Debate over government control comes to Boulder
BOULDER — In this lefty liberal enclave where support for the President and the stimulus package and health-care reform goes mostly unchallenged, the heated language of contemporary national political debate has arrived: Boulderites are arguing about local government intrusions and individual freedoms. A move to restrict home expansions here has pit pleas to put the greater good of the community above self interest. “This is my home!” say the neo-Boulder libertarians. “But this is our community!” say the hippie socialists.
A proposal to prevent large houses from looming over next-door neighbors in Boulder inspired impassioned pleas from residents on both sides of the issue Tuesday night.
The Boulder City Council began considering a compatible-development ordinance to limit so-called “pop-and-scrape” construction, more than a year after public outcry led the elected leaders to back off from an emergency ordinance.
Now, after 18 months of citywide surveys, neighborhood workshops, a study by an independent consultant and approval by both the Boulder Planning Board and Landmarks Board, the council is nearing a decision.
The debate concerns a split between the wealthy and the less wealthy.
City Councilman Ken Wilson said he’s worried that, “If we pass a very restrictive ordinance, the price of the large houses will go up and the price of the small houses will go down.”
“This is a very tricky issue, and it is dividing the community in a way that we haven’t seen on any other issue,” Wilson said.
It concerns the way developers eyeing property may be leveraging grassroots sentiment.
Jane Monson, who lives in the Newlands neighborhood, said tighter controls over house sizes would “slow down speculative development.”
“This ordinance will reduce the chance that a speculative development will loom over my house or others,” she said.
It concerns government’s ability to intrude in personal lives.
Anne Olson, who lives in Boulder’s Mapleton Hill neighborhood, said the ordinance might have unintended consequences on some homeowners who have legitimate needs to expand their homes.
She said that, for example, if someone wanted to build a home office to commute less, or remodel a house for a disabled family member, “The answer from planning staff will be, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t do that; it doesn’t conform with our vision for Boulder.’”
It concerns feelings about civic power and powerlessness.
At least 83 Boulder residents showed up at the Tuesday night meeting…
“I really feel like you’re ramming this down people’s throats,” said Jill Lester, one of dozens of people wearing yellow T-shirts supporting the opposition group called “Leave My Home Alone.”
She urged leaders to “put it to the voters.”
“You’ve plowed ahead on this assault” on property rights, Dean Thedos agreed. “You’re creating new rights to things like unobstructed views and quality of life.”
Elizabeth Allen challenged the organized opposition.
“I’m insulted and embarrassed for those from ‘Leave My Home Alone,’” she said. “They’re speaking from, I believe, a business point of view. They’re in the minority.”
Allen said her fellow Boulder residents “should not just think of ourselves — we should think of our town.”
Homeowner John Price agreed.
“I don’t want to do anything to your house,” Price said, addressing those clad in yellow shirts. “I’m concerned about what you will do to your house.”
The meeting Tuesday night went on till midnight. In the face of the complex politics, the council decided to postpone further discussion until August 18.
Edit note: The original version stated the August 18 meeting would be closed to the public. It is an open meeting.
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