Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Protecting a firefly habitat and curbing “pet density” are among the reasons some city residents are resisting an affordable housing development.
On Tuesday night, leaders in Boulder, Colorado, voted unanimously to incorporate an open field in Boulder County, just outside the city’s boundary, into the city proper. The open field at 4525 Palo Parkway will be the site of a 44-unit development, a mix of owner and rental units for low-income families.
It’s a routine vote for the Boulder City Council. And yet it has spurred a surprising degree of opposition from residents of Northfield Commons, a nearby neighborhood marked by single-family detached homes. The Daily Camera reports that residents objected to the plan to build 20 townhouse and triplex units and 24 apartment units of a range of sizes. Some frustrated residents left before the vote was taken, according to the report.
One Northfield Commons resident even launched a petition opposing the Palo Parkway development. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a shock. After all, Boulder voters seriously considered a change last year in the city charter that would have let neighborhoods control zoning decisions throughout the city.
The petition is, in a word, thorough. The reasons for opposing this low-density housing development range from parking to planning to environmental stewardship. In fact, this exhaustive list may feature every single conservative housing objection that has ever been offered—plus a new one.
Here’s a rundown of the complaints, listed in the same order as in the original petition:
All vehicles exiting the proposed site will have to travel west on Palo to reach either 30th or 28th street. The traffic congestion at the 30th street stop sign as well as at the 28th street stop light will become a traffic ‘nightmare’ [sic].
Has a traffic study been completed?” (Yes: Here is the preliminary traffic study.)
The petitioners fear that 44 units means “44–88 or more vehicles using the limited parking at the site” and possibly overflowing to neighboring streets.
Evacuation in an emergency
All this alleged overflow parking could prevent emergency vehicles (fire, police, and ambulance) from quickly and easily accessing or leaving the neighborhood. This assumes there is a parking problem in the first place.
Current neighborhood density
There are already other housing units being built nearby, making the neighborhood plenty dense—perhaps too dense—as it is. This objection tracks very closely with the next one...
”Extreme population density”
With as many as 132 people living in 44 units on 3.2 acres, the petition fears, Palo Park will bring “over-dense housing within an already densely populated neighborhood.” But even if 132 residents move in, that effect on the population density of the surrounding area would be negligible.*
“The nearest bus stop is ½ mile away from the proposed site which presents a significant issue for mobility challenged individuals who need to use public transportation.” Not so much a problem, per se, as a challenge, especially because the planners predict that 20 percent of trips will make use of alternative transit (bike or bus routes). But surely the best way to help mobility challenged individuals isn’t to refuse to let them live in a neighborhood.
Red alert! This one's a favorite. Here is the neighborhood whose character could be forever changed by more low-density suburban development.
Too many cars speed along Palo Parkway as it stands, and more drivers might mean more people speeding.
“Although the number of unrelated people living in a unit is restricted by local law, it is well known that there almost no City/Housing Authority enforcement. It is highly likely that, especially in rental units, four or five or six unrelated residents could reside in many of these rental units.” It is, shall we say, unneighborly to question the good faith and family standing of future residents of affordable housing. But if four, five, or six residents divide two-bedroom or three-bedroom apartments, so what? It’s almost like this concern shadows a more sinister complaint.
This one deserves a full quotation:
Our neighborhoods are already teeming with dogs and this proposed plan of 44 units will surely increase the community dog population including the need for more Animal Control enforcement for off leash violations. In addition, Northfield Commons homeowners already pay dues for dog waste pick up on it's property. The addition of another extremely dense community will add more pets who will use our community and particularly our park, Jasmine Park, for recreation and elimination. We have purchased dog waste stations positioned in Jasmine Park, and we supply bags and waste pick up services already and this comes out of our HOA dues!
There are too many dogs. No new friends.
The petitioner claims that the future building site is home to an extensive firefly colony. I’m sympathetic to this concern! So is the developer: The Palo Park natural resources study claims that Boulder fireflies mostly prefer parcels adjacent to this one, adding, “Although impacts on fireflies are not regulated, measures can be taken to minimize and mitigate the impacts from the proposed project and encourage fireflies to establish in this area.” Further, the site isn’t home to any Preble’s meadow-jumping mice, Colorado butterfly plants, or Ute ladies’-tresses orchids—all endangered species that live in the area.
The petition asks who will insure the apartments, which will be situated in a flood zone, naming the rental apartments as a public burden. Should renters not be allowed to live in flood zones? There’s no place free of the threat of acts of God. In any case, the developers have pledged to provide a floodplain buffer to Four Mile Creek and otherwise protect sensitive habitats.
More residents might increase the strain on water and sewage infrastructure, requiring new investments in water and sewage infrastructure.
When all else fails, turn to process: “All City deliberations and planning to date regarding development of this parcel have been made without compliance with Colorado’s rule requiring open meetings.”
“We the undersigned residents/owners and taxpayers of Northfield Commons Community and Palo Park Filing No. 4 Community, petition the Boulder City Council to abandon the proposal to build 44 on units on 3.2 acres at 4525 Palo Parkway,” the petition reads, “and in lieu of this we the undersigned believe that the best land use of this land is Open Space/Park for multi-neighborhood and general recreational use.”
The Boulder City Council did not vote on the housing development specifically Tuesday night; site review will come later. Expect even more Boulder residents to show up when that happens—some of them harboring very serious questions about firefly set-asides and strict puppy caps.
*Correction: This post originally attempted to extrapolate the per-mile population density based on the number of potential residents and acreage. Both the (simple) calculation and the overall effort were mistaken.