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University Hill Moratorium FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Updated Feb. 25, 2015

1. What is the purpose of the Hill Commercial District Moratorium Project?

On Aug. 19, 2014, City Council approved a temporary moratorium that suspended applications to add new residential floor area in the University Hill Commercial District (see map on the last page) until March 18, 2015.

The temporary moratorium was necessary to address a current economic environment that strongly favors student rental housing in the Uni Hill Commercial District, making it difficult for more diverse uses that could revitalize the area and support the city’s adopted vision to compete in the marketplace. The moratorium “hit the pause button,” providing time to analyze whether this trend is likely to continue, and to consider whether it is appropriate for student rental housing to dominate the area. The purpose of the moratorium is not to create a new vision for the Hill or to change the allowed density.

2. What has happened so far and what are the next steps?

We are in the last phase of the project, which has included the following phases:

  • Information gathering, issue identification, and analysis
    September and October 2014
  • Public outreach on preliminary findings and possible strategies
    November and December 2014
  • Refine findings and strategies and develop staff recommendations
    January 2015
  • Planning Board and UHCAMC hearings and recommendations
    February 2015
  • Council public hearing(s) and decision
    February and March 2015

The results of the analysis and public comments from the first phases, as well as the Planning Board and University Hill Commercial Area Management Commission (UHCAMC) public hearings are available on the project website.

On March 3, City Council will hold a public hearing to consider the staff recommendations described in the next question. The meeting agenda and background materials are available online.

3. What is city staff recommending and why?

As a result of the research, analysis, and public input on this project, staff concluded the following:

  • There is already an over-concentration of housing in this small commercial district, and under current market trends, student rental housing will be the predominate use favored in new development or redevelopment projects.
  • Adding more housing units will limit opportunities for non-residential uses that would attract more diverse users;
  • There are very few offices on the Hill, yet office uses could potentially play a crucial role in adding a year-round diversity of ages and professions, and benefit from the proximity to both University of Colorado Boulder (CU) and downtown; and
  • Among the current barriers to attracting office and other diverse uses are: the current market that favors student rental housing over other uses; insufficient public parking; and lack of anchor uses.

Based on these findings, city staff is recommending that City Council take two actions on March 3 to address the issues that gave rise to the moratorium:

  1. Limit new residential uses: Approve changes to the zoning regulations in the Hill commercial district that would limit residential uses—only allowing senior housing or permanently affordable housing. The reason for this recommendation is that it:
    • does not exacerbate the current over-concentration of student housing on the Hill;
    • could remove an imbalance that discourages other more diverse uses like offices to locate on the Hill; and
    • continues to allow for permanently affordable or senior housing units, which address an identified housing need in Boulder.
  2. Eliminate barriers to attracting more diverse uses: Direct staff to move forward on the following strategies:
    • Find anchor uses: Have the city take a lead role in working with the university and property owners to attract one or more “anchor” uses to the Hill commercial district with the potential, in turn, to attract a greater diversity of uses and customers to the area.
    • Add public parking and improve multi-modal access: Address concerns about the lack of public parking and improve multimodal access on the Hill by moving forward on several items, including continuing to explore public/private partnerships to redevelop existing surface parking lots with desired uses and add more parking in the district.
    • Celebrate the history and provide incentives to rehabilitate buildings: Develop a public education and outreach process to explore local and/or National Register Historic District designation for the commercial district to highlight the area’s history and allow property owners to receive rehabilitation tax credits. In conjunction with this, explore creation of a façade improvement program.
    • Consider tax policies and public investment strategies: Prepare options for future council direction regarding possible changes in tax policies and other public investment strategies that would encourage and facilitate implementation of the Hill vision.

4. What have been the responses to the staff-recommended proposal?

Planning Board held a public hearing on Feb. 5 and unanimously recommended that City Council approve the staff recommendation described above. The University Hill Commercial Area Management Commission (UHCAMC) held a public hearing on Feb. 11 and unanimously supported an ordinance that would limit all new residential uses in the commercial district. Given the current saturation of residential uses in the Hill commercial area, the commission felt that this change would be more consistent with the goals and vision to add diverse uses on the Hill. UHCAMC also unanimously supported the staff-recommended strategies listed in #2 above.

The following questions are paraphrased from input the city has been receiving, both through letters to council and editorials published in the Daily Camera, followed by staff response and clarification.

Question: "The Hill is primarily a student neighborhood. Why does the city believe it is broken?"

Response: University Hill is indeed a neighborhood that has been fundamentally shaped by its relationship to CU, and by student life and culture. The rich, youthful and bohemian character that this brings to the Hill is one of its defining characteristics, and is attractive to students and visitors alike. From the musical culture of the Fox and the former Tulagi’s, to the Vietnam-era student protests of the 60s and 70s, to the many generations of students who have shared dinner and drinks with visiting friends and relatives at institutions like The Sink, the Hill has always been a place where students and the Boulder community interacted. Many stakeholders in the immediate and extended community are in fact beginning to express interest in calling attention to the Hill’s rich history and culture in the form of a potential historic district.

However, the city’s official adopted vision for the Hill commercial district is also to be a center of local and regional activity with a rich diversity of activities, and for much of the Hill’s history, it attracted visitors from around the city and the region. In recent years this has waned and the district’s businesses have become more narrowly focused. In order to improve the Hill’s social and economic vitality, stakeholders on the Hill would like to see additional year-round foot traffic layered on top of the underlying youthful atmosphere of the commercial district. This vision rests on the principle that visitors to and the student residents of the neighborhood will share mutual benefits from a diversity of users and activities.

Question: "It makes sense to locate student housing within walking distance to campus. Why would the city restrict housing units directly across Broadway from campus?"

Response: There is no question that it makes sense for students to live within walking distance to campus, and the city recognizes that in-commuting is one of Boulder’s challenges. There are several aspects to consider when planning properly for student housing in Boulder going forward.

There are currently more than 6,000 students living in the larger University Hill neighborhood (in the commercial district, this includes approximately 175 students). Any zoning change would only affect new construction – this isn’t about removing any existing residences. The commercial district itself has very little space left in relative terms, only room for approximately 100 more units. Regardless of the ultimate decision about residential uses on the Hill, any successful strategy to provide enough student housing near campus would require building more units than the Hill will ever be able to provide.

Recently, just such a move was made with a change to zoning along the 28th Street frontage road, directly adjacent to two pedestrian underpasses accessing campus. In the past few years, approximately 550 units have already been added in the area. Furthermore, the University’s most significant growth is planned for their East Campus, northeast of 30th Street and Colorado Avenue, closer to the recently-developed units than to the Hill.

The residents of University Hill, students and homeowners alike, love their commercial district and wish to see it thrive. 100 more student residential units in the commercial district, amongst thousands of others nearby, will only contribute to the underlying conditions standing in the way of the adopted vision for the Hill. On the other hand, the 300-400 office workers or tourists that could occupy potential new spaces could really add the diversity needed to achieve the vision.

Question: "The recommended strategy includes an allowance for Senior and Affordable housing options. No seniors would want to live on the Hill. Why is the city promoting this?"

Response: This may be correct. If seniors don’t want to live on the Hill, there won’t be a market for it and no developer will build senior housing. This should not be interpreted as a promotion of senior housing on the Hill, simply an allowance for it.

Staff believes that if there are seniors who do want to live on the Hill, there is no reason that the city should restrict them from doing so. Boulder has an official policy of encouraging senior and affordable housing options wherever they are feasible in locations all over town. Other universities have also had success with alumni housing near campus. It would not make sense to put legal barriers in the way of any of these possibilities in the future, especially since these categories of housing are not contrary to the adopted vision for the Hill.

Question: "Boulder has a jobs-to-housing imbalance. Why would the city promote office space instead of housing in this location?"

Response: The Hill commercial district is very small and provides some of the most easily-walkable and transit-accessible space in the entire city. Locating commercial space there would allow easy access as far up the Hill as Chautauqua, as south as Baseline, as well as easy walking proximity to campus. In addition, the section of Broadway near the commercial district is one of the most transit-rich corridors in the entire Denver Metropolitan region, so there is a high likelihood that workers and visitors would arrive by bus, bike or foot.

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