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Boulder Council removes Hill zoning restriction with split vote

Other areas with similar zoning layer could be analyzed in future planning efforts

A man walks from The Hill to University of Colorado campus in the wet weather.
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Boulder cleared the way Tuesday for a handful of additional new dwellings to be constructed in a patch of the University Hill neighborhood.

Only six new homes could be added in the area with City Council’s removal of a zoning overlay, an extra layer of regulation for a stretch from Aurora Avenue to Baseline Road between 17th and 19th streets that prevents dwellings that could be legally constructed under normal zoning.

But residents in the area are still concerned with the potential impact the handful of additional homes could create. Of the six new homes that could be constructed, three would be as a triplex on a now-vacant parcel that used to have a duplex on it that burned down. A triplex would be allowed on the parcel, at 756 18th St. without the added layer of zoning.

City staff recommended Council approve removal of the extra zoning for medium-density residential neighborhoods, created in 1995 for the University Hill area and also applied to three others: along Grandview Avenue between 18th and 15th streets, between 13th and 14th streets from High Street north to Balsam Avenue, and a block along Alpine Avenue between 17th and 19th streets.

The other three areas were not impacted by Council’s action Tuesday.

“The single family homes are inhabited by many more than the four unrelated (occupants) allowed (by city ordinance), often eight to 10 people with two or more sharing rooms,” Margie Ripmaster, a 16th Street resident, said in an email to Council. “The alleys are full of overflowing trash cans, and the area is populated not only with rats but other disease carrying rodents. … Challenge the staff making these recommendations that will change forever the area while creating a very unhealthy living environment.”

The extra zoning preventing the triplex from being erected also would stop new dwellings that would be allowed under normal regulations on three other parcels in the area, with two on 19th Street with one on either side of Cascade Avenue and one on 17th south of Cascade. The property on 19th north of Cascade already holds a duplex that could become a triplex; the other two lots with homes already on them contain one unit apiece, with the capacity for one additional unit each based on their lot size.

The removal of the overlay zone was requested to be analyzed by the property owner seeking a triplex, Deputy City Manager Chris Meschuk said.

“This strikes me more as a private benefit to an individual, rather than a well-considered policy to create affordable housing,” Councilman Mark Wallach said.

Resident Tim Hillman pushed the city to consider removing the other three overlay zones in the future, citing the ability for a property owner to construct or expand single family homes on their properties currently, and the inability to add dwellings with the new square footage to chip away at the city’s housing need in many cases.

“Overlay zones are really kind of mediocre policy. Generally speaking you’d rather have the underlying zoning determine what you can build,” Mayor Sam Weaver said.

Council voted 7-2 to remove the additional zoning restriction, with Wallach and Councilwoman Mirabai Nagle opposed.

Councilwoman Mary Young suggested examining the removal of the other three overlay zones as city staff works on the subcommunity planning efforts corresponding to each area.

“This whole area is ripe for redevelopment,” Lisa Spalding, a University Hill resident, said, supporting leaving the overlay in place. “All the landlords are going for high-end, really expensive student housing. … It’s completely disrupting the balance in the neighborhood.

“If you lift the overlay zone with nothing in place to ensure the redevelopment is not designed piecemeal with no thought for the particular problems associated with dense student housing over social and economic diversity on the Hill, you will contribute directly to the current degradation of our neighborhood.”

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