No Surprise, Council Draws Legal Fire on Pops and Scrapes

by Osman Parvez
From the Daily Camera

...the law offices of Packard and Dierking has been retained to figure out how to "prevent or revoke any unfavorable actions" that the Boulder City Council might take to prevent so-called "pops and scrapes."
What did Council expect to happen?  Residents of Colorado traditionally hold a strong view on property rights.   

The council, for more than a year, has floated the idea of lowering the allowable floor-area ratio to curb redevelopments that are out of scale with established neighborhoods, prompting impassioned responses from residents on both sides of the contentious issue.
Floated the idea?   From practically their first meeting as elected officials, this Council has been plotting to enact severe house size limits.   Some even wanted heavy handed rules adopted as an emergency measure in their first 100 days in office.   Only in response to public outcry did Council agree to hire a consultant to study resident opinions and build concensus recommendations.   But then the hired consultant came back with recommendations that in Council's opinion,  didn't go far enough.  Council is now back to pushing heavier rules. 
Mayor Matt Appelbaum said he also wasn't aware of the behind-the-scenes effort that's apparently underway, but he isn't surprised there is one.

"It would be shocking if it weren't happening," Appelbaum said. "People always become ultra-conservative when it involves their property."

He said the council hasn't made up its mind about potential house-size regulations, but he expects at least some changes will be made this summer.

"There's a wide range of approaches we can take," Appelbaum said.
"Behind the scenes" is when Council predetermines that they will enact new restrictions on house sizes, ignoring public process, even over and beyond their own consultant's recommendations.     

Hasn't made up their mind?    Who is he kidding?    Appelbaum and City Council made up their minds a long time ago. 

Here's Matt Appelbaum's own words about his priorities (from the January 2008 City Council Retreat):
"Pops and Scrapes. Actually, the real issue is the construction of huge houses on relatively small lots, changing neighborhood character and reducing the diversity of housing sizes and types. No delusion here that regulations will notably reduce house prices, however. While this is being studied, we need to speed things up significantly – and make it clear we’re serious about changing the rules."

Here's the rub.  Boulder is running on a massive budget shortfall.  You'd think this alone would give pause to City Council.   You'd think that not getting pulled into expensive legal battle would be a priority.  Instead, Council is ignoring public opinion when they don't like it and rushing to enact heavy handed, poorly conceived rules that will impact residents' largest financial assets (not to mention one we live inside).   

Council is acting like a drunk surgeon, eager to operate on a healthy patient.   When told by the concerned patient that they're about to amputate the wrong leg,  Council is pompous and adamant.  They're almost begging to get sued.    It's time for City Council to sober up a bit.


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1 comment:

  1. A friend had trouble getting his comments to post, so he emailed me his thoughts on this issue.
    Here is a perspective about the impact of governmental zoning and building regulations of property values, based on my experience of living in Aspen for 18 years.

    In it most basic form, the more government limits the supply of housing, including the FAR, the more property prices increase as demand increases. In desirable communities like Boulder, the subjective, non-monetary factors, such as the quality of community life, increases demand regardless of FAR, unless it becomes unrealistically small.

    In Aspen, the regulations that limited supply forced prices up so high that local, community oriented folks had great incentive to sell and move down valley (i.e. the suburbs). What was left in Aspen were elegant, beautiful, mostly empty homes, regardless of the increasingly restrictive FAR factors. In other words the community that enriched Aspen's quality of life experience moved out of town. Could Boulder be moving in this direction?

    What Aspen government finally realized is that the issue was more than regulating/limiting the size or quantity of new development.

    They began to recognize that they needed to also consider the number of people who occupied these properties and their life style needs. Aspen, became more aware that it was important to create affordable in-town living spaces for people who actually lived, worked and supported the community life of Aspen. Their solutions?

    1. They built more governmental price and rent controlled great cost to the government and tax payers, since their zoning regulations had driven the cost of land purchase up so high.

    2. Aspen government, invited all "bandit" illegal apartments in existing houses to become legalized and used as more affordable housing for locals. (Boulder calls these apartments ADU's) Aspen even went further. They began requiring that all new homes be built to include a caretaker unit.

    As the Aspen experiment demonstrated, Boulder planning folks need to include use (by people) and more flexible occupancy criteria, such as a more liberal ADU policy in conjunction with it's FAR discussion. Boulder needs to include "people" and "occupancy" in this discussion about space and structure.

    The subjective "quality of life" blessings that make Boulder unique and attractive must include a concurrent consideration of the humans who occupy these dwellings, regardless of size, and their very human economic (e.g. mortgage payments, taxes, etc.) and personal (expanding) uses and privacy to included their children and aging parents who can't afford to live on their own but deserve the dignity of having their own private space within that same dwelling as their family.

    An ADU attached to a residential dwelling may be the highest form of property management since the resident owners have the greatest interest and management capability in seeing that the family or renters occupying their attached ADU, conform to city regulations.

    I propose that if FAR is reduced, it be allowed to be expanded, within limits, from this reduced FAR formula to accommodate a more liberal ADU policy that will give the property owners more choices to expand to meet their changing economic (e.g. via rental income) and family (e.g. parents and children living at home) needs.

    This proposal will both increase in-town supply of more affordable housing an density while sustaining the community of local residents that make Boulder the quality of life experience that it is. It will also increase property values even with reduced, but flexible, FAR’s.

    Your thoughts?

    Respectfully submitted

    Greg Sherwin


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