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(ii) BOTCHA Definitions (pdf)
(iii) May 17th First Reading (pdf)
(i) Draft of May 7th Ordinance (pdf)
(ii) Minutes of PB meeting on April 21st (pdf)
(i) Discussed at the Planning Board Meeting on Apr 21 (pdf)
Letter from the Citizens to the City Attorney (May 06, 2016)
Dear Attorney Carr (and City Council members):
As you are probably aware, most Boulder single family neighborhood residents are not affiliated with each other in any structured, formal, way. The majority simply try to get through their hectic lives of work, families, children, and homework as best they can. But there is no money or profit margin in letting such a demographic continue existing in this manner. Thus, we are almost wholly unorganized, because there is no money to be had in organizing us. Single family neighborhood residents generally lack the affiliated finances, paid staff, mailing lists, and recruitment of many of the professional pro-growth organizations backing the co-op proposal. And, since most single family residents have little to no idea of the things being proposed for their neighborhoods, there is little perceived urgency to organizing.
With that backdrop, we submit the above joint document in response to the co-op proposal. Despite the lack of any city-wide organization of single family neighborhoods, the document nonetheless contains the various thoughts of 22 signers who reside in seven Boulder neighborhoods. No claims of representation are made, other than the views of the 22 signers. But Attorney Carr, you expressed to us that you thought the Co-op proposal could be improved by input from people other than its proponents. So in response, we attempted to gather thoughts from some single family neighborhood residents in different parts of Boulder. Attached are the results.
Last, but importantly: As the document's signers began to discuss the proposed co-op ordinance, it became clear that receptivity was even less than many of us originally thought. Therefore, it's important to treat the attached as the current and most up-to-date version of the document signers' perspective, superseding all previous communiques. In an attempt to find consensus, our position morphed, but not in a direction favorable to the proposal. Our earlier communiques with Attorney Carr were cursory, before we'd had a chance to talk with our immediate neighbors and those from other neighborhoods. And, we hadn't had a chance to study the April 21 Planning Board changes to the proposal, in depth. Many of those changes put single family neighborhoods in even greater jeopardy, and made many such residents even less receptive. So today's intention is to provide our most current thoughts while you are still re-drafting the proposal.
Thank you, Attorney Carr, and City Council, for considering the attached.
The signers of the document, in alphabetical order, and copied on this email:
Margaret Carson, Table Mesa
Ron DePugh, Martin Acres
Jenny Devaud, Goss Grove
John Driver, Whittier
Jeff Flynn, Chautauqua
Stacey Goldfarb, Southeast Boulder
Kimman Harmon, Martin Acres
Lisa Harris, Martin Acres
Rosemary Hegerty, Martin Acres
Jill Marce, Martin Acres
Mike Marsh, Martin Acres
Sarah Massey-Warren, Martin Acres
Steve Meier, University Hill
David Raduziner, University Hill
Jeffrey Rosen, Martin Acres
Karen Sandburg, Chautauqua
Bennett Scharf, Martin Acres
Lori Schneider, Martin Acres
Lisa Spalding, University Hill
Jan Trussell, Martin Acres
Diana Verrilli, University Hill
The coop discussion arose from the housing strategy and its attempt to identify the possibility of expanding housing options and improve affordability. The housing strategy discussion also birthed the neighborhood right to vote ballot initiative which arose from neighborhood concerns about upzonings in single family neighborhoods. Specifically, the concerns arose from comments emanating from the planning department that introducing du, tri and quadplexes in single family neighborhoods were on the table for consideration.
The draft coop ordinance now being considered was developed primarily with input from Boulder Community Housing Association (BoCHA) with little, if any, input from neighborhoods.
However, whether to allow coops in areas where they are not currently allowed is a decision that needs to be determined from a process that includes ALL stakeholders and that considers coop advocates’ AND neighborhood perspectives.
Prominent concerns that certain neighborhoods have about coops are that those neighborhoods have been negatively impacted by houses that exceed occupancy limits and consequent problems with trash, noise, traffic parking and property upkeep. Exacerbating this circumstance is the City’s failure to enforce existing regulations with regard to not only the occupancy limits, but also the disruptive behaviors that frequently are associated with the illegally over-occupied houses.
From some neighbor and neighborhood perspectives, whether you call it a co-op or over occupied house doesn’t make much difference. It’s just more people in a dwelling than are allowed. According to the City Attorney’s Office, coops and rooming houses are essentially the same construct and the City already allows boarding houses in certain zoning districts, but NOT in single family zones. During The April 21 Planning Board hearing on the subject, Board member Leonard May asked Assistant City Attorney David Gehr why the boarding house options were not being utilized by coops. Mr Gehr responded that the real estate costs were too high (from coop advocates’ perspective) in those neighborhoods. Mr. May then asked if the coop ordinance essentially sought to create a relief valve for that pent up demand by allowing coops permission to migrate to lower cost single family residential zones where they are currently NOT allowed to exist. Mr Gehr responded “yes”. Given that the migration toward cheaper zoning districts is driving this ordinance, it seems entire reasonable to presume, as certain neighborhoods have, that in turn, were coops to be allowed in single family zones, that the migration would be toward the cheaper neighborhoods. Those are the same neighborhoods currently experiencing significant impacts from over occupied houses: Martin Acres, Goss Grove, East Aurora, and University Hill.
Neither occupancy over 3 unrelated people nor boarding houses are allowed in single family zones. The City makes little distinction between coops and boarding houses and there is little distinction between coops and over-occupied houses. They are all higher occupancies than are currently allowed. From a neighborhood perspective, the coop ordinance just creates an expansion of property use to the benefit of a potential coop property owner, but at the expense of the social contract engendered in the existing zoning. This social contract ensures that homeowners, that have significant portions of their financial futures invested in their homes, that their circumstance with regard to occupancy in their neighborhood is secure and certain.
Some question what makes the coop so special and what is the difference between coop advocates seeking a special ordinance that secures their unique desires and some other property owners or advocacy group(s) then asking for their special ordinance to allow boarding houses, duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in single family neighborhoods. That a household is a certified coop or has 2 entrances doesn’t make a whole lot of difference; it’s the number of people on a lot. The coop ordinance appears to be a backdoor route to the same outcome of defacto up zoning, which the ballot initiative battle was all about.
The bottom line is that this ordinance asks neighbors to give up something for the benefit of coop advocates: certainty. Right now neighbors know that not more than 3 unrelated people can live next door. That has bankable value. Their property values are stable because of that certainty. They wonder, how will their property values be affected if when trying to sell their houses, there are 15 or 20 people living next door, or perhaps on either side totaling 30-40 when under existing zoning it will likely not exceed 3-8? What does the neighborhood gain by giving up their certainty?
Even the most cursory inventory or informal survey of Boulderites indicates that less than 1% of single family neighborhood residents have any idea 15 unrelated people could soon be living next to them. There needs to be a city-wide conversation about this ordinance that was written almost entirely on input from co-op supporters. The City needs to inform people and get input from people whose day to day neighborhood existence, and property values, will be affected by this ordinance, rather than seeking input from just the primary beneficiaries of this ordinance, and leaders of pro-growth groups who support the proposal.
We strongly disagree with locating co-ops in low density single family neighborhoods. It is a de facto, back-door up-zoning. We suspect that this is likely a first step toward full scale up-zoning of neighborhoods.
The intention of existing zoning designations is to provide some security and certainty about the long-term character of a neighborhood to homeowners who are investing a significant portion of their financial futures in their homes; the proposed co-op ordinance subverts that purpose with no recourse for homeowners.
Up-zoning neighborhoods breaks the “social contract and covenant,” both formal and informal, that home-buyers had with the City when they bought. Residents had every reasonable right to expect, when putting down their life savings into a home, that their zoning would not be changed. And certainly not in the absence of them having a say about it.
A seemingly logical, conflict-free alternative is to locate co-ops in a) high density neighborhoods, b) the downtown urban area, and c) converted commercial and industrial space would be ideal locations for co-ops. It remains a mystery as to the City insists on forcing co-ops into the places of most resistance, rather than least. And if it’s true that fewer co-op residents own cars compared to their non co-op counterparts, then it would seem more ideal for the co-op residents themselves, to be located downtown, within walking distance of nearly everything. A final thought is that if the City ends up developing new areas, build them from the ground up as co-op areas. There would be little strife if all 15 of the City’s annual allotment of co-ops were located next to each other in a new high density area.
With Planning Board’s recommendations, there are no limits recommended for proximity of coops to each other or concentrations in neighborhoods. That means all 15 licenses a year could be in your neighborhood or even your block. Try selling your house with that circumstance or even that possibility, especially in the lower cost neighborhoods that have historically attracted coops and will continue to. Thus, we feel strongly that there should be:
3.a. Reiterating that we don’t believe co-ops should be allowed in low density residential zoning, we observe that even in other neighborhoods, the concentration of co-ops should be limited, out of respect to residents of those neighborhoods. Thus, we advocate no more than one co-op every three years, per neighborhood.
Even in high density neighborhoods, co-ops should be limited and spread around so that no one area is asked to absorb all of them.
3.b. No more than one co-op per block, or 1000’ radius, over the life of the ordinance
3.c. Maintain the double lot requirement for co-ops of more than six people. Ultra high occupancy residences = more impact and intensity of use = the need for more surrounding buffer space.
Homeowners are required to provide an additional off-street parking space, when they do an addition of any significance to their home. It is difficult to understand the logic or justice of allowing 10 to 20 people to live in a house, without also requiring them to add additional off-street parking. What’s even more critical about this is the fact that many co-ops may seek to locate in houses where the garages were illegally converted into bedrooms. Such residences don’t even meet the basic requirement all residences are subject to, of providing one off street parking space. The additional off-street parking requirements be kept in the ordinance.
One of the many commendable aspects of Boulder’s long standing, existing co-op ordinance is that it allows only ownership co-ops. One has to imagine that the legislative intent was the recognition that if single family neighborhoods are asked to host a co-op, at least that co-op would be comprised of longer-term resident owners. Long term resident owners typically take greater interest in their neighborhood, the upkeep of their property, etc. compared to renters. While we realize that’s a generalization with notable exceptions, in balance, it’s true.
We disagree with the proponents’ assertion that a) it’s impossible for six or more people to buy a property, through pooling together their money, and that b) this is why the existing, well-crafted co-op ordinance hasn’t been utilized. We maintain that the reason why it hasn’t been utilized is because there’s been no incentive when it’s so easy to simply break the law and form an illegally over-occupied rental house. It might be beneficial for the City to really step up enforcement of over occupancy, as such would likely trigger an increase of use of the existing, well-crafted co-op ordinance that’s been in place for years.
Research shows that the average per-person residence time in a co-op is very short term. When people stay very briefly in neighborhoods, they have little investment or long-term interest/concern. While co-op supporters speak about “intentional communities,” what is frequently lost in the conversation is that many single family neighborhoods are also intentional communities, as defined by:
5.a. People who have deliberately sought out low density zoning, by choice, because of a desire to not be in a tightly concentrated living environment. People’s reasons for this vary, but in many cases, they include: 1) negative past experiences living in close quarters with people 2) being light sleepers and/or sensitive hearing and therefore being very sensitive to noise and 3) having fled from big city, dense urban existence earlier in their lives. For whatever reasons, some people don’t like “coziness,” and it’s their right to not like it. Other people don’t have the right to force them into something they have deliberately sought to avoid.
5.b. Continuity is another key distinguishing factor of single family neighborhoods. Many residents of such neighborhoods also deliberately sought out situations where they could join a community with long-term neighborhood residents, where they could develop lasting relationships with neighbors who they could count on, for years, for such things as watching their place while they’re gone, etc. It’s difficult to attain this, when one has to “start over” every few months because there are new neighbors next door, as is the frequent case with rentals, and possibly even more so with rental co-ops.
This basically amounts to modern day stereotyping and profiling of certain groups of people. It doesn’t allow for any differences or striation within the “judged” geographies or peoples.
Most Boulderites, including single family neighborhood residents, are passionately committed to the environment. Many single family neighborhood residents have worked aggressively to increase their homes’ energy efficiency or use of renewable energy. Many bicycle and use alternative transportation. Many compost, xeriscape, and grow their own organic vegetables in their yards.
Rather than criticizing single family neighborhoods, the City could do much to help them become more eco-compatible. For instance, the City’s development approval processes ought to be placing more priority on neighborhood serving retail, which people can easily bike or walk to. This gets people out of their cars. Unfortunately, the City has “dangled” neighborhood serving retail as bait for single family neighborhoods, to try to get them to become denser. For example, the City planning department frequently ignores data such as the fact that there are 25,000 residents within easy walking or biking distance of the Baseline Zero site. Instead the City claims that these neighborhoods must become more dense before they’ll be “granted” neighborhood serving retail. Thus, the City itself should be viewed as responsible for perpetuating elements of so-called un-ecological nature.
Co-ops should remain a conditional use rather than an approved use for the following reason: Conditional uses require the notification of neighbors. This single act will easily allow neighbors to know the difference between a legitimate co-op, and an illegal, over-occupied house. Otherwise, neighbors will never know.
The draft ordinance proposes minimum space of 200 square feet per occupant in any house. But NO overall occupancy limit. For a 3000 sf house, there could be 15 people living in it; for a 6000 sf house, 30 people, without any consideration of lot size and buffering from adjacent properties (buffering is addressed in the existing coop ordinance that will be replaced by the proposed). Two 3000sf coop houses on a block could mean 30 occupants compared to current circumstances where there would be only 6-8 total. For a common block size of 20 houses, averaging 2.63 members per households you might have around 52 people populating a block. With the 2 coops on a block example, that would be a population increase on the block to 82 from 52, a 58% increase. It may not matter to most people until it happens next door to them so people need to be informed and included but they have not been.
9.a. Co-op rules will be unenforceable. Many of the people advocating for co-ops have already demonstrated that they feel justified in ignoring laws and rules that they don’t like, such as existing occupancy limits. By their own admission, they’re committed to civil disobedience. The City of Boulder has also demonstrated a lack of pro-activity in enforcing existing ordinances. No matter how many rules and regulations are written into this ordinance, we have little faith that the co-op residents will actually observe them or that the city will make an effort to enforce them.
9.b. Co-op certification process is troubling. The “co-op certification” process is vaguely defined and amounts to little more than self-regulation by the co-op interests themselves with no meaningful oversight by government. Citizens are being asked to trust the good intentions of people who have already demonstrated their willingness to pick and choose which laws they follow or ignore.
9.c. Rental co-ops have a high potential for abuse and negative impacts. The rental model of co-op license is troubling no matter how it is structured. A rental co-op is functionally indistinguishable from a boarding house, tenants will be largely transient, and investor landlords will easily subvert and abuse this process. Even if this co-op ordinance is destined to be approved, the rental model should stricken from it and reworked from the beginning.
9.d. Neighborhoods should get some tangible benefit in exchange for accepting the burden of co-ops. If co-ops are to be allowed in low-density residential neighborhoods (in spite of our serious objections), then homeowners in those neighborhoods need to get something in exchange for giving up the guarantees of low-density zoning. The city should guarantee budget and direction for serious pro-active enforcement of occupancy limits and other nuisance housing problems.
Both sides of the issue make valid points. Both are aggrieved about either current or future injustices. It doesn’t help that the City’s approach has the appearance of a back door work-around. Co-op advocates are asking for something that neighborhoods feel is at their expense. There needs to be a currency in this transaction that balances the respective interests. A couple of quid pro quos exist that represent benefit for neighborhoods. If they were incorporated into the ordinance, they would not only reduce the civic conflict and divisiveness that is practically guaranteed to emanate from this proposal, they actually could result in neighborhoods supporting the ordinance. See below for some suggested quid pro quos, in order of relevance to neighborhoods:
Boulder currently has precisely one occupancy limits enforcement officer: Officer Carl Eckinger. He also has to cover other code violations, such as Boulder’s sign code and other items. Clearly, one enforcement officer and tens of thousands of rentals is a mismatched under-staffing of giant proportions. The lack of enforcement of existing occupancy laws has set up a cycle of dysfunction. Many knowledgeable observers posit that this aspect – the ease with which one can simply break Boulder’s occupancy law – is the primary reason Boulder’s existing, balanced, well-crafted co-op ordinance has been under-utilized. (Yet co-op supporters cite this under utilization in their claim that the existing law is broken and needs fixing.) In this manner, lack of enforcement has served as a double jeopardy situation for neighborhoods, adding insult to injury. Not to mention, the prevalence of over-occupancy is now used to justify over-occupancy.
Without question, there are inter-relationships between ordinances, and for one to work, related ordinances must be reliable. For instance, “Stay Off Drugs” programs in schools are undermined when hard drugs are easily obtainable in a community. In this example, the former would work better, if enforcement around the latter were increased.
Furthermore, lack of enforcement has long been an extreme irritant to single family neighborhoods, particularly those immediately surrounding the University. When certain people who abide by laws, witness the ease with which others break laws, it creates societal dysfunction, to the point of potential collapse. It puts the City in an indefensible position. A local resident is likely to say, with some justification, “I don’t have to pay this parking ticket. My neighbors don’t have to abide by occupancy limits that are clearly stated in the Boulder Revised Code.”
Many law-abiding homeowners rent rooms out in their homes currently, or have done so in the past, or have lived in shared rentals in town, and when doing so, obey occupancy rules. It is profoundly disturbing for such law-abiding residents to observe, year after year, certain residents of Boulder apparently not having to live under the same rules. While the City expresses concern over divisiveness, this is one of the original sources. In a democracy, and particularly Boulder, there is a keen sense that we all need to live under the same rules and be equal in the eyes of the law. The City’s lack of enforcement is a constant, irritating reminder that some residents apparently don’t have to live within the law. Thousands of Boulder residents have lost respect for the City because of its lackadaisical relationship to this law, and its “selective” rather than universal and consistent enforcement of laws.
Thus, the quid pro quo for neighborhoods would be stepped-up enforcement of occupancy limits. It is well known that Boulder’s current enforcement staff consists of essentially one individual trying to enforce occupancy limits for all of Boulder. Therefore, the addition of not less than three (3) full time equivalent enforcement officers would be the quid pro quo to mollify neighborhoods.
How to Fund Enhanced Enforcement:
We recommend: 1) increasing the fees for registering a co-op from $125 to $2,000 per co-op. The money would go toward funding enforcement of illegally over-occupied residences. Again, the co-op supporters need to know that this is a negotiation. If the neighborhoods are being asked to give something, then they also need to give something. And 2) Charge new developers impact fees that will go toward enforcement. New commercial development brings more people to Boulder, which exacerbates the problem of over-occupancy, so development needs to participate in the solution.
Coop advocates are opposed to rent caps for rental coops and deed restrictions for equity coops. One coops advocate felt it was “unfair” that “coops get special treatment” that other uses do not get. However, coop advocates are asking for special treatment with this ordinance. The legal construct of this ordinance is not that of an entitlement such as a zoning change would constitute; it is set up as a privilege as manifested by a license. In the real world, privileges have to be earned or purchased. If coop advocates are asking for this privilege and it has a cost to neighborhoods, it would seem “fair” that this transaction entail some tradeoff. Since this whole discussion revolves around the housing affordability issue, perhaps neighborhoods would be willing to “sell” some of their certainty in return for durable absolute affordability as can be obtained by deed restrictions on equity coop properties and durable relative affordability as can be obtained by rent caps on rental coops. Affordability is what people all over the city cite as one of the most high priority issues they want the City to address.
So why not address it? If we can’t address is even at the small scale that the coop ordinance would affect, how can we possibly expect to develop solutions at a meaningful scale?
Why Rent Caps Work
Rent caps achieve two things. They prevent the expanded property use from resulting in predominantly a windfall profit center for investors as other recent land use expansions have, and they protect the access to the relative affordability of a coop by lower income residents. The reason housing costs so much in Boulder is because there are many people who have a lot of money and they can always pay more than people of limited means. AND, the market is geared toward serving the needs of people with a lot of money because, well, that is where the money is.
Without rent caps, this is what is likely to happen. Boulder passes the ordinance and creates a very exclusive commodity and a very limited competition market for the lucky few property owners that obtain the 5 annual available rental licenses. They are the only game in town. If any coop wants to access that market, the owner of the exclusive commodity can charge a premium because coops have no legal alternatives. Coop advocates assert that if a coop co-held the license with the property owner, that would negate the pricing power of the landlord. But they naively believe they would be the only players. The owner merely has to seek deeper pocket groups that will pay that top price and provide a high end product to suit their desires, as has happened with coops in San Francisco http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Tech-entrepreneurs-revive-communal-living-4988388.php . Then you have luxury coops and our coop advocates who truly need affordable housing are again priced out of the market. What will they do? Exactly what they do now, form illegal coops so they don’t have compete in that exclusive commodity marketplace. So what will we have gained after all of this brain damage. We will have enriched 5 landlords per year and created a lot of uncertainty in single family neighborhoods.
Why Deed Restrictions Work
In probably 5 years, a modest 2,000 sf house in Newlands will cost $2,000,000 based on the appreciation of the past 2 years. A co-op can put 10 people in a $2,000,000 house each at $200,000 and indeed it is relatively more affordable than paying $666,666 when divided 3 ways as current occupancy limits require, but it isn’t truly affordable. How many current coop advocates can afford the $40,000 down payment and the $750 monthly payment plus property taxes, insurance, and all the other expenses of maintaining a home?
If that same property were subject to a deed restriction of inflation plus say, 2% starting today (over the past 3 years inflation has averaged 1%), in 5 years another coop could buy the property for $1,406,900, $754,000 less than market, a 34% discount. In 10 years it could be purchased for $1,679,900, $2,202,400 less than market, a 57% discount.
Deed restrictions allow a property to become increasingly absolutely affordable over time as the spread between the allowed appreciation and the market appreciations diverges. Deed restrictions ensure permanent affordability and enable coops to create a sustainable affordable market.
We recognize the very serious problem of affordability in Boulder. It’s a massive problem affecting tens of thousands of residents. Our perspective is that the City should try to use rent control, a large-scale tool that matches the massive nature of the problem. We would join the City, the co-op supporters, and renters everywhere, in a massive legislative effort to convince the Colorado State Legislature to remove its pre-emption on local rent control. Boulder needs to do this, now. Doing so would help tens of thousands, including co-op enthusiasts. Whereas, the co-op proposal would only help 100-200 people per year. And rent control would benefit more people, in a more equitable, universal way, without imposing the high levels of highly localized impact on non-willing neighbors, that is possible with the co-op situation. There are better solutions. Boulder just isn’t availing itself of them.
Coop housing has a role to play both to enable a variety of living options and to achieve affordability and carbon reduction goals. But it should not happen at the expense of the homeowners who have invested so much of their financial futures in their homes and neighborhoods. The proposed coop ordinance places all of the risks and uncertainties on current owners in single family neighborhoods. And they haven’t even had a seat at the table. The ordinance was largely written by cooperative housing advocates and neighborhoods, by and large, are not even aware that an ordinance is being developed. There needs to be a process that includes the neighborhoods and their homeowners in the development if this ordinance. That means slowing down the rush to pass it and forming a working group to work out the inequities in the current process.
The draft ordinance does not address the fundamental reason we are having this conversation. It addresses neither absolute affordability nor durable affordability. The only thing it achieves is a windfall for a few investors and increased risk and uncertainty for ordinary homeowners. In essence, homeowners are being obligated to pay for something that benefits others without being asked. If true and durable affordability could be achieved with this ordinance and advance the discussion of rent control statewide, that might be a public benefit that homeowners would be willing to pay for. If only someone would ask them.
But very few homeowners even know of any of this. Nearly all co-op enthusiasts know about this proposal, because it is their proposal. We hope you also realize that the pro-growth groups in town who support co-ops have paid staff who get paid to recruit supporters, do outreach, manage lists, etc.
We, on the other hand, are simple, unaffiliated citizens who, in contrast, stand to lose the most from the co-op ordinance. The 22 signers below, while perhaps a modest “quantity,” may represent a “quality” of analysis, as they are single family neighborhood residents who have studied the proposed ordinance in depth. That they even know about it is significant, since most people don’t. Please keep that in mind.
Thank you for your careful consideration of this complex issue.