Boulder City Council adopted the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan earlier this week. However, the Council did not agree with some of the changes recommended by the Planning Board, thus sending the plan back to the Board for further consideration.
The plan, meant to guide the future of the largely industrial eastern part of the city, was last discussed by the Council in a joint public hearing with the Planning Board on May 3.
Members of the Boulder City Council unanimously approved the subcommunity plan in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday and celebrated as such.
“This is a landmark moment. This is years of work by the staff and the community,” Mayor Aaron Brockett said.
However, the Planning Board and City Council must adopt the same version of the plan so the Planning Board will need to review the version agreed upon by the Council.
Boulder has been developing the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan since January 2019, when the City Council identified east Boulder as the first subcommunity to go through a planning process since the North Boulder Subcommunity Plan was adopted in 1995.
The city generally considers east Boulder as the area north of Arapahoe Avenue and east of Foothills Parkway. It includes community spaces such as Boulder Community Health’s Foothills campus and Valmont City Park.
The subcommunity plan recommends land-use changes and design guidance that could allow for approximately 5,000 homes in east Boulder, which would accommodate a population of about 11,000 people.
At the direction of City Council, a noise study of the Boulder Municipal Airport will be conducted and staff could make changes to the area around the airport that’s affected by noise. The city intends to do this as part of the 2025 airport master planning process.
Councilmember Nicole Speer acknowledged that this proposal was a new addition and said there should have been more community engagement on the particular topic.
In Councilmember Mark Wallach’s view, there are two groups: airport users and neighbors.
“I doubt that there’s a hidden majority of people living near the airport who are delighted to have noise. I’m not sure there’s another group out there that are advocates for more noise,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we’ve seen what’s there.”
Some City Council members said they hoped to ensure that any changes to the “airport influence zone” would not dissuade or prevent housing.
Housing is a major component of the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan.
The city estimates that approximately 1,200 of the homes would be included in Boulder’s permanently affordable housing program.
Overall, this would result in an 11% increase in the city’s housing stock and a 32% increase in the amount of affordable units, the city noted.
Assuming the plan is approved, staff will begin work over the summer on the complementary land-use changes, which includes updating the zoning on 250 acres within east Boulder, changing the area from light industrial to mixed-use neighborhoods to allow for housing.
The land use plan also provides updated definitions for the mixed-use industrial designation and creates a new use designation called mixed-use transit-oriented development, which the city describes as pairing existing or planned transit facilities with residential and commercial development opportunities.
Another significant change recommended by the Planning Board centered on the potential for job creation in east Boulder. The Board recommended limiting job growth in Flatiron Business Park to 5,000 total jobs.
According to Senior Planner Kathleen King, the Planning Board came to that conclusion because the plan’s overall projection of jobs in east Boulder is a little more than 20,000 total jobs. Flatiron Business Park, at 55th Street and Pearl Parkway, currently makes up 24% of the total number of jobs in east Boulder so that’s how the Planning Board arrived at 5,000 jobs, King noted.
Staff was uncomfortable with the change and said they’d rather add in language that would evaluate options for code and zoning changes to mitigate the potential impacts on the jobs-housing balance.
King expressed hesitation about using a potentially variable number to limit the number of available jobs.
“The jobs projections are really assumption based, particularly when we’re looking at really large areas like this,” King said.
While some City Council members agreed with staff’s suggestion, the majority did not.
“I think it’s really inconsistent and borderline inappropriate for us to be creating tools to cap jobs in our community,” Councilmember Matt Benjamin said.
Councilmember Junie Joseph agreed, arguing a cap wouldn’t align with any of the city’s values, including economic growth and vibrancy.