Boulder: Building Height Discussion New Version of Growth Debate

Boulder’s latest controversy is related to the proposal to remove developers’ ability to request height variances for a two year period. Observers call this one of the nastiest political fights in years. The reason this discussion has become so heated is because it is the latest variant in the growth/no growth debate.

Boulder is a city encircled by open space in which opportunities for development are increasingly rare. At the same time, the City has robust affordable housing regulations. But if a builder cannot go up in height, how many units can be built? How can Boulder address growth, affordable housing and transportation if taller buildings are prohibited?

The debate researched a new crescendo when the City Council considered the height moratorium ordinance for second reading, bringing out the segment of the community that realizes that density is the only way to provide more growth and redevelopment opportunities such as Open Boulder and Better Boulder.

After hours of discussion, the Council revised the ordinance to expand the number of areas in which height variance requests can be submitted to include University Hill, Boulder Junction, 29th Street, the Armory and the Gunbarrel town center. The complicated ordinance also includes other provisions that make height variances possible if certain conditions are met in all zone districts provided “at least forty percent of the floor area of the building is used for units that meet the requirements for permanently affordable units.”

The ordinance will put a moratorium on height variances for two years (other than the areas specified above). A third reading on the ordinance is scheduled for March 17 as part of the consent agenda.

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