The city of Boulder’s population has increased from 86,374 in 1990 to 108,090 in 2016, a 25 percent increase over 26 years. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Boulder County added an average of 10 residents each day to its community. Just outside Boulder, local communities such as Lafayette and Superior have grown five to 10 times as much. The resulting overcrowding from this expansion is now apparent, the inconvenience palpable. Two major groups with opposing mindsets — Open Boulder and PLAN-Boulder — are addressing this issue in the upcoming November municipal elections. Open Boulder supports responsible growth and a better economy, and it proposes denser urban corridors served by bus rapid transit and other innovative transit solutions. On the other hand, PLAN-Boulder argues for stepping on the brakes of expansion in order to preserve the natural resources and the existing urban infrastructure. Both groups support affordable housing for less-affluent workers, but only Open Boulder can achieve these goals.
Open Boulder believes that change is inevitable, and in this case, growth in Boulder has potential to be positive and powerful. In their vision — for Boulder to be healthy, economically stable and flourishing — Boulder must evolve. PLAN-Boulder is concerned with the overdevelopment of the city. Their main focus is to ensure environmental stability in Boulder, maintain its open space, and make it possible for Boulder’s natural environment and its citizens to coexist.
Managing population growth in an area that is highly sought-after is tricky because limiting the expansion of housing results in making reasonably priced houses and apartments scarce if not nonexistent. According to D.B. Wilson’s data at Re/Max of Boulder, the average price of a single-family home in Boulder is $1,067,231. Housing demand in Boulder is intense, and there is limited development to meet this demand. The natural result is skyrocketing prices limiting the ability of most working-age people to move into the city. Many people who work in Boulder have to commute every day from less-expensive neighboring communities. This creates a lack of community and an economic divide. Solutions to decrease the price of housing include building houses in the remaining available single-family areas and creating taller and denser apartment and condominium communities along corridors. The Boulder City Council wants to preserve the city’s open spaces and keep the 55-foot height ordinance so the view of the Flatirons is not obstructed. The city also adopted the so-called Blue Line in 1959, which prohibits providing municipal water above 5,750 feet in elevation, making it almost impossible to develop beyond that height.
If PLAN-Boulder’s slate of candidates is elected to office, City Council will put up many barriers to development so that employers will no longer want to locate in Boulder and developers will no longer see the city as a business opportunity. This means that jobs will disappear, young adults and young families will migrate to other attractive areas that support development, and the aging Boulder citizenry will be forced to fund basic municipal services like water, police, etc. via increased property taxes that may force some seniors out of their homes. There are many examples of senior citizens forced out of their homes due to skyrocketing property taxes in the nation, particularly cities with slow growth. This aging population will not have any young people to take care of them, and the town will lack diversity. In order for the growth to succeed, Boulder will need to figure out how to carefully husband its resources, especially water.
PLAN-Boulder’s proposition will result in a domino effect. Without development of new housing, there will be no new jobs, resulting in no new sales tax, property tax or business. Right now, affordable housing is supported by new development fees, but with no such development, there will be no such fees, with the outcome of no affordable housing. Also, if there is little to no development in Boulder, there will be much higher housing prices and property tax. With these new high prices and no sales tax, there will be no ability to provide services or benefits for the less affluent.
There is nothing wrong with the view that Boulder should not grow, and PLAN-Boulder proposes some good ideas. The problem is that this policy results in loss of sales tax and new development, and thus fees for affordable housing and vastly increased home prices. This creates an unmanageable spiral of costs that creates a neighborhood of wealthy individuals, no economic opportunity and a loss of diversity, energy, children and vibrancy.
Sheridan Gill is a lifelong Boulder resident and a student at the University of Colorado.