Boulder Metropolis Council reconsiders reasonably priced business area

After backtracking on phase two of the community benefit project last month, Boulder City Council is exploring simpler ways to provide affordable commercial space for nonprofit organizations, small businesses, arts and culture or human services.

Boulder planning staff in a City Council meeting on Tuesday proposed a number of ways in which the city could still achieve affordable commercial space, the original intent outlined in phase two of the project. However, the majority of the conversation concluded after the Camera’s print deadline.

The work builds on the City Council’s October 2019 approval of the initial phase of the community benefit project that requires developers to build a higher percentage of affordable housing in exchange for being allowed additional building height or more square footage.

Generally speaking, in terms of achieving affordable commercial space, planning staff offered four options: simplifying the original ordinance presented last month, exploring the creation of a capital program for affordable commercial space, exploring the creation of an excise tax on bonus floor area and keeping the current community benefit provisions in place.

If the City Council is looking for a fast solution to enacting phase two of the community benefit project, staff recommended selecting option one, which would allow an in-lieu fee for affordable commercial space as a compliance option at the developer’s discretion.

“It’s the most expeditious way to rate an affordable commercial fund. It would complete the community benefit project,” Senior Planner Karl Guiler told the Council on Tuesday.

If it wanted to find a new funding mechanism for an affordable commercial fund, staff recommended option three that would earmark funding from a new excise tax for the affordable commercial fund. It would require approval by Boulder voters.

“It is potentially risky as it may not receive voter approval,” Guiler said.

The Council in past meetings has expressed its intent to let the city’s moratorium on requests for height limits up to Boulder’s 55-foot limit lapse naturally on Aug. 31. The moratorium was put in place in 2015 and had been extended multiple times as staff completed work on the various phases of the community benefit project.

Still, if and when the moratorium ends, planning staff noted there are limited places in Boulder that are suitable for taller buildings, and all projects would go through the traditional public planning process. Most zoning districts, according to citywide caps adopted in 2017, allow for up to 35 feet and some up to 38.

“With the map going away, it means that the entire city would be open for the possibility of applicants submitting applications anywhere in the city,” Guiler said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to see height modifications in all parts of the city. We weren’t seeing them in all parts of the city prior to 2015.”

Councilmember Mark Wallach has been one of the biggest skeptics of the project. On Tuesday, he said he was concerned about creating another pot of money for affordable commercial space without conducting the property studies to prove its impact.

“When we have a commercial building, we receive funds because we have an affordable housing commercial development linkage fee supported by a nexus study,” he said.