Former Boulder City Council member Lisa Morzel still resides in the adobe home she built herself in 1977 in north Boulder. She remembers a time when the busy axillary streets didn’t have sidewalks or streetlights, and warehouses stood in place of today’s houses.
While Morzel still sees many of the same faces from when she first planted roots on her $30,000 housing plot, the region is less “funky.” North Boulder was more rural in nature up until the ’90s, with chicken farms and horse stables present then now mostly gone.
Morzel served on Boulder City Council for five terms from 1995 to 2003 and again from 2007 to 2019. During that time, she worked as both an elected official and resident of north Boulder to encourage its development, while holding onto some of its funky past.
“Good change doesn’t happen overnight, and it sometimes takes decades to accomplish,” she said.
And that it has.
Morzel sat on the steering committee for a plan hatched in 1995 to rebuild, restore and reinvigorate north Boulder, which finally has begun to see results, 25 years later:
- The Bus Stop Apartments at 4871 Broadway already are partially leased out. The affordable housing sits on top of the former Bustop Gentlemen’s Club.
- The Armory, a large community center and housing development, is under construction. Leasing is expected early 2021.
- The Ponderosa Community Stabilization project broke ground late June for its infrastructure phase.
- Morzel said that a library in NoBo has been at the top of the community’s wishlist for decades. The NoBo Corner Library will be replaced with a larger branch. Plans are still underway.
- Reconstruction of Broadway between Violet Avenue and U.S. Highway 36 begins this fall.
The North Boulder Subcommunity Plan of 1995 — with an action plan drafted in 2014 — outlined the desired improvements. Those likely to see completion soon include the new library branch, a strengthened business corridor along Broadway and increased connectivity with multi-modal streets and paths.
The city has worked toward incorporating and building up north Boulder since the first wave of annexing the enclaves that once made up the region occurred in the 1940s. More parcels were annexed up until 1994. There’s still more than 200 acres in the county, according to the subcommunity plan.
“Over time, the area has sort of grown and changed in a way that was compatible with that subcommunity plan, and it’s been a great guiding document for this part of town,” said Aaron Brockett, Boulder City Council member and resident of the Holiday neighborhood in north Boulder.
Brockett served as chair of the city planning board for five years, during which the action plan was created, before being elected to City Council in 2015.
A paramount objective in the subcommunity plan is integrating mixed-use, mixed-income and affordable housing.
New life to the Ponderosa
At the end of June, the Ponderosa Community Stabilization project began infrastructure construction. The city project eventually will phase out mobile homes in the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park and construct fixed-foundation dwellings.
The park sits on 6.46-acres in north Boulder at 4475 Broadway. The parcel was considered a Boulder County enclave from its establishment in the 1950s until last year, when the city annexed it. The city bought the mobile-home park for more than $4 million in 2017.
The city plans to gradually replace the 60-plus mobile homes with 73 single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes while minimizing displacement. Residents who moved to the park by Aug. 1, 2017, can remain in their mobile homes for as long as they choose. According to city documents, “existing mobile homes may remain as legal nonconforming uses,” but “may not be expanded or replaced with another mobile home.”
“One of the areas where the planning department was willing to be flexible with a project was on phasing,” said Crystal Launder, housing planner for the city Housing and Human Services department. “Typically in a development, you have three years to complete a phase.”
Flatirons Habitat for Humanity will oversee construction of the new housing in the former mobile-home park. After the first phase infrastructure is built out, dwelling construction can begin in the next two years, Launder said. Necessary infrastructure includes updated pavement and an updated sewage system.
Unoccupied space on the west side of the property that’s mostly wetlands and overflow parking will allow for construction of about 12 housing units. Those units will serve as the first available homes for Ponderosa residents to relocate within the neighborhood. From there, more households will transition as mobile-home pads and rented spaces open up.
The 2018 Ponderosa Comprehensive Plan found that “no more than one or two households earn above a moderate income, while two-thirds fall into the extremely low income category as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
The median household income in Boulder was $66,117, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2018. Just more than half of the households in Ponderosa earn less than $30,000 in a year, Launder said, referencing a 2019 survey of 52 Ponderosa respondents.
The survey found that 92% in the community own their mobile home. The standard pad costs $530 a month to rent, a price tag that’s rare in Boulder.
For residents remaining in their mobile homes, rent for the pad is subject to increase after phase 1, but it can’t exceed 3.5% of the area median income. Residents will receive letters with appreciation amounts for their mobile homes. The first went out in October. They can use that amount toward their mortgage for a Habitat For Humanity home.
One driver for the city to move away from mobile homes is for safety spacing. Launder said that with some mobile homes within a foot of each other, there’s not adequate spacing to meet Boulder fire separations. Fixed dwellings, across the interior and undeveloped western side, will ensure room, she said.
North Broadway reconstruction
Shortly after Ponderosa breaks ground, North Broadway reconstruction will begin. Old asphalt will be replaced along Broadway from Violet Avenue to U.S. Highway 36. Multimodal transportation infrastructure, long-term pavement maintenance and floodplain mitigation are in the works.
Construction is anticipated for this fall, with a budget of $11.3 million funded through federal Transportation Improvements Program grant funding, $3 million in city utilities funds and $2.1 million in city transportation funds.
Alex May, transportation project manager for the city, said that the project is on track for summer bidding, with tentative plans to begin building in early October.
Ponderosa’s main entrance sits on Broadway, but reconstruction plans require it to permanently close because city code requires that properties with more than one street access locate entryways on the “lowest category street, alley or public access frontage.” Though both projects intersect both in location and construction schedules, the Broadway reconstruction isn’t responsible for the entrance relocation.
May said that Ponderosa will have more entry points even with moving the entrance off of the main axillary road.
A four-way intersection will connect Cherry Avenue and 10th Street and lead into Ponderosa. Rosewood Avenue will extend into the community, too.
On Broadway, there will be raised, buffered bike lanes to promote safety for bikers. Bike lanes and parking lanes will be asphalt while most of Broadway will be concrete. The bike lanes are half of the curb height, creating a separation between cars, bikers and pedestrians.
As north Boulder redevelops, city officials seek to encourage affordable and mixed-income housing is an attempt to maintain the existing neighbors.
Launder said about half of the households in Ponderosa are Latino, at 46%, a concentration not seen elsewhere in Boulder, which has an overall Latino population of about 9.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Households also are larger than average in Boulder, with 33% having five or more members. Floor plans for new fixed-foundation homes in Ponderosa will provide options for larger households.
The Holiday neighborhood, a community developed on 27 acres where the former Holiday Drive-in Theater operated, provides a hint at how north Boulder might look. Boulder Housing Partners master-developed the land in the late ’90s after buying the parcel from the city. There are 333 residential units, of which 42% are permanently affordable, according to BHP.
The Bus Stop Apartments, an affordable-housing building on the land that formerly held the long-operating Bustop Gentlemen’s Club, completed construction this year.
The 53-unit building rents to households that earn 60% or less than the area median income. At least 30 units are occupied, said Mary Duvall, CEO of Thistle Communities, a Boulder-based affordable housing nonprofit that manages the Bus Stop.
The building is centrally placed in the NoBo Art District. While rentals aren’t exclusive to working artists, it caters to them, Duvall added. A community art gallery is located in the building.
Catering to art
“Paying a lower rent might give you a little more time to pursue your art,” Duvall said of the Bus Stop project. The gallery space is leased to the NoBo Art District, which recently held the June First Friday popup at the Bus Stop.
Though NoBo wasn’t recognized as a designated creative district by the city until 2017, it has worked toward cultivating an arts community for more than a decade.
The district serves approximately 200 individual artists and art business members.
Lisa Nesmith, president of the NoBo Art District, said that it tries to have “a seat at the table” with developers, including the Bus Stop. She continues to have conversations about balancing projects with affordability for artists.
“We want to make sure that we keep this area true to its original character enough that it does not move artists out, because without the artists, you sort of missed the point of the art district,” she said.
While the Bus Stop apartments were under construction, the art district launched the #NoBoFacesProject. Local photographer Karen A. Dombrowski-Sobel, with the help of other artist contributors, displayed locals’ portraits along the construction fencing.
The project has since expanded to fencing around Emerald Management Properties and the anticipated development of The Armory.
The Armory mixed use project
The Armory at Broadway and Lee Hill Drive plans for 23 buildings with 201 apartments and townhomes, along with retail space on the former Colorado National Guard property. The project broke ground last year and is slated for completion in 2021. Preleasing begins this year.
The units are broken up into 183 apartments and 18 townhomes. January 2021 is the expected time frame for first move-ins, said Kim Sperry, managing director of developer RangeWater Real Estate, formerly known as Pollack Shores Real Estate Group LLC.
Though housing will be market rate, she said that the variety of units serves various renters.
“It’s going to add a diversity of housing because we have everything from a 545 square-foot studio that will cater to grad students, young tech workers, all the way up to a 3,100-square-foot townhome that would accommodate a family,” Sperry said.
Finding customers for businesses
The housing projects in the area stem from a desire to provide a local customer base for north Boulder small businesses, Brockett, the councilmember, said.
“We have some wonderful existing retailers in the area, but some of them have struggled a little bit so I think one of the things I’ve heard from merchants in the neighborhood is that they could really use an anchor tenant of some kind, to help pull us around,” he said.
The NoBo Art District is petitioning to turn the district into a Business Improvement District.
As of 2018, the art district’s annual budget was $28,000. The district aims for a $75,000 to $150,000 yearly budget. Continued revenue from the 37 commercial entities in the art district would help fund public art projects, infrastructure enhancements, and policy, advocacy, and marketing of the area.
Nesmith said the art district wanted to place a measure in front of voters this November, but the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the process.
NiCHE Workspaces LLC owner Jesse Day said that two thirds of its customers at its Broadway location live nearby and bike to the coworking space. Though the NiCHE established itself with its Pearl Street space in 2017, the NoBo center only has been open for more than a year.
Day is planning a 2,000-square-foot event space and additional bike storage.
He said he was asked by the NoBo Art District to sit on the board for the business district but declined due to the time commitment. Day still supports turning the art district into a BID.
He’s less excited for the construction on Broadway, but said that in the long run, it will improve traffic to his business.
“For me as a business owner, I’m pretty excited about it,” Day said. “I think it could make a co-working place with a concert-level small event space. It could be a slam dunk.”
Michael Belochi, owner of BOCO Cider Boulder’s 1st Cidery & Taproom (BoCo Cider Corp.), can see the Armory site from the west-facing back of his taproom.
“Every day I see that, I’m just so excited about the prospects. Not only for the extra residents over there, but that old Armory is going to be kind of turned into a little bit of a community center,” Belochi said.
North Boulder library branch
A long-time goal of the original North Boulder Subcommunity plan was to add a library branch. The 600-square-foot NoBo Corner Boulder Public Library at Broadway and Yarmouth Avenue opened in 2014, but its small size fails to meet the region’s needs, proponents of a larger branch library say.
The 2018 Library Master Plan calls for a larger branch with extended amenities. Antonia Gaona, library public services manager, is managing the project. New York City-based WORKac, an architectural firm, is designing an approximately 12,000 square-foot library on the east side of Broadway at 4540 Broadway.
A proposed 20,028-square-foot landscaped green space with trails will connect Violet Park with the library.
The architects plan to finalize plans with the city this fall, said Dan Wood, co-founder of WORKac.
The projected cost of the project is about $10 million. Half of its funding, $5 million, would come from the November 2017 renewal of the Community, Culture and Safety Tax for capital Improvements.
Wood said that the design plan was informed from community meetings. Five common requests for the library were for elements that provide outdoor areas, quiet, community, makerspace and spaces for children.
Brockett said that the new North Boulder library will be a ”huge step forward for the arts and culture and education for young people up here in NoBo” and help bridge the digital divide in the area.
Nesmith is excited to witness how NoBo changes as new neighbors move in and vacant spaces transform into hubs. But she hopes that its character won’t be paved over throughout construction.
“I think because it’s an area that’s ripe for change other people must see all of the potential and possibility in the area that I do,” she said. “One of the things you love about it is what it already is.”
Morzel said that all of the changes to her funky community are widely embraced because the city and developers have listened to residents’ input.
“When the old subcommunity plan came up, we realized that either we could continue to fight the city against everything, or we could have a vision that we supported for change in north Boulder,” she said.