Phase Two of the Community Benefit Code Amendment Project

Updating the land use code to create regulations and incentives for obtaining community benefits when considering height modifications requests and/or additional floor area or density requests.

  1. Plan

    Quarter 1, 2020

  2. Community Engagement

    Quarter 2, 2020

  3. Design

    Quarter 3, 2020

  4. Complete

    Q4 2020 / Q1 2021

Completion Date
Quarter 4, 2020/ Quarter 1, 2021
Current Phase
Community Engagement

Project Overview

A community benefits program is a tool to ensure that new growth and development contribute positively to the community’s quality of life. While higher quality of development is often attained through the Site Review process, in recent years community sentiment has expressed that more specific community benefits should be required in exchange for additional building height, intensity or density.

The goal is to be consistent with Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP) policies and update the land use code to create regulations and incentives for obtaining certain community benefits when considering height modifications requests and/or additional floor area or density requests.

City Council most recently provided input during a Study Session on August 25, 2020. A PDF summary of the input can be found in the sidebar on the right, and video of the Study Session may be viewed online here.

Project Timeline*

  • Quarter 2 2020 - Shared Learning Stage (Share a foundation of information and inquiry)
    • Community engagement and initial public feedback.
  • Quarter 3 2020 – Options Stage (Identify Options and Evaluate Issues)
    • Preferred option identification and additional public feedback.
  • Quarter 4 2020 and Quarter 1 2021 – Decision Stage (Make a decision and Communication decision and rationale)
    • Recommendation to City Council for consideration, and potential adoption of code changes.

*Please note that timeline is subject to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on project schedules.

What sections of the Land Use Code may change?

The project will primarily consider updates to section 9-2-14, “Site Review,” B.R.C. 1981 of the Land Use Code, and any ancillary sections as may be necessary.

Latest News

On June 15th, City Council considered an ordinance that would implement Phase 2 of the Community Benefit project by adding below market rate space as an option in addition to permanently affordable housing (adopted as part of Phase 1) in buildings proposed with additional height, density or floor area. The packet for that meeting can be reviewed here.

City Council did not pass Ordinance 8469 on first reading and requested that staff return with options that would focus on funding for affordable commercial and simpler ways to achieve the community benefit of below market rate rent space. Appendix J, the map that indicates where height modifications may be requested in the city, is set to expire on Aug. 31, 2021. Council requested that the project be discussed before this expiration date. The discussion on next steps for the Community Benefit Phase 2 project is set for July 13, 2021 under matters.

Project Improvements

Project Aims

  • Determine the type and amount of community benefits that would be provided to achieve increased intensity, building height or zone district changes.
  • Identify incentives to address the community economic, social and environmental objectives of the comprehensive plan.
  • Clearly specify the required triggers for community benefit and identify how (or if) the benefits would be maintained in perpetuity.
  • Determine additional design standards for projects requesting a height modification.
  • Identify other aspects of the Site Review criteria to further city goals and create more predictability in development review process.

Intended Outcomes

  • Code changes to Section 9-2-14, “Site Review”, B.R.C. 1981 that:
    • Expand the Community Benefit program by adding new land use intensity modification criteria for community benefits beyond permanently affordable housing (e.g., below market rate commercial space, space for the arts, publicly accessible open space etc.).
    • Revise the criteria to be more prescriptive to increase the level of predictability in projects in terms of form, design and intensity and to better achieve BVCP goals in line with sustainability and resiliency.
    • Add design standards that address taller, larger buildings and avoid impacts to identified public view corridors.
  • Updates to or repeal of the Appendix J map.

Project Background

On March 2, 2021, staff provided an update to City Council on the Community Benefit project. The Community Benefit project is exploring whether additional community benefits beyond permanently affordable housing (as adopted during the first phase) should be allowed for projects that request additional height up to the 55-foot maximum in the city or additional floor area.

The packet from the March 2nd meeting can be referenced here. The packet contains staff’s proposal for a new community benefit option of affordable non-residential uses (e.g., non-profit space, small businesses, arts and cultural uses, human service uses) and the process, a zoning analysis related to the “Appendix J” height modification eligibility map, an update on the city’s review criteria for development projects, and an economic analysis prepared by a consultant on the feasibility of the program.

Council mostly continued to be supportive of the direction of the project, but expressed concern about potential regulations that could have “loopholes” or could be “gamed” by applicants thus undermining the goal of the program to obtain benefits to the community. Council also expressed concern that the rules might too easily direct applicant’s into paying in lieu fees instead of providing affordable non-residential spaces on site. A majority of the council also expressed support for extending the Appendix J eligibility map for a longer period of time to allow the project more time, but the intent would be to remove the Appendix J map in the near future as originally intended if council were confident in the developed regulations. Such a change would make the Community Benefit program citywide instead of only in specific areas.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the Community Benefit Project?

Community benefit programs typically include a suite of regulations and incentives that tie specific community benefits to requests for additional development rights (like building height, floor area and residential density). These programs identify the specific amount and type of community benefit required with specific development requests.

For example, some properties in Boulder are eligible to request a “Height Modification” to allow an additional one or two stories (up to 55 feet) when the zoning only allows three stories. Boulder’s Community Benefit Project would provide a menu of options – like affordable housing, affordable commercial space, community gathering space and public art – to be provided as part of the project. The specific amount of required benefits would be proportional to the bonus amount requested.

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What are the BVCP Policies guiding this project?

1.11 Enhanced Community Benefit: For land use or zoning district changes that result in increases in the density or intensity of development beyond what is permitted by the underlying zoning or for added height that increases intensity, the city will develop regulations and incentives so that the new development provides benefits to the community beyond those otherwise required by the underlying zoning. Any incentives are intended to address the community economic, social and environmental objectives of the comprehensive plan. Community objectives include without limitation affordable housing, affordable commercial space, spaces for the arts, community gathering space, public art, land for parks, open space, environmental protection or restoration, outdoor spaces and other identified social needs and services. Community objectives also may be identified through other planning or policymaking efforts of the city.

2.35 Building Height: The city will review and update site review regulations to provide clear guidance on height and intensity of land uses and to address relationship of building height to aesthetics and view protection. The city will consider additional height (up to the City Charter 55 -foot height limit) as an incentive in exchange for community benefits that further other community objectives such as the provision of permanently affordable housing (as described in Policy 1.11).

7.11 Permanently Affordable Housing for Additional Intensity: The city will develop regulations and policies to ensure that when additional intensity is provided through changes to zoning, a larger proportion of the additional development potential for the residential use will be permanently affordable housing for low, moderate and middle-income households.

What are the Site Review Criteria and how does the Site Review Process work?

Under the current Land Use Code, projects over a certain size in terms of floor area and density (number of units) or upon lots of a certain size are required to be reviewed through the Site Review process. Proposals to build over the zoning district height limit (e.g., 35 feet in most zones, but 38 or 40 feet in others), termed height modifications, also require Site Review. Site Review projects are subject to a public review process (some of the larger projects automatically require Planning Board review, like height modifications for principal structures or requests for additional floor area, density or reduction in open space in a limited number of zones). All Site Review applications are subject to potential call up by Planning Board or citizen appeal. Any Planning Board decisions is subject to City Council call up within a 30-day period.

In order for a Site Review project to be approved the project must be found by the review body (e.g., staff, Planning Board or City Council) to be consistent with the Site Review criteria of Section 9-2-14(h), B.R.C. 1981 , which are lengthy criteria that require compliance with the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP) policies (on balance) and higher quality development than by-right projects in terms of site design, open space, landscaping, building design and more efficient site layouts and parking configurations etc. The current stated purpose of Site Review is below:

Section 9-2-14(a), B.R.C. 1981- Purpose: The purpose of site review is to allow flexibility and encourage innovation in land use development. Review criteria are established to promote the most appropriate use of land, improve the character and quality of new development, to facilitate the adequate and economical provision of streets and utilities, to preserve the natural and scenic features of open space, to assure consistency with the purposes and policies of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan and other adopted plans of the community, to ensure compatibility with existing structures and established districts, to assure that the height of new buildings is in general proportion to the height of existing, approved, and known to be planned or projected buildings in the immediate area, to assure that the project incorporates, through site design, elements which provide for the safety and convenience of the pedestrian, to assure that the project is designed in an environmentally sensitive manner, and to assure that the building is of a bulk appropriate to the area and the amenities provided and of a scale appropriate to pedestrians.

To encourage innovative design, the Site Review process permits modification to some code standards (see list in Section 9-2-14(c), B.R.C. 1981), which can be granted if the Site Review criteria are met. While Site Review projects enable the city a greater ability to achieve some benefits to the community (e.g., affordable housing, residential infill in appropriate locations), there has been a growing sentiment in the community that such projects are not providing benefits commensurate with the additional land use intensity granted through the review process.

How could this affect me or my property?

Potential changes have yet to be determined. While the community benefit portion of the program is voluntary, it is possible that a developer or property owner who intends to enter the Site Review process for a project will be subject to updated Site Review criteria and additional voluntary requirements for Community Benefit if a project is proposed over a zoning district height limit (typically 35 feet) in a fourth or fifth story.

What is the process and how can I provide feedback?

Community engagement activities will kick-off in in the second quarter of 2020 where community members will be able to share their feedback by participating in events and responding online. Community feedback will help inform recommendations made to City Council later in the year.