To consider housing in the Planning Reserve, a Baseline Study must be done soon. 

Image: Boulder’s Planning Reserve (part of “Area III” in the BVCP) is north of Jay Road and northeast of 28th Street/Hwy 36, between the white and yellow dashed lines on the map.

At a study session on September 22, Boulder City staff will give Council an update on their progress towards completion of a baseline study to assess the cost and feasibility of allowing urban development in the Planning Reserve. The Planning Reserve is one of the city’s best options to meet its goals on middle-income and affordable housing (although there is no guarantee that it will be used for housing, BHN is hopeful). The City should ensure that staff move forward efficiently with this important study.

The Planning Reserve is a 500 acre area north of Jay Road and northeast of 28th Street/Hwy 36 that is part of Boulder County. The area could be incorporated into city limits, extending urban services and infrastructure to make way for new urban development. Various ideas to put the land to use have been proposed over time, including use of the site for middle-income and affordable housing, among many other ideas. 

How the baseline study relates to housing, and why is it needed NOW?: Without a baseline study for urban services, the City cannot make the needed map changes in the BVCP that could get the ball rolling on possible housing, or any other kind of development, at the site. A baseline study of this kind takes about 2 years to complete. In addition, the only time changes to the city map such as annexation of the Planning Reserve can be made are during the major updates to the BVCP. These updates happen every ten years, and the next round will begin in late 2024. It is therefore important to complete the baseline urban services study now. The baseline study was on the previous Council’s list of priorities, but it was delayed due to Covid and associated financial concerns. If work on the study does not get started again now, the chance to put housing (or any other urban development) in the Planning Reserve will be lost for another decade (note that the baseline study does not constitute a commitment to incorporate the Planning Reserve into city limits or to put housing there; without it, the City cannot make the needed map changes in the BVCP that could get the ball rolling on possible housing at the site.)

The Planning Reserve is probably our best chance at making a dent in attainable housing. The Middle Income Housing Strategy, adopted in October 2016, sets the following goals to address Boulder’s housing crisis:

Middle Income Housing Goal:

Build or preserve 3,500 middle income homes by 2030

2,500 market-rate middle income

1,000 deed restricted permanently affordable

There appears to be no other way to reach the MIHS goals than to build housing in the Planning Reserve. 

Who might build affordable and attainable housing in the Planning Reserve? One of the landowners with property in the Planning Reserve is Leonidas Palmos, who has owned 23 acres in the site for nearly 50 years. Palmos wants to build housing for ordinary people because he is genuinely distressed with the cost of housing and how difficult it has made the lives of front line workers. However, Palmos can’t build housing on the site until it is incorporated into the City limits, and the baseline urban services study is the first major step in getting that done.

The baseline study and a BVCP Map Change are required to permit housing, or any other development, in the Planning Reserve. The next opportunity for a map change is during the next major update to the BVCP, which starts in 2024. 
If you would like to see staff move forward promptly on the Baseline Study in order to see if there is the need, the will and the capacity to build housing in the Planning Reserve, we urge you to email Council with words of encouragement.

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