Call to action: Press the Housing Advisory Board to do more on ADUs and housing

By BHN Editor Macon Cowles

When Xcel completes the coal ash cleanup at the Valmont Power Plant, this site could be considered for housing. It has great views, proximity to bus rapid transit on Arapahoe and the presence of reservoirs, which attract migratory birds. HAB could push for the City to consider the site for housing. Photo credit: Macon Cowles.

The Housing Advisory Board (HAB) serves an important advisory function to City Council, but it would be good for the City for HAB to be more active, using the experience, skill, and dedication of its members to promote additional and more diverse housing opportunities in Boulder.

In the matter of alley houses and granny flats, Boulder still has one of the most restrictive ADU ordinances in the country. Yet ADUs provide not only benefits to the property owner but also much needed attainable housing to residents of the City. Other cities, like Longmont, are making it much easier for their residents to create these little homes. Let’s press HAB to take a lead on ADU reform.

Boulder Mayor Aaron Brockett has suggested permitting two ADUs on a property, one attached and one detached, for example. And others have suggested reforms that could be implemented promptly such as a) reducing the parking requirement; b) eliminating the size restriction; c) permitting an ADU on lots smaller than 5,000 square feet; and d) eliminating quirks in the ADU regulations that are hard to administer and harder to understand, such as requirements for roof pitch, the orientation of front doors, and maintaining an internal connection. HAB could do a searching examination of the current ordinance, and recommend changes that will bring needed reform.

A few members of Council have expressed interest in the feasibility of the airport site for housing. This view shows the site looking southwest from Independence Road. Photo credit: Macon Cowles.

Reform of Boulder’s ADU ordinance is a necessary but not sufficient response to the need for more affordable and attainable housing in Boulder. There is so much more that the City could be doing on this front. The Housing Advisory Board  is well suited to lead the City to a better place on housing.

The purposes of HAB are set forth on the advisory board’s website. They include studying and recommending to City Council goals, ordinances, funding priorities and programs that could address recognized housing needs, as well as to develop innovative approaches to securing housing. HAB could:

  1. Call on Council to expand the ADU reforms under consideration so that many more affordable units can afford to be built.
  2. Study potential new opportunities for housing in the Planning Reserve and municipal airport site, as well as infill redevelopment sites.
  3. Urge the City, in its partnership with Xcel Energy, to seek a cleanup of the Valmont Power Plant site and to do a feasibility study of locating housing around the reservoir on this site.
  4. HAB could take on the responsibility to discover, analyze, and recommend that the City secure housing opportunities that are simply lost in business-as-usual scenarios. Our Open Space program has been highly successful because of the director’s single-minded and supported pursuit of open space opportunities. We could do the same thing in housing with HAB leading the way.

HAB could use a shot in the arm: an ask by residents that HAB fulfill its laudable goals. Please testify during Public Comment at the beginning of the HAB hearing on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 at 6:00 PM. Mark your calendars. No advance signup is required. Just join the meeting via Zoom from your home or office. You can also send an email that will reach the entire HAB, encouraging them to actively pursue housing ideas and opportunities.

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