[Editor’s note: this article was originally published December 3, 2022, three days before the project went for a Concept Review before Planning Board. Boulder City Council will do its own Concept Review of the project Thursday, February 13, 2023.]
On Tuesday December 6, Boulder’s Planning Board will hold a Concept Plan review for a townhome development on the northeast corner of 28th Street and Jay Road in North Boulder. A small annexation proposal brings the opportunity for 34 middle-income permanently affordable homeownership units – a housing type that is in high demand, but largely absent from recent affordable projects. Fifty for-sale, market-rate townhomes at the same site would support the subsidized units.
While the project proposes to replicate the density of the nearby Holiday neighborhood, city planning staff are recommending zoning that more closely matches the site’s rural surroundings, a move that would encourage larger homes on larger lots and reduce the housing benefits. It would also set a precedent for expensive, low-density development in Boulder’s Area III Planning Reserve, a large tract of land north and east of the site that may become eligible for future annexation.
You can support townhomes and middle-income homeownership opportunities at 28th and Jay by sending an email to the Planning Board, or speaking remotely at the December 6 meeting.
The 4.6 acre site at the northeast corner of 28th Street and Jay Road is currently home to a church building, and was previously proposed as a site for housing in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Planning Board rejected a proposal for 94 permanently affordable rental apartments, determining the project was out of character with its rural surroundings. At that time, both Planning Board and city planning staff recommended zoning that would allow only 66 units on the site. A proposal for 66 homes, a daycare facility, and cafe was subsequently submitted and then withdrawn in 2016.
Making affordable ownership work
The current proposal contains 84 for-sale duplex, triplex, and townhome-style units, responding in part to calls for more affordable homeownership opportunities in the city. The units range in size from two to three bedrooms, and 1,000 to 1,800 square feet, creating space for households with children while keeping overall footprints small.
The 34 permanently affordable units constitute 40 percent of the project, and are intended to add to the city’s middle-income affordable housing stock. The middle-income program serves households earning 80-120 percent of Area Median Income. Middle-income affordable housing was identified as a critical need in Boulder’s 2016 Middle Income Housing Study, but little progress has been made towards the goal of 1,000 deed-restricted affordable homes set at that time.
The project seeks to ensure further affordability by offering fee simple ownership rather than condominium ownership. Homeowners will own the lots underneath their homes, and have shared-wall agreements with neighbors. Both of these features reduce the need for HOA assessments, which have been a significant problem for condominium owners in Boulder’s affordable housing programs.
Zoning is the key
Street configuration, parking, and high-quality shared spaces are all challenges at this site, due in large part to its distance from regular public transit service, and the physical separation by high-traffic corridors from existing neighborhoods. We expect a robust discussion at the Concept Review of how to best accommodate open space and parking needs in what will be – at least at first – a small, self-contained community.
The housing and affordability benefits, however, rely on Planning Board and ultimately City Council approving a specific combination of land use and zoning designations (MXR and RMX-2) for the newly annexed site. This combination of zoning, plus a commitment to produce 40 percent permanently affordable units, allows up to 20 units per acre on the site through an affordable housing density bonus. City planning staff, however, continue to recommend suburban densities of just 6-14 units per acre. Such reduced density incentivizes larger, market-rate units and reduces the number of affordable homes ultimately created.
What future for the Planning Reserve?
Whatever is approved on the corner of 28th and Jay will also set a precedent for future development in the adjacent Area III Planning Reserve. This 500-acre tract of land is being held for potential uses with significant community benefit, including new housing. While there are no current plans for the area, the city has authorized a baseline urban services study to assess the cost and feasibility of allowing urban development in the Planning Reserve. The study will be completed prior to the 2025 update of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan.
When considering the 28th and Jay proposal, Planning Board has an opportunity to consider how Boulder can make the most progress towards its housing goals in its few remaining undeveloped areas. Instead of looking backwards for precedent – to the suburban tracts that extend to the current city limits – it can embrace the challenge of planning more inclusive and efficient neighborhoods for the future.
How to get involved
To advocate for middle-income affordable and small market-rate homes at the 28th and Jay site, you can send an email to the Planning Board at email@example.com or speak at the virtual meeting on Tuesday, December 6 at 6PM (public hearing likely to begin after 7PM). A link to watch and participate will be posted 24 hours before the meeting. Learn more about the proposal here.