As Boulder struggles with land use and equity, future developments should be modeled on what works, not past mistakes.
The pending “Spine Road” proposal for an ultra-high density residential development on the edge of Gunbarrel raises a host of questions about whether the project repeats past mistakes in Gunbarrel. The community’s vision for a more vibrant, resilient, equitable future establishes that Spine is the wrong plan for the wrong location at the wrong time.
By universal acclaim, the Holiday Neighborhood on North Broadway is a success story. It’s a great place to live. Quality of life is through the roof. Equity was built in from the start, not crowbarred in as an afterthought.
Boulder Housing Partners, the City Housing Authority, describes Holiday as a community “that combines ingenuity with affordability” where “BHP acted as master developer and land developer for the Holiday Neighborhood in a unique partnership” with local government, developers and non-profit organizations.
Collaboration works. Investing in a coordinated approach with diverse stakeholders and community involvement pays great dividends.
Holiday is a 27 acre site with 333 units. 42% are affordable housing (“AH”). It’s a vibrant “15- Minute Neighborhood” incorporating mixed uses with ready access to retail, services and alternative transportation.
Two other recently approved developments are also good examples of inclusive planning where landowners listened to the community and incorporated a wide range of benefits.
First, the Shining Mountain Waldorf School site on North Broadway includes 41 new housing units on 5 acres reflecting the neighborhood character and North Boulder Subcommunity Plan. Second, the Silver Saddle Hotel site on west Arapaho encompasses 52 units on 6 acres, half permanently affordable, plus historic preservation and open space components.
These projects do it right.
But in southwest Gunbarrel, the developers are proposing an “ultra-high density” residential development of 230 units on just 10 acres formerly owned by Celestial Seasonings.
Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (“BVCP”) guidance directs high-density residential development to areas served by transit, close to mixed uses, and designated as appropriate for high density in applicable plans – areas like the Hill, Diagonal Plaza, the new Transit Center on east Pearl, and North Broadway;
Spine is approximately a 30-minute walk to Gunbarrel Community Center;
Spine is a “food desert” barely served by transit;
The site plan looks like an “Urban Heat Island”; contrary to resiliency goals;
Only 3% of the total square footage is proposed for largely inconsequential mixed uses;
On balance, the proposal is inconsistent with BVCP policies.
Giving residents a voice is a core element of successful urban planning. That’s why the Planning Board and City Council endorsed “Gunbarrel Subcommunity Planning” as a top priority of the 2020 BVCP Update. Gunbarrel residents are excited about this opportunity, expected to take 12-18 months.
Successful planning keeps the important parts intact to keep future options open. Shrinking the inventory of vacant, developable parcels prior to planning limits flexibility and undermines community engagement.
Today, Gunbarrel is notorious as perhaps the least- or worst-planned community in Boulder Valley. 10,200 total residents including more than 5,000 city taxpayers lack access to most of the “public amenities” that City residents outside Gunbarrel take for granted: a recreation center, public swimming pool, K-12 public schools, senior centers, public parks, arts and cultural spaces, and playing fields.
What should happen on the 10 acres at Spine and adjacent tracts?
First, look to the Holiday Neighborhood.
Second, Gunbarrel Community Alliance requests that decisions are deferred until Gunbarrel Subcommunity Planning is completed.
Third, a temporary development moratorium has ample precedent across the Boulder Valley: the Hill, 28th Street, North Broadway, Niwot and the City Planning Reserve.
Fourth, engage with Gunbarrel: re-development of the 8.8 acre Alpine Balsam property on North Broadway is subject to a “community investment” process and comprehensive engagement -- in stark contrast to the Spine developer’s attempt to short-shrift Gunbarrel.
Fifth, the BVCP and Gunbarrel Community Center Plan direct high-density development to the Community Center.
According to Boulder Housing Partners, Holiday is nationally recognized as a landmark sustainable community and was profiled by the Urban Land Institute. What’s not to like?
By working together, Boulder’s future can be built around vibrant, welcoming, equitable, resilient neighborhoods – even in Gunbarrel.
~Thank you! Gunbarrel Community Alliance
Gunbarrel Community Alliance Board of Directors: Kit Fuller Wanda Fuller Julie Dye April Lyons Ardith Rietema Rod Rietema Mike Chiropolos, Counsel
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