Boulder County Commissioners approve affordable housing request for Twin Lakes
October 5, 2016
Boulder County Commissioners held a public hearing on Tuesday, September 27 to make their decision on the land-use change request for Twin Lakes, which would open the doors for affordable housing to be built.
The commissioner’s hearing followed the Boulder County Planning Commission’s vote, which ended in a 4-3 approval of the land-use request. The change would allow the land use designation to become mixed density residential on the 20 acres of land next to Twin Lakes in Gunbarrel.
Even though the county commissioners took their time on deliberating the issue, they approved the land-use request for mixed density residential and environmental protection. However, the meeting started off by the commissioners commenting on a request from the Twin Lakes Action Group (TLAG) to recuse themselves from the deliberation.
“We note that the three county commissioners are the only three board members of the Boulder County Housing Authority,” TLAG Chairman David Rechberger said. “They authorized purchase of the Twin Lakes parcel for development by the Housing Authority. That’s uncontested.”
County Commissioner Elise Jones said they responded to a letter from TLAG but decided to still participate in the hearing.
“We took it seriously but have decided that we will not recuse ourselves,” Jones explained, “and we will continue forward with this deliberation.”
A portion of the hearing focused on the wildlife in the area, as Jones asked Resource Management Manager Therese Glowacki how the great horned owls might be affected if the request moves forward.
Glowacki explained there are a pair of nesting owls on an open parcel of land near Twin Lakes, one of 80 throughout Boulder County. The owls have been there for many years and have been monitored by Boulder County for about eight years.
“They are a very urban-adapted pair of owls,” Glowacki said. “We have a very healthy population of great horned owls throughout the county… They are not a species of special concern.”
Responding to Jones’s concern about people being by the nest and disturbing the owls, Glowacki emphasized the owls will not be disturbed because they are so adapted. Similarly, she explained that other animals are also well adapted in the area such as fox, coyotes, mice and voles.
The commissioners moved into their deliberation discussion with Commissioner Deb Gardner kicking it off. “This has been a very robust process and it’s not over yet,” Gardner said. She indicated that she did not believe the land meets the criteria to be designated as open space, as TLAG requested.
“These parcels are in Area II and have been designated for development for over 30 years,” Gardner explained. “The housing authority has been working to find future sites that would be suitable for affordable housing.”
Gardner explained the dire need for affordable housing in Boulder County, stating “There are over 40,000 individuals in Boulder County spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing.”
Already over 1,000 people are on the Boulder County Housing Authority’s waiting list for affordable housing. “This is a county-wide issue but it’s also a national issue,” Gardner said.
County Commissioner Cindy Domenico agreed with Gardner, describing the issue of not enough open land in the county for affordable housing, making this opportunity one they can’t pass up. “We’ve looked at land banking around the county many, many times,” Domenico said. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities for us to make [change] like this one is.”
“Marketing, supply and demand, is never going to solve this problem,” Gardner added. “The only way to do this is to have permanently, identified affordable housing.”
Jones wrapped up the deliberation by thanking everyone involved for their participation. She shared her sentiments with the public on how difficult this process has been.
“This has been a very spirited and engaged public discussion,” Jones said. “This is not an easy decision. There’s obviously a split in the community on this.”
Jones emphasized to the community that the commissioners heard them and are wrestling with the decision. She said she understood the connection people feel to the land, similar to one she had with an open lot she would play on as a kid growing up in Kansas City.
“We all have a relationship to the land,” Jones said. “I think that’s one of the things that brings people and keeps people here in Boulder County. We love the wildlife, we love the open spaces.
Ultimately, Jones sided with the need for affordable housing over the desire for open space in the community. “We have an affordable housing crisis now,” she said. “People are being priced out of Boulder County, school teachers are being priced out of Boulder County, our workforce is being priced out of Boulder County.”
Because the parcels have been in Area II and are ready to be annexed into the City of Boulder for three decades, the county commissioners moved forward with approving the land-use request.
“I think this site, if developed properly, will have an opportunity to provide community benefits and assets,” Jones said.
The next step in the process is a joint Boulder City Council-Boulder Planning Board meeting on October 13, where the planning board will vote that night. The Boulder City Council will make its decision on the issue on November 1.