An ordinance that brought construction of taller buildings to a standstill in Boulder two years ago will stay in place for at least another 15 months. The local moratorium barring developers from putting up buildings taller than 40 feet was set to expire next month. Boulder City Council voted on March 7 to keep the ordinance in place while further planning and discussion takes place. KGNU’s Roz Brown says the action stems from the alarm residents expressed two years ago when a sudden explosion of development cropped up on numerous corners in various parts of the city.
Longtime resident Anne Fenerty believes Boulder’s beauty is largely due to the mountain backdrop that is compromised by the addition of taller buildings.
“Boulder has a number of limits on it – we have the Blue Line and Open Space programs but if we jam a lot of tall buildings in, we’re losing the value of why people want to live here,” said Fenerty.
In 1971 Boulder voters approved a charter amendment to cap building height at 55-feet. And a recent city survey showed that 70 percent of Boulderites want to keep it that way. The ordinance is credited with preserving Boulder’s small-town feel and mostly clear views of the Flatirons and foothills. That’s part of the reason John DuGene moved to Boulder two years ago.
“I was in the Navy for 20 years and traveled around the world and lived in 20 other cities but this city is by far special beyond compare,” said DuGene. “I was looking at the evening sky tonight and contrasting that with the new view on Canyon Boulevard (at 28th Street) where a box canyon is being created by the tall buildings and I was shaking my head because I thought if this continues, Boulder as we know it will disappear.”
But Will Toor speaking on behalf of the group Better Boulder opposed extension of the moratorium, saying Boulder’s commitment to providing more affordable housing needs to be in the equation when discussing height limitations on new development.
“The biggest challenge facing Boulder is housing – we don’t have enough housing for the people who work here,” said Toor. “Consequently housing prices are skyrocketing and imposing a height moratorium in major parts of the city is like tying one hand behind your back and trying to address those issues.”
Lisa Harris is a Boulder native and worries people automatically think that means she’s anti-growth.
“I’m a Boulder Community Hospital baby but I’ve stopped saying that at council meetings because I think they hold it against me,” said Harris. “I think if you’ve been here so long there’s a perception that you’re against any growth – any change and that’s not true. I think it’s important that we consider how growth happens because that’s what has made Boulder great.”
Before lifting the moratorium Boulder council members want to determine if there are instances when taller buildings might be a community benefit. That discussion is important to Ruth Wright, who led the effort in 1971 to get the charter amendment approved by voters.
“The buildings being built now are ugly,” said Wright. “For the last several decades we’ve been allowing buildings up to 55-feet and no one has complained because they fit the environment and they were attractive. But the ones being built now are no longer attractive – they’re boxy, they go from sidewalk to sidewalk – they have no setback. People are asking me, ‘What’s happening to Boulder,’ and I’m hoping the discussion that takes place in the next 15 months will also look what kind of development we’re allowing because that’s why people are upset.”
Boulder City Council will renew the discussion about height limitations in July 2018.