighting and the creation of an "event street" on Pennsylvania Avenue near 13th Street that could be closed off for performances and festivals.
Concern if moratorium was extended
Councilman George Karakehian, who originally ran on the issue of Hill revitalization, said normally he would not support a moratorium, but in this case, a pause is appropriate.
"We are in the middle of lots of changes on the Hill and discussions with the university and major pieces of property possibly changing hands," he said. "I think a Hill plan at this point is appropriate. I don't know that we can come up with anything better than housing, which is a big issue, but I am willing to give it a run and see if there is something exciting we can come up with and maybe incentivize."
Councilman Andrew Shoemaker, who lives on University Hill, said the more narrow moratorium makes sense, though he wouldn't make up his mind until after a public hearing on Tuesday.
"I like the idea of narrowing the moratorium to the problem that has been expressed, and the problem is the market demand for residential and the market conditions forcing a certain product when we have a different long-term vision," he said. "It is a drastic measure, so making sure it is tailored to the problem and not overly inclusive is a good thing."
Boyers said that while he can work within the constraints of a seven-month moratorium, extending it further could deter investors.
"If this extends beyond March, it's going to really hurt me and also the Hill, I think," he said. "People will just look elsewhere."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or firstname.lastname@example.org