Planning Commission OK's affordable housing in Gunbarrel
September 28, 2016
Members of the Boulder County Planning Commission voted 4 – 3 to support changing the land use designation to medium density for 20 acres in the Twin Lakes area in Gunbarrel at its Sept. 21 meeting.
But that vote could have had a different outcome if it had happened before board chairwoman Natalie Feinberg Lopez had to leave the meeting early to catch a plane. Earlier in the meeting, Feinberg Lopez had indicated that she did not support the land use change, and her vote could have pushed the outcome to a 4-4 tie.
After the meeting, Twin Lakes Action Group (TLAG) chairman Dave Rechberger said his group will “push hard” to have the planning commission reconsider its vote when Feinberg Lopez is “in the room.” A ninth commissioner, Ben Blaugrund, was also absent.
However, county commissioners were expected to discuss the competing proposal and vote September 27, while the planning commission does not have another meeting scheduled until Oct. 19.
The two unincorporated parcels, owned by the Boulder County Housing Authority and the Boulder Valley School District, have different land use designations. The housing authority land is designated as low-density residential, while the school district’s parcel is designated as “public.” Both provide wildlife corridors, and there are some existing wetlands and an irrigation canal. The proposed change to medium density would allow up to 14 units per acre, while under low-density residential only two to six units are allowed per acre.
TLAG members have said that they are not opposed to affordable housing on the sites, but they don’t want any more density than the two to six units currently allowed under low-density residential. They have cited hydrology concerns, problems with parking and traffic, poor proximity to mass transit and disruption to area wildlife.
TLAG submitted a proposal to designate the parcels as open space, and many in attendance at the Sept. 21 meeting were waving small signs in support of an open space designation. But county planning staff recommended moving to a higher density land use designation.
During the meeting, Planning Commissioner W.C. Pat Shanks pointed out that there is a lot of neighborhood opposition, adding that he had concerns about traffic and the impact on wildlife. He unsuccessfully proposed that the planning commission should offer its own land-use proposal that would include a large wildlife corridor on the east side of the properties.
Shanks also asked whether the school district can restrict its affordable housing units to school district employees, as BVSD officials are suggesting. District officials said they have been exploring the idea and are confident they can design a program to do so.
Planning Commissioner Leah Martinsson put forth the recommendation to follow the county staff’s recommendation for medium density, with a recommendation that future development of the property ensure that “wildlife corridors are established and preserved” and “stakeholder process principles are honored.” Voting with Martinsson were planning commissioners Dan Hilton, Doug Young and Lieschen Gargano.
Voting against the medium-density designation motion were Planning Commissioners Michael Baker, Ann Goldfarb and W.C. Pat Shanks.
“I just can’t support this,” Baker said. “It’s like up-zoning an area in the middle of a residential area. It’s changing the density for one part of the community to the detriment of another part of the community, and I think that it’s wrong.”
The county planning commission approval is the first of four required to move ahead the proposal to change the land use designation for the parcels in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. In addition, Boulder County Commissioners must approve the change, along with the Boulder Planning Board and the Boulder City Council.
A joint Boulder City Council-Boulder Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 13, and the city’s planning board is set to vote that night. Boulder City Council is expected to take up the issue Nov. 1.
If the land use change is ultimately approved, it paves the way for the housing authority and school district to pursue annexing the land into the City of Boulder, change its zoning and build affordable housing on the parcels.