Boulder considers measures that would limit housing in place of existing retail

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BOULDER -- The Boulder City Council is considering a couple of separate, but similar measures aimed at preventing new home construction in place of existing businesses.

"Everybody knows Boulder is an ultra-cool place to live," said Heather Frim, owner of HF Design in Boulder.

But, it's also an impossible place to afford for most.

"The market has gone crazy," Frim said.

"Even those of us who can squeak by on the housing levels there are, we are having a hard time if we can't find a dollar store for a few things," said Thiya Steele, who lives near Table Mesa.

“It's a great place to live,” said a woman who asked that we not use her name. “But you know, not if I'm going to be homeless soon."

And now, Boulder has what appears to be another crisis.

City Council is considering Ordinance 8278, which essentially prohibits developers from scrapping off retail and building all housing in its place, like a plan on East Pearl Street to displace businesses with new luxury townhomes.

The two separate, but similar measures would block housing projects in areas zoned for business.

On the surface, it sounded O.K. to city leaders, but it appears to inadvertently restrict new affordable housing projects, as well.

"And so, we struggle more and more," said the woman. "My other place was unaffordable. Now, I live in affordable housing and that's becoming unaffordable, as well."

On the other hand, it does protect retail space. And it's not just small retail shops. Whole Foods pulled out of a location south of the CU campus about a year ago and some speculate this retail shopping center known as Basemar could be bulldozed for housing, as well.

"It's really nice to be able to go someplace in my neighborhood and get really good quality dog food," said Thiya Steele, who shops at Whole Pets, which is still in business in the same complex Whole Foods left more than a year ago.

Whole Pets owner Lleane Hughes grew up in south Boulder, and she said the issue is nothing new.

"There's always been an issue of access to affordable retail and just retail in general," Hughes said.

Loyal customers like Steele appreciate the convenience.

"Cause then I can just zip over, get my dog food and go back home," Steele said.

But, developers argue, there's a larger market for housing than retail.

Just look around at the empty retail space, there’s a ‘For Lease’ sign in one window, a ‘Permanently Closed’ sign in another and an ‘Available’ sign in yet another.

"I live near Table Mesa, and they've closed three places I used to shop at all the time," Steele said.

Developers clamor to put in luxury housing, but in a college town like Boulder, that will displaces students.

"But if you put student housing in, then it takes away from affordable housing," Frim said.

Frim says outrageous housing values are at the root of all that's wrong here.

"And that's also why the traffic is so horrible in Boulder, because everybody lives outside of Boulder and travels into Boulder to work," Frim said.

"Google just built that huge complex on 30th Street,” Steele said. “So, it's - again, more congested over there."

At the moment, city council and the planning commission are still considering the measures, leaving Boulderites to wonder at what cost and who pays the ultimate price.

"The places that people used to depend on like the dollar store are gone,” Steele said.

“It’s just so expensive to live here,” Frim said.

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