Follow-up on Twin Lakes affordable housing
October 27, 2016
Editor’s note: Due to several reader requests, the Left Hand Valley Courier asked a follow-up question to Boulder County Commissioner candidates about the proposed affordable housing project in Gunbarrel. Here are their responses.
As of press time, Paul Danish and Deb Gardner had not responded.
Q “Do you support the proposed location for affordable housing in the Twin Lakes area? Why or Why not? Do you think other options should be considered, and if so, where and why?
A Boulder County has an affordable housing crisis. Over 40,000 people here spend over half of their income on housing, and middle and low income families are being priced out of our community. Consequently, I believe it’s critical that we look at adding affordable housing at appropriate sites in communities across the County, including at Twin Lakes.
Boulder County’s Housing Authority (BCHA) has searched for affordable vacant land in or near municipalities where they can build housing, but in three years have only found a few available sites. BCHA acquired the vacant land at Twin Lakes precisely because the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan has slated it for housing and annexation to Boulder since the 1970s, and it’s surrounded by development on three sides.
BCHA and the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) have committed to limiting their 100% permanently affordable development to 6-12 units/acre, with half of the homes built for BVSD teachers and staff. They have also committed to wildlife buffers at both ends of the property and a 50-foot wildlife corridor across the site. Additionally, the average unit size in BCHA projects is under 1,000 square feet (vs. the average American home of 2,700 square feet), which means the project would take up less space than a private development with the same unit count, leaving more space for wildlife and nature. And unlike a private developer, BCHA designs its projects with ample neighborhood input, providing amenities like community gardens, playgrounds and parks that everyone can enjoy.
While people frequently advocate for development to occur somewhere else rather than next door to them, it’s our job to look at what’s best for the whole community. Affordable housing at Twin Lakes can provide much-needed homes to seniors, teachers and working families, as well as benefits to the existing neighborhood.
A Although I do support affordable housing, this particular project is a bad idea. The water table is high, in a lot of places it’s only a foot below the surface. In some places it is on the surface.
There are already houses there running sump pumps 24 hours per day. It could cost another million dollars to construct the piers required to hold the buildings up out of the water. The location is served by a narrow curvey road that can’t support another 2,000 or more traffic trips per day.
They’re proposing 250 to 280 units in the development which is too many for the area. Public transportation is ¾ miles away, and RTD is not likely to add services into the area. There are far better locations two miles north at the Gunbarrel Business Center where there are numerous vacant lots already owned by the City of Boulder where construction could be completed much more economically.
This area is already a mixed use area where there are already apartments, stores, restaurants, jobs, and other services. These services would all be within walking distance of any residences built. These Gunbarrel lots would not have to be annexed and up zoned.
The Twin Lakes lots are an established healthy wildlife habitat containing numerous sensitive species including a family of owls that the local residents know by name. This project just doesn’t belong in this particular spot. There are other reasons too, especially the “Cash in lieu of performance program” where developers can “buy out” of the low income designation of a project even after it has been approved al low income. Several of the housing projects at Gunbarrel now were converted to Luxury Housing in this manner and there is evidence that the Twin Lakes project was targeted for this treatment too.
Based on the appearance of improprieties in this project, the Planning Commission has scheduling a meeting to reexamine the feasibility and legality of this project and their approval of it. The “Cash in Lieu” Program needs to be ended. A much better idea for affordable housing is to purchase existing residential units already near the city services of the cities in Boulder County. Purchasing and renovating is always cheaper, and doesn’t banish low income residents to isolated areas.