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Look at uses in opportunity zone, community benefit program top Boulder council’s priorities for year

A cyclist rides by “Into the Blue,” by Sandra Fettingis and Lauren Napolitano at the east Arapahoe Underpass in Boulder on Friday. At its annual retreat on Friday city council placed creating community benefit program, through which developers could receive exemptions to height and size requirements by offering space for the arts, second on its list of priorities for the year.
A cyclist rides by “Into the Blue,” by Sandra Fettingis and Lauren Napolitano at the east Arapahoe Underpass in Boulder on Friday. At its annual retreat on Friday city council placed creating community benefit program, through which developers could receive exemptions to height and size requirements by offering space for the arts, second on its list of priorities for the year.
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Boulder officials by May 2020 want to codify the process by which developers can offer enhanced public amenities in exchange for exceeding building height restrictions and housing density and floor space limits.

But the deadline for the policy change has necessitated a shift in scope of another major planning project with the aim of ending the moratorium imposed last month on demolition and development in Boulder’s federal opportunity zone, Friday’s city council retreat revealed.

While city staff planned to explore changes to allowed uses within certain zoning designations to bring about desirable projects in areas most likely to be targeted for development, city council hoped that effort would be geared toward ending the opportunity zone moratorium as quickly as possible.

Lifting the moratorium could be done, Councilman Sam Weaver suggested, by examining how changing the allowed uses in the 11 zones in the opportunity zone — which runs from 28th to 55th streets and Arapahoe to Diagonal Highway — could bring about development council would like to see, namely housing and retail.

The moratorium was spurred in part by Macy’s submitting plans to redevelop its massive 29th Street store as office space, although the company is not taking advantage of the opportunity zone’s allowance to defer, reduce or eliminate capital gains taxes on investments.

But since the so-called community benefit program to solidify what developers can offer in exchange for height and size exemptions has to remain on track for approval by May next year, city staff’s larger plan for updating use tables was split into immediate and longer-term projects.

Assistant City Manager Chris Meschuk said additional city staff would have been required to keep the community benefit program and use table review on parallel tracks to completion.

Council would like to first approve tweaks to use tables for each of the 11 zones in the opportunity zone, and asked staff to consider pushing other use table updates further down the line, to which Meschuk agreed.

“The urgency around use table reviews is around the opportunity zone. When we talk about accelerating the use table review, we’re talking about 11 zoning districts out of however many there are,” Weaver said.

Updating the use tables in the opportunity zone was named the city’s top priority for the year at Friday’s retreat, and furthering progress on the community benefit program was second in line, followed by parking code updates, rules for large homes on large lots and the remainder of the use tables review project.

Currently, increased building height or greater housing density is allowed only through Boulder’s site review process, which does not have a community benefit component attached to it, said Senior Planner Karl Guiler, so it can result in varying requirements imposed by council for granting variances.

“The goal is to make these requirements, if codified, more predictable and avoid the differing results that could occur on a case-by-case basis,” Guiler said.

Adding provisions to allow developers to offer affordable commercial space or space for arts is a goal of the project moving forward.

“The only city process that currently requires community benefit is the city’s annexation process. Typically, permanently affordable housing or open space dedication is the most common way of meeting this requirement,” Guiler said.

Once the community benefit program is approved, it could lead to fewer “judgment calls” during the site review process, or less use of the process in general, since it would lay out what needs to be provided in exchange for exceptions to building rules.

But Councilwoman Mirabai Nagle in an email earlier this month suggested mandating such community benefits be given for any new development, instead of only for those seeking exemptions from size and height restrictions.

“Instead (of site reviews) I would like to see most projects being done within the zoning rules, especially with respect to height, density and setbacks. … I do not support granting more height or density to the detriment of the nearby citizens — or others who have to look at it — for ‘community benefit’ that we should require and be able to obtain by right in the first place,” Nagle wrote.

Council at a meeting next month will approve the work plan set at the retreat.

 

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz.

 

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