A proposal for a micro-unit building with 45 efficiency apartments will go before the City of Boulder Planning Board on February 7, 2023. The building will cover approximately half an acre and will replace two low-slung retail/office buildings, and will include ground floor retail along Pearl Street.
Micro-units have been gaining popularity in recent years as a solution to the affordability crisis in urban areas. Also called ELUs (Efficiency Living Units), they must be under 475 square feet and contain a bathroom and kitchen, according to the Boulder residential code. Typically they are 250-400 square feet in size; those at the 22nd and Pearl site will be 300 square feet (see our recent piece on Glenwood Place for more information about micro-units/ELUs).
Stok Investment Group, the developer of the 22nd and Pearl St. project, has sought out properties that make sense for micro-unit developments to serve residents at or below 120% AMI (area median income). Affordability is achieved through the smaller size of units, rather than any official “affordable” designation. Typically, this means a property in a downtown area that is walkable, zoned for higher density, with good access to transit. Stok Investment Group seeks to build their projects within existing zoning rules, without variance requests wherever possible.
Each of the 45 units at 22nd and Pearl will be 300 square feet and will feature an efficiency kitchen with a two-burner induction stovetop, a microwave, and a smaller refrigerator. The units also have a washer/dryer and a private bathroom, as well as a wall-mounted bike rack for internal storage.
The three-story building will have a common space with a commercial kitchen and entertainment area to allow residents to host larger gatherings, and to promote community amongst the residents. The west side of this amenity space will open onto a raised garden patio for indoor/outdoor entertaining.
The 2,100 square feet of retail space, required by code, is planned with the intent to energize this section of Pearl St. The space will fit two planned retail space: the corner space will target a food and beverage buisiness that creates a welcoming meeting place for neighbors and residents. The adjacent retail spot could be a gallery or similar.
The ground floor will house 40 long-term bike parking spaces, 12 short-term bike spaces, and 26 car parking spaces. Storage closets for residents will also be available. Both the car parking spaces and the storage units will be unbundled from the units, so residents can choose only those amenities they desire.
The location of the project is ideal for service workers and other downtown employees, as it’s easily walkable to any downtown business, as well as grocery stores, the downtown bus station, and the Boulder Creek bike path. The fact that a car isn’t needed for easy access to Boulder amenities makes it all the more affordable.
Beyond the inherent low carbon footprint of high density housing, Stok Investment Group has plans to make the building carbon neutral. This includes double-stud, well-insulated walls, use of CLT (cross-laminated timber) framing rather than steel, heating and cooling with all-electric mini splits, solar photovoltaics (and possible solar thermal for hot water) on the roof, and a community solar garden purchase to bring the building to net-zero.
The project achieves its high density through a provision in the Boulder code that allows a 2-to-1 multiplier for ELUs. With their small footprint, ELUs count as “half” units, allowing greater density than the site’s zoning typically allows. The car parking requirements are not similarly reduced, however, requiring the developer to request a parking reduction. The developer’s initial request was for a larger parking reduction, but after discussion with neighbors and City staff, a 26 parking spot garage was agreed upon. This parking reduction is accompanied by subsidized bus passes for all residents.
The Boulder Housing Network supports the project as a great example of diversity in our housing stock. While many longtime residents of Boulder might not see the appeal of micro-units, there are many who prefer a carless, minimalist lifestyle that’s close to all that Boulder has to offer. The project is a great support to downtown businesses; it will not only provide housing for workers, but will also increase foot traffic and vitality, bringing in more customers to retail establishments.
How to get involved
To advocate for housing at 22nd and Pearl, send an email to the Planning Board (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or plan to speak at the virtual meeting on Tuesday, February 7th. The agenda for the meeting will be posted this week, and a link to watch and participate will be posted 24 hours before the meeting.