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Boulder City Council revisits co-op ordinance

Posted: October 12, 2016 at 11:20 am by , in Breaking News, Featured, Morning Magazine

“I think council heard our message over the last few weeks. We sent over 225 emails and had the majority of people with public comment. Our message was loud and clear that co-ops and communities need people.” – Steve Winter, a spokesman for the co-op community.

After hearing from more than 100 supporters and opponents of a new co-operative housing ordinance on Oct. 4, Boulder City Council took up the issue again on October 11, with 14 questions created by the city attorney. Questions like where co-ops should be allowed; how parking should be addressed; how many residents constitute a co-op; and if notice to neighbors should be required. While the crowd was sparse – March Wallach sat with a group that waved signs reading, “Start Over and Include Neighborhood Input This Time.”

“I’m a member of the Boulder Neighborhood Alliance and our position is, that we’d like this process to start over with substantial input from the neighborhoods. What you’re seeing here, as you see them muddle through issue after issue – they don’t have a clue – they’re making it up as they go along.”

Many residents who oppose the housing co-op ordinance are worried about enforcement of the number of people who live there.  In their experience, the city doesn’t enforce its current rule that no more than three-to-four unrelated residents can live together – and they want assurance that if more co-ops are coming – more enforcement is also coming.

City Councilman Bob Yates says that the support for co-ops on council is contingent on the city enforcing laws on over-occupancy.

“We have scores, perhaps hundreds of houses in Boulder that are over-occupied and violate our law and our objective here is to create licensing for true cooperative living and then we have the moral authority to enforce against that over-occupancy. That means the house has a choice – it can get good with the law and license as a true co-op, or they have to get their occupancy numbers down below our threshold of three or four. Otherwise we’re going to enforce our laws against them very vigorously. We need to make our fines meaningful.  Our fines need to be one thousand dollars for the first offense and two thousand for the second offense.  And at some point if the landlord continues to violate our occupancy rules then he or she runs the risk of having their rental license revoked by the city manager.”

Susan Balint lives in the University neighborhood near Chautauqua and says she has been affected by the city’s lack of enforcement.

“There are situations in the neighborhood that impact us where there are two or three kids who sign the lease and then quietly they end up with six more.  And the times you see it, you can’t pin them down because you don’t know their names. And when you call into enforcement, a lot of times they give them 24-hours notice before they go to inspect so it gives the residency time to empty out the house under what are the requirements for the rental licensing and then they all come back later. And as a neighbor you’re put into the precarious position of being a spy in your own neighborhood when really all you want to do is enjoy the peace and quiet and serenity of the home you bought to spend the rest of your life in. I think council is approaching it with integrity but they need to balance on the side of caution because the first rule should be, do no harm.”

As the ordinance stands now, co-ops would be capped at 12 people in low-density residential zones, and 15 people in medium- and high-density zones.  The number of co-ops licensed per year would be limited to 14, and no two co-ops could be closer than 500-feet.

Steve Winter is a spokesman for the co-op community.  He has mixed feelings about the ordinance as it stands now.

“I think council heard our message over the last few weeks. We sent over 225 emails and had the majority of people with public comment. Our message was loud and clear that co-ops and communities need people. So we have to have a team of people to make these things work.  I use the analogy of a soccer team.  You need 11 people to make a soccer team – if you go below that and you play another team, you’re going to lose. Same thing here.  If you have a co-op and you don’t have enough people, it eventually falls apart.  So, I think that hopefully we can get by with the limit of 12 they’ve proposed tonight – we were asking for 16 – so that’s a significant reduction from numbers than what we know works at currently legal houses. We’re also worried that council is considering a 2,000 sq. ft. minimum on houses – which would remove half of all available housing stock in the city of single-family homes. And on top of that, they’re looking at a 500-foot separation requirement so we’re really looking at a small number of homes that could actually become co-ops. So it seems like on the one hand we could have a few houses that would work but we might not be able to provide as much of this kind of housing and community as we’d like.”

Boulder City Council will review another draft on the ordinance on co-op housing, Dec. 6.