By Dom Nozzi
August 15, 2015
Boulder voters are being asked this fall to vote on a seemingly wonderful measure called “Growth Shall Pay Its own Way.”
I spent 20 years, as a professional town planner, implementing such a law in Gainesville FL, a college town the same size as Boulder. In Florida, we called it “growth management concurrency.” Cities in Florida were required to adopt “level of service” standards (for example, at least 5 acres of parks per 1,000 people). New development, to be “concurrent,” needed to demonstrate that they were not degrading the adopted levels of service. There were many features or services that had adopted levels of service.
Who could be opposed to the fairness of development paying its own way?
At the end of the day, however, Gainesville’s citizens and elected officials (and nearly all of the other cities and counties in Florida) only cared about was the bean counting of ROAD level of service. This was the only standard where developers were required to be “concurrent.” The only standard that was important enough to stop the development in its tracks if the project was not “concurrent.” None of the many other level of service standards mattered at all. “Concurrency” was therefore code language for “road concurrency.”
The right-sizing project on Folsom Street in Boulder makes it crystal clear that like nearly every other community in the nation, many Boulder residents equate easy, higher speed motor vehicle travel with quality of life. It is therefore dangerously likely that Boulder – if it adopts a concurrency rule such as “growth paying its own way” — will follow Florida’s concurrency path of putting easy car travel, and nothing else, on a privileged pedestal. Big roads and intersections become far more important than any other quality of life measure.
It is easy to be seduced by confusing happy car travel with quality of life. After all, most all of us get caught every day in rush hour traffic going to and from work at rush hour, or can’t find an available parking spot near our restaurant.
But ruinously, putting easy car travel on a pedestal is precisely the OPPOSITE of what we should do to protect and promote quality of life in Boulder. Easy car travel delivers more sprawl, higher taxes, more strip commercial “sellscapes,” more injuries and deaths, reduced travel by walking or bicycling or transit, less affordability, more air pollution due to more of us driving, more huge parking lots and huge intersections and huge roads, and more noise pollution.
What do we consider to be measures of quality of life in Boulder? For many of us, the list includes Pearl Street Mall; proximity to the Flatirons, the Foothills, the Rocky Mountains, and great outdoor recreation; desirable climate and air quality; transportation choices; the feeling of safety and relative freedom from crime (particularly for seniors and children); our greenbelt; quality culture and good restaurants; small town ambience; a highly educated, healthy, and physically fit population of creative people; housing choices; low noise levels; and abundant, high-paying, rewarding jobs.
Having “growth pay its own way” does NOTHING to promote any of these quality of life measures, and because it is possible that the law will induce Boulder to focus heavily on easy car travel (partly because it is an easy bean-counting measure), it will do quite a bit to DEGRADE many of these measures.
Adequate Facilities laws (such as “concurrency” or “growth paying its own way”) incentivize bigger, wealthier projects and developers, because the smaller, local projects and developers are less able to afford to jump through the Adequacy hoops.
Yes, many recent buildings are ugly – largely because they are creepy and weird modernist buildings that are unlike anything from Boulder’s past. Such buildings have thrown away the timelessly lovable nature of traditional design exemplified by the Boulderado.
But the way to have more lovable buildings is in no way helped by having growth pay its own way. We can move in that direction by implementing things like a “form-based code,” which will soon regulate building design at Boulder Junction.
Having Boulder follow Florida’s “Growth Pay Its Own Way” path will likely lead to a grim future for this city because Adequate Facilities laws are a form of bean counting for happy cars. Quality of life is about qualitative measures, not drowning in bean counting minutiae for SUVs.