PLAN-Boulder County

Promoting sustainable land use and growth patterns in Boulder County since 1959.
PLAN-Boulder County (PBC) is the leading citizens' organization working to ensure environmental sustainability in the City and County of Boulder. Founded in 1959, PBC seeks to promote--through education, political action, and encouragement of public involvement--far-sighted, innovative, and sustainable land use and growth patterns that preserve the area’s unique character and desirability, and which reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact.

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Photo Courtesy of the Zane Selvins from Flikr and also at

Earlier this year The City Council directed City staff to draft a new cooperative housing ordinance in response to intensive pressure from cooperative housing activists to allow “co-ops” in single-family residential neighborhoods. City Council will have a “1st reading” of the proposed ordinance on May 17. It would allow up to 15 “co-ops” per year in any residential zoning area.

Communal living options such as co-ops and boarding houses (which are similar) have been allowed in Boulder for many years in a variety of higher density neighborhoods, but not in single-family neighborhoods. However, these options are not being utilized, in part because property costs are higher in the neighborhoods where they are allowed and would-be co-op groups are consequently uninterested. Thus, an ordinance has been proposed to allow co-ops in lower cost single-family neighborhoods.

PLAN-Boulder County supports allowing affordable, well-kept, low-impact, “true” co-ops in ALL residential neighborhoods. However, we have concerns with the ordinance as proposed. PLAN-Boulder County supports co-ops in single-family neighborhoods ONLY if the ordinance:

1. Robustly addresses our affordable housing needs. A rent cap (such as currently proposed), supported by a market economic analysis, must be applied to all rental co-ops to prevent the ordinance from being exploited by investors and to ensure that the co-ops remain available to the populations that need this type of affordable housing rather than more affluent groups. Equity co-ops (owner occupied) must be deed restricted so that their affordability rises with each year and they become part of a permanently affordable housing pool. Non-profit owned co-ops must also have the same deed restriction requirement.
2. Mitigates the impacts on neighbors and neighborhoods by limiting co-ops in single-family neighborhoods to one per 650 feet radius (generally one per block). Multiple co-ops in one block will unjustly impact adjacent and nearby property owners.
3. Mitigates the impacts on neighborhoods by limiting the total number of co-ops in any individual single-family neighborhood so that co-ops do not become concentrated in only a few neighborhoods. Limiting co-op licenses to one per neighborhood (there are 66 neighborhoods currently identified by the City) would be a good start.
4. Mitigates the impacts on neighbors and neighborhoods by limiting occupancy of co-ops in single-family neighborhoods to a number of occupants that will not adversely affect neighbors’ and neighborhoods’ quality of life or property values. One approach could be to base the occupancy limit on lot size since proximity to neighbors will be the most significant factor mitigating or exacerbating the impact of 10 or 20 people living next door. A standard 7000 sf Boulder lot if limited to 1 occupant per 875 sf of lot area, would allow 8 occupants. Bigger lots could have more people, smaller lots fewer. The proposed ordinance does not have an occupancy limit. However, it does have a minimum space requirement within each house that will permit for example, 15 people in a 3000 sf house or 20 in a 4000 sf house.
5. Ensures that each co-op is a true cooperative unit. This needs to be clear in the ordinance and enforceable.
6. Requires regular periodic review as part of the ordinance to evaluate its effectiveness, compliance performance and impacts on neighborhoods.
7. Incorporates a robust enforcement mechanism, including rigorously enforcing occupancy violations in other houses such as illegally over-occupied group houses and illegal co-ops.

Citizens should understand what this ordinance does. It is a density increase in single-family residential neighborhoods that is being made available to a very select group of people, ostensibly for affordability purposes, but without any real affordability mechanisms. The ordinance, which was developed with intensive co-op advocates’ participation, has met some resistance from the very few neighborhoods that know about it. The resistance stems from the impacts that co-ops will have and that those impacts have real costs to neighbors and neighborhoods. Someone will end up paying those costs. But with the appropriate amount of public benefits and controls that equitably address the trade-offs between neighborhood impacts and affordability, it can be an important step toward addressing affordability that the community can support.

Thank you for your support of PLAN-Boulder County.
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