Following the news that five retail spots on east Pearl Street downtown will be razed and replaced with a planned 17 units of luxury housing, the City Council will examine what power it has to prevent similar conversions from happening in that area moving forward.

Late Monday night, Councilwoman Jill Adler Grano asked for, and received, support from a majority of the council to direct City Attorney Tom Carr to prepare an ordinance that would require ground-floor retail at least 25 feet deep on parcels that front Pearl Street between 18th and Folsom streets.

"From 18th Street all the way to Folsom along Pearl, that really could convert to 100 percent residential," Grano warned. "From where I'm sitting, 18th Street to Folsom along Pearl is a very important retail corridor. It has been for many, many years, and I think our community values it as such."

She noted she feels that it will be especially important to keep retail in that area in the years to come, since Pearl Street extends out to the burgeoning Boulder Junction neighborhood and to shops and restaurants along 29th Street.

"This conversion is taking place pretty quickly," she added. "(H)opefully, this (proposed ordinance) addresses developments moving forward and we can preserve some retail in this corridor."


Grano's proposal appears directly inspired by the plans of Boulder's Element Properties, which seeks to place its 17 units on the lots now home to five businesses, including Snarf's Sandwiches and Jet's Espressoria.

One block east, at 2304 Pearl St., Pace Development is planning eight luxury townhomes.

At the beginning of Monday's meeting, two residents who'd caught wind of Element's project spoke during the open comment period to urge the council to preserve retail convenience downtown.

Grano had more than enough support from her colleagues to see her idea advanced, and Carr is expected to return with a proposed ordinance at the council's March 20 meeting.

"I appreciate Jill's urgency on this subject," Councilwoman Cindy Carlisle said. "So often, people in town say, about, for example, the hotels down at 28th and Canyon, 'How did that happen?' East Pearl, the same thing could happen, I think, just as rapidly."

Councilman Sam Weaver brought forth an idea he said he got from Planning Board member and former Councilwoman Crystal Gray. Perhaps, he said, the city could thwart the loss of retail on east Pearl Street by making housing a conditional use for developers along the stretch in question.

"It might be a fairly simple matter to make a change," Weaver said, "to flip it so that retail is the presumptive (use) and housing is the conditional."

Councilwoman Mary Young was among several members who noted that the council had a busy work plan, and should only take on Grano's idea if it can be considered efficiently. She said the council should take into account ongoing discussions that affect the issue of retail downtown, including building height and the city's study of downtown retail conditions.

Young also said she'd like to understand better the degree to which the conversion Grano warned of is or is not underway.

"Are we acting on something based on an article in the Daily Camera," she said of a recent story about Element's plans, "or is this rapid conversion really happening?"

As part of her proposal, Grano suggested that the city could offer a parking reduction for developers of retail.

"The parking requirements for retail and commercial are pretty much prohibitive," she said. "I think if we were to reduce the parking requirements, it's going make this more of a reality."

It was clear by the end of the discussion that council members are interested in taking action, but that the action they take may go in any of a few different directions, and not necessarily along the lines of what Grano specifically proposed.

That will be hashed out in two weeks, when the council has its full discussion.

"If we're going to end up with high-end condos," Mayor Suzanne Jones said, "let's do something to get better than that. With the mixed use, we could get the best of both worlds."

Alex Burness: 303-473-1389, or