Boulder’s Compatible Development Regulations

Yesterday was the first day of the implementation of Boulder’s Compatible Development Regulations (Pops and Scrapes).  I have written about the major aspects of these new zoning rules here on a number of occasions:

These new regulations will certainly cause more headaches for homeowners and buyers in the affected areas and will shift more efforts of architects toward administrative tasks and away from designing.  They may or may not work, in either case, they will be reviewed in 6 months or so, putting a chilling effect on anyone considering new work in the first half of 2010.

More concerning to me is that the controversy over these regulations, their impetus and the ensuing battles, are symptomatic of a problem plaguing little Boulder, Colorado  – what is the city and what will it become?  All cities and towns struggle with this and in Boulder’s case this argument has largely been played out on the field of zoning issues, most specifically density.  Over the last few years, bitter battles have been fought that go directly to the heart of change and density:

Washington School – adding residential units to increase the density on near North Broadway – approved by the Planning Board, city protests called up a  re-review, and finally a modified approval.

Robb’s Music site – much protest against a proposed multi-use project on the site, building up to the approved height limit – project cancelled.

Junior Academy site – many rounds and proposals of varying densities of residential units – finally approved.

CU Behavioral Science Building – on Broadway, near downtown, at approximately 70′ tall – much protest, but CU does not need City Council approval – project moving forward.

Transit Village – moving forward, slowly, after many missteps

29th Street Mall – a number of years ago, but finally the city bowed to the desired tax revenue and approved a project without housing

and of course, the Compatible Development regulations themselves.

Boulder has an incredible quality of life, surrounded by protected open space.  This and a 35′ height limit has limited the potential for growth, driving up housing prices and exporting sprawl to the satellite communities.  Many people have paid a lot of money to live in Boulder as it is, not a taller, denser city.  Most people can simply not imagine that Boulder can be better with more density.  I think they are wrong and it is the lack of imagination and leadership in Boulder that hinders a vision of the city that is more diverse and dynamic.

Florence, Italy is about the same physical size as Boulder, but is double the density.  It is a beautiful city, highly dense, but not dominated by housing towers or apartment blocks.  It is a model for what Boulder could be – a city, an urban gem, and then in Boulder’s case, surrounded by open prairie and mountains.  Urban and rural, each in contrast with the other, reveling in their difference.

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