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Despite significant pushback from University Hill residents, Boulder City Council on Tuesday largely indicated support for the proposal to turn the historic Marpa House into apartments.

However, its support was contingent on several new conditions, including lengthier quiet hours and a single address for code enforcement, meant to ensure University Hill residents are protected from the disruption many fear will happen when the building is redeveloped into 16 apartments with three bedrooms apiece. The additional conditions proposed by the Council on Tuesday will supplement those implemented by Boulder’s Planning Board when it approved the site review application in February.

Boulder City Council will make a final decision in two weeks when the non-conforming use review is on the consent agenda.

University Hill residents who spoke during Tuesday’s public hearing worried about an influx of students at the site and feared the project would change the character of their neighborhood. Many referenced the March 6 riot in which an estimated 500 to 800 college-age individuals gathered near Pennsylvania Avenue and 10th Street in a large outdoor party that became destructive, with people flipping a car and damaging other vehicles and property.

“Clearly this project is the wrong project in this neighborhood,” said longtime resident Mark Meyer. “This is a forever decision.”

However, while the comments began largely in opposition, the tone began to shift a bit as the hearing continued. One person who spoke in support was Madison Kemp, who shared how challenging it’s been to find housing as a student at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Initially, Boulder intended to break the Marpa House conversation into two parts with presentations, questions and public comment during one meeting and deliberation the following week. However, the Council Agenda Committee ultimately decided to push the annual homelessness update until May 11, allowing the entire Marpa House discussion to happen in one night.

The building, at 891 12th St., was built in 1923 to serve as a fraternity house. While the site is currently zoned low-density residential, its use as a fraternity house predated the zoning, according to City Attorney Tom Carr.

In 1973, the building was taken over and converted to housing for members of the Shambhala community. However, according to earlier reporting by the Camera, the group sold the Marpa House in 2019 when faced with a financial crisis amid the fallout of a sexual misconduct scandal involving Shambhala members.

A group of investors led by developer John Kirkland purchased the space for just under $5 million, and the house was granted historical landmark status the following year.

The space has long operated as a non-conforming use since it’s been a fraternity house and a boarding house, Boulder’s Senior Planner Sloane Walbert said Tuesday. The applicant is looking to expand that non-conforming use by reconfiguring the interior of the site to allow for 16 units with a maximum of 48 occupants, or three per unit. The team intends to restore the building and maintain its historic nature.

The apartments, which are to be called the Ash House, would be the fifth property on the Hill operated by this particular development team.

Boulder’s Planning Board recommended approval of the non-conforming use with a number of conditions, including reduced on-street parking, on-site management, quiet hours and a marketing plan that must be approved by the city manager before the team can apply for a building permit.

According to project consultant Rob O’Dea, that particular condition is a unique one that he’s yet to hear about.

“I am not sure of another project in the city where this has ever been considered or conditioned, but we’re happy to do it,” O’Dea said. “It’s the right thing to do on this one.”

Councilmembers Mark Wallach and Adam Swetlik both raised concerns that the space would be far too costly for families, University of Colorado Boulder faculty or other low-income Boulder residents.

However, in response to questions from Wallach and Swetlik on Tuesday, O’Dea said he was not prepared to speculate about the cost to rent units in the Ash House.