FAQ: New neighborhoods

What kind of neighborhoods would replace the airport?

Would it just be all mansions, or all low-income high rise buildings?

The new neighborhoods would be a mix of residences, businesses, parks, and greenways. The residences would include units that are affordable to families with low, moderate, and middle incomes, with at least 50% of units deed-restricted to be permanently affordable.

New neighborhoods have not been planned yet, but it is certain that Boulder would not zone 179 acres for all mansions or all low-income housing. If we decide to make new neighborhoods, there will be a thoughtful planning process including community involvement. We do know that any new neighborhoods would be mixed-use, mixed income, include at least 50% permanently affordable housing, have pocket parks and greenways, and buildings will not be taller than 55 feet.

We can say this with confidence because development in the city of Boulder is guided by the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP), the City Charter, the Boulder Revised Code, and City ordinances. If our ballot initiatives pass, they will also become enshrined in city ordinances and city code.

BVCP Policy 2.34 Design of Newly Developing Areas specifically states “The city will encourage a neighborhood concept for new development that includes a variety of residential densities, housing types, sizes and prices, opportunities for shopping, nearby support services and conveniently sited public facilities, including roads and pedestrian connections, parks, libraries and schools.” 

The City’s Inclusionary Housing ordinance requires all new development to contribute at least 25% permanently affordable housing, but the Runways to Neighborhoods ballot initiative would require at least 50%.

Any new development could be no taller than 55 feet tall, which is the height limit in the City Charter. Nobody - not even City Council or the City Manager - can approve buildings taller than 55 feet tall unless the people of Boulder vote to change the Charter. 

The last time the City of Boulder developed a new neighborhood from the ground up on mostly undeveloped land was the Holiday neighborhood in North Boulder in the 1990s. Holiday is one of Boulder’s most beloved, most affordable, and most diverse neighborhoods, made even more beautiful by its trail system, parks, and community gardens. Holiday has 40% permanently affordable housing.  Read more about the development of Holiday here. 

Now 30 years later, with advancements in our understanding of sustainable and beautiful community design, Boulder could be even more visionary and creative than we were with Holiday.

Our ballot initiatives specify:
-New neighborhoods on the site shall predominantly consist of well-connected, mixed-use neighborhoods designed to help Boulder's affordable housing crisis and meet the needs of families and essential workers. 
-At least 50%of on-site housing units shall be permanently affordable units in Boulder’s affordable housing program. These homes shall be for low-, moderate-, and middle-income residents, with a focus on middle-income.
-The new neighborhoods will prioritize affordable housing, neighborhood-serving businesses, parks, and greenways.
-They will implement innovations in climate resilience, creative housing types and building designs, child- and family-friendly features, and minimization of car dependency.

How many homes and businesses would the new neighborhoods have?

How does this compare to how many users and businesses airport currently has?

We don’t know the design of the new neighborhoods yet, but if we model upon Boulder’s Holiday neighborhood, it would have about 2000 homes and 270 businesses. In contrast, the airport has 13 businesses and primarily serves fewer than 200 local pilots.

We don’t know the design of the new neighborhood yet, but for a model we could look to the Holiday neighborhood in North Boulder, which is the last new neighborhood that Boulder built from the ground up, in the 1990s. Holiday is built on just over 27 acres and is home to 334 residences and 40 retail businesses. If we assume a similar pattern of development at the airport’s 179 acres, the site could easily accommodate over 2000 residences and 270 businesses. 

In comparison, 13 businesses (some of which are simply private hangar rentals) are currently located on the airport site. The airport manager estimated that fewer than 200 local pilots regularly use BDU.

Revenue from the activities of thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses in 179 acres of new neighborhoods is bound to outweigh the revenue from 13 airport-based businesses and 200 pilots.

The City of Boulder has not yet done an economic comparison of the revenue generated by the airport’s 13 businesses and 200 pilots compared to the expected revenue that would be generated by 179 acres of new mixed use neighborhoods. However, even a quick commonsense comparison indicates that neighborhoods would be a huge net economic gain for Boulder.

Neighborhoods would generate revenue for the city of Boulder not only from the one-time sale of the airport land for development, but also ongoing property tax revenue and sales tax revenue from the homes and businesses to be built there. Furthermore, the estimated thousands of residents and employees of hundreds of businesses in the new neighborhoods (see FAQ “How many homes and businesses would a new neighborhood have?”) would be regular customers for Boulder’s schools, hospital, restaurants, grocery stores, and other local businesses.

This is a rare and unique opportunity to make a significant improvement in housing for middle-income families. Because we own the airport land, we can sell it to developers at a workable price with the condition that they MUST build the type of affordable middle-income family housing that Boulder sorely needs.

There are many reasons to close BDU that are not related to housing, but let's focus on Boulder's housing needs for a minute. 

Boulder is largely ringed by beloved public open space land, and we are committed to not sprawl. Therefore, our potential to develop new housing is mainly through infill development and redevelopment of aging buildings. There are very few large parcels of land in the city of Boulder that could be easily redeveloped. The site on Airport Road is already owned by the City, is within the city limits, is already zoned for development, is largely empty, and is the last large tract of land of this size and opportunity.

The airport site is special because the City owns the land. Because we own the land, we can sell it to developers at a workable price with the condition that they MUST build neighborhoods with the type of affordable middle-income family housing that Boulder sorely needs. It works out economically for the developers, and it does not require money from the city's budget or the taxpayer.    

Currently, the biggest gap in the Boulder housing market is affordable middle-income housing. Developers simply do not build this type of housing because other products, like large single-family homes and luxury apartment buildings, are more profitable. Federal tax credits (subsidies) are available to build low-income and moderate-income housing, but there is no such federal assistance for middle-income housing.

Right now, when families are ready to move from apartments to their first houses, they are leaving Boulder because they cannot find affordable family homes. School enrollment is dropping because not enough families with children can afford to live here. Essential workers like staff of Foothills Hospital, police, teachers, firefighters, EMTs, and day care workers often can’t find suitable affordable housing in Boulder. Those folks may take other jobs closer to where they live when those jobs become available, leading to staffing shortages here in Boulder.

These are problems we can help address with new neighborhoods that WE design to meet Boulder’s needs.

The golf course sits in the high hazard and conveyance flood zones. New development is not allowed in the high hazard zone, and it is significantly more difficult and expensive to build in the conveyance zone. Not to mention, putting people’s homes into high-risk flood zones is not the best option for public safety. Where the city owns public land in a flood zone, using that land to locate an amenity like a park or a golf course makes sense. Land that is permeable (not paved or built upon) absorbs and passes flood waters, which is a wise use of public land to help protect the rest of the city.

In contrast, BDU sits on high ground and is not in any flood zone.

We should do both. The Planning Reserve will not solve all of Boulder’s housing challenges. Boulder sorely needs the type of housing that can be developed at the Planning Reserve AND at the airport site.

We should build housing at the Planning Reserve too!   We do not have to choose one or the other.

The Planning Reserve is an area of about 500 acres north of the current city limits. It is currently not within the city limits, but it has been set aside by the city and county as an area of potential future urban expansion to meet citywide goals. The majority of this land is private property. The city of Boulder owns about 200 acres of land in the Planning Reserve that was purchased with park bond money. There is an expectation that this land will be eventually annexed into the city and developed, and some of that development will be parks, and some will include housing.

Exactly how, when, and what happens at the Planning Reserve is still to be determined. The City is currently in the process of doing a baseline services study to determine what new infrastructure or infrastructure upgrades would be needed to develop this land.

The Planning Reserve is an exciting opportunity but we don’t know exactly what will happen there, and we can be sure it will not solve all of Boulder’s housing challenges. Boulder sorely needs the type of housing that can be developed at the Planning Reserve AND at the airport site.

This is truly a grassroots effort. No one in our group has any financial stake in the airport or in development.

We are a small group of Boulder residents including airport neighbors, affordable housing advocates, and environmental and social justice advocates. We have no ties to the development community and no financial stake in the airport. In contrast, many of the pro-aviation voices you may hear have a direct financial interest in BDU.

We see an airport that benefits the few and negatively impacts the many, including direct and serious impacts to residents’ health and well-being. 

We see the potential for creating a beautiful neighborhood at the site that would advance the city’s goals for equity and inclusion, affordable and diverse housing, environmental quality, public health and safety, and responsible governance.

For us, the choice is clear.

The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan directs us to do so NOW. Waiting would mean further airport growth and entrenchment and would perhaps make the creation of new neighborhoods impossible in the future.

If we wait, the airport, currently in rundown condition, will be updated, modernized, and literally cemented in place.

The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan is Boulder’s planning Bible. In section 6.23, it describes the Boulder Municipal Airport and states, “At the time of the next Airport Master Plan, the city will work with the community to reassess the potential for developing a portion of the airport for housing and neighborhood-serving uses.” This is the city’s promise that opens the door to consider repurposing the airport when we update the Airport Master Plan.

Well, that time for the next Airport Master Plan is NOW. The Boulder Airport Manager and Transportation Department just completed a year-long “Community Conversation” about the future of the airport, and will be kicking  off the next Airport Master Plan in the near future.

If we do not make a decision to decommission the airport now, this opportunity will not easily come around again. If, instead, we go into an Airport Master Plan update, which is funded and steered by the FAA, the goal will be to grow and modernize the airport. More FAA grant money, more obligations, more investment, construction, and growth at the airport takes us in the wrong direction, perhaps forever. And the city will continue to be disempowered regarding airport management - unable to regulate noise, lead, or other impacts - while the airport grows.

"Opportunity exists in examining the future of Boulder's airport", Guest opinion published in the Daily Camera by David Ensign, former Chair of Boulder’s Planning Board.

"A positive vision for housing at the Boulder airport," - Guest
 opinion published in the Boulder Beat by Philip Ogren, member of Boulder’s Housing Advisory Board.

"City will keep aerial disaster response if airport is transformed," Letter to the Editor in the Daily Camera by Laura Kaplan. 

"Once-in-a-forever opportunity: Boulder residents to weigh in on repurposing the airport for housing," Article in
 the Boulder Reporting Lab by John Herrick.

"Community member clash over the future of Boulder airport," Article 
in the Daily Camera by Amber Carlson.