With first-floor retail rule in place, Boulder’s shopping centers break free of Opportunity Zone moratorium

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Photo by Pop & Zebra on Unsplash

Boulder’s elected officials on Tuesday passed an ordinance six months in the making that will require first-floor retail in the city’s neighborhood-serving shopping centers, freeing them up for development otherwise banned by the recently enacted Opportunity Zone moratorium. The measure passed unanimously.

The retail rule was first proposed in the summer by councilwomen Cindy Carlisle and Mirabai Nagle, responding to rumors from residents that redevelopment was imminent at Base-Mar Shopping Center, either for student housing or offices. Those plans have yet to manifest, but the suggested zoning changes for Business Commercial districts continued to evolve.

In addition to Base-Mar and Baseline Zero, Table Mesa Shopping Center, the commercial area around 55th and Arapahoe, Ideal Market and Community Plaza, Meadows Shopping Center and Diagonal Plaza will also be subject to the requirement.

Lodging (hotels and motels, etc.) is prohibited in BC zones. Housing and other uses will still be allowed on the second and third floors; but any non-retail or non-residential uses will be limited to 10 percent of the total floor area.

All the newly conditional uses — office space, educational space, medical clinics — will still be allowed through the use review process, but developers must prove they don’t “adversely affect the intended function and character of the area as a neighborhood serving business area,” according to city language. Ground floor housing will be considered through the same process.

With the ordinance in place, shopping centers in the Opportunity Zone will no longer be subject to the development moratorium council placed there in December. Diagonal Plaza and portions of the 55th/Arapahoe corridor are included in the 2.5-square-mile designation, which runs roughly from Diagonal Highway to Arapahoe north-south and 28th to 55th Streets east-west.

A subsequent ordinance will be needed to make this official, but council urged staff to bring something forward at the next business meeting.

Carlisle said she was “happy to see how (the ordinance) has evolved,” adding that keeping retail and restaurants in neighborhoods will help “keep people out of their cars.”

“We’ve been talking about 15-minute neighborhoods for a long time, and yet we’ve not got them,” added councilwoman Lisa Morzel. “I see a direct path to achieving those (with this approach). I’m so thankful for your creativity and brilliance as staff.”

Yates echoed that gratitude: “This process shows if we take the time and be thoughtful and let staff do the hard work for us, we’ll eventually get it right. ”

Opportunity zone exemptions extended

Council also performed a clean-up of the opportunity zone moratorium, which prohibits the demolition or construction of buildings, with some exceptions. Some were already scheduled for consideration Tuesday; others were added in last-minute after business plans for The Hopper, a science museum and brewpub, were ensnared in the development ban.

The Hopper closed on a $3.5 million purchase of a building in the opportunity zone the day the moratorium was imposed. A renovation would result in the removal of some floor area and the small addition of square footage to accommodate a staircase.

“We’ve been working on (the project) for three years,” said Hopper CEO Kristin Lawrence, during open comment. “We are just at the tip of the iceberg of finding out how we’re going to adapt and reuse our building.”

Council carved out an exemptions for projects and renovations that will add an additional 10% of total floor area or 2,500 square feet, whichever is less. Projects already in the planning process (technical review) are also exempt, as are demolitions for the purpose of public safety.

An appeals process was also established for projects that don’t fall under the existing exemptions. Councilwoman Lisa Morzel urged developers to utilize this option.

“I want people to understand they can appeal directly to council,” she said. “I hope people understand what the intent of this moratorium is and not to keep more properties under the moratorium than is absolutely necessary.”

The item passed on consent agenda 7-1. Councilman Bob Yates dissented, saying he appreciated the loosening of regulations but still opposed the moratorium. Councilman Aaron Brockett, who also voted against the moratorium, restated his opposition but supported the exemptions as a step in the right direction.

I will go ahead and support this even though I continue to (be against) the original moratorium because it has the ability to stop projects just like this,” Brockett said. Without that in place, “we could just let good things like that happen.”

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle
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