Kristin Lawrence’s dream has been two years in the making. A PhD planetary geophysicist, she has long wanted to create a space where science can come to life for kids. She realized the vision with The Hopper, a combo eatery and interactive play space.
All The Hopper needed was a home. In March, she found one: a warehouse and office building in Boulder. Even better, once she was under contract, her real estate agent informed her it was located in an opportunity zone, which could attract investors for the hybrid nonprofit/for-profit organization.
A day before her last chance to back out on the $3.55 million purchase of the building, Lawrence got some startling news: City council would on Dec. 18 — the day the sale should close — consider a moratorium on development within the 2.5-square-mile area where the property sits that could derail her plans for redevelopment.
“It was terrifying to find out that they’re not going to potentially allow me to submit building permits,” Lawrence said. “The ideal that (it) all might go away really breaks my heart.”
Opportunity and fear
The moratorium as drafted should spare her. Up for consideration is an 18-month time-out on any projects that would add floor area for office, medical or financial uses. But options that would outlaw all non-residential development is also on the table.
There are exemptions for projects already in process, Diagonal Plaza, Transit Village Phase 1 Area (30th to the railroad tracks and Pearl Street to Valmont Road) and for any housing project that puts all the required affordable housing units on site. But at least one council member, Mirabai Nagle, has questioned granting any exemptions without “time to analyze the data.”
“If we do the analysis first, then we won’t be locked into an exemption and will have the flexibility to possibly increase our percentages of affordable housing in these zones,” Nagle wrote in an email to her fellow city council members.
The moratorium, meanwhile, will be considered on an emergency vote, scheduled after citizens voiced concerns about Boulder’s designated opportunity zone. The federal program has been criticized nationally as a giveaway to the rich — including the president’s daughter and son-in-law — that lacks transparency and accountability.
These complaints have been echoed locally, amplified by the fact that city staff acted without council input in providing information to the state on the census tract that became an opportunity zone. But it was fear of redevelopment that stoked the flame.
The opportunity zone was designated in April; two updates from the city were released to little fanfare. The November revelation that Macy’s department store on the Twenty Ninth Street Mall may be closing the store and redeveloping that space drew attention to the issue and unleashed a torrent of skepticism.
Others have defended the designation, noting the possible benefits for affordable housing and retail projects. Councilwoman Jill Adler Grano pointed out in an email to council that the Macy’s property doesn’t even qualify for opportunity zone tax breaks: only properties purchased after January 2017 do.
“The incredible irony,” Grano wrote, “is that if we impact Macy’s too much through this moratorium, the company could very well choose to sell their site to an investor who does qualify for the opportunity zone benefits.”
Jobs v. housing
Council has also come under criticism for its recent approach to zoning and land use. A temporary height moratorium passed in 2015 was recently extended, and a ban on large homes considered, though not implemented. The same night an opportunity zone moratorium will be debated, another measure on the agenda could disallow non-retail uses on the first floor in business districts. The ordinance was proposed in response to rumored redevelopment and before the completion of a citywide retail study.
“Any sort of broad, sweeping one-size-fits-all prohibition on certain types of redevelopment is not the type of thoughtful planning we want to do in this community,” said Boulder Chamber President John Tayer, noting that the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan was just updated last year.
The council memo notes that two policies in the BVCP specifically encourage housing. And a 1997 downzoning of the area targeted by the moratorium also allowed residential dwellings in the majority-industrial zone, in order to encourage more homes to be built.
Current zoning for the area — stretching from 28th to 55th Streets and Diagonal Highway to Arapahoe — would allow for 2,000 more homes and 15,600 more jobs, though historic growth rates suggest those numbers wouldn’t be reached until “well beyond 2040,” according to the memo.
It’s that type of “jobs-housing imbalance” the moratorium seeks to correct, the memo states. Tayer defended the inclusion of office space on Twenty Ninth Street (Zayo has already established headquarters there, for one) saying it “helps to drive successful retail centers.” Many flailing malls around the U.S. have turned to corporate tenants for revival.
As retail sales plummet, “it’s not a choice of whether or not we want a department store,” Tayer said. “The potential risk of having an empty box is not preferable to potential opportunities.”
An empty building is what Lawrence fears she’ll be stuck with if the council chooses a path that doesn’t protect her project.
“Any pause or restriction in this area will devastate our fundraising and implementation schedule,” she said. “I’ll be biting my nails until late Tuesday night.”
Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/shayshinecastle
Originally Published on December 15, 2018 at 09:08PM
Article published originally via “opportunity zone” – Google News http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_32332902/boulder-could-ban-redevelopment-eastern-opportunity-zone