Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

by Osman Parvez
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If you ever want to speak in front of City Council, better show up early. At last night's meeting, sign-up began at 5pm but only the first 15 people were allowed to speak before the meeting's agenda commenced. That left dozens of people waiting nearly two hours before the public hearing was resumed.

When I first started hearing the feedback, I admit I was a little concerned. A seemingly organized group of senior citizens, most living near each other, were among the first to the microphone. They spoke in favor of an immediate emergency measure to restrict home sizes, reminiscing about being raised with dozens of siblings in 800 SQFT houses and complaining about how their views of the flatirons were now being blocked by the large houses put up by young families. At this point, I started to get a little nervous. Where were all the people against the ordinance?

Finally, the 5th or 6th person got up to speak and he was sternly against the measure. He explained how he purchased his property with the intention of expanding it for his family's growing needs. Now, midway through the planning process, City Council was readying a sledgehammer, threatening the project and the property's value. When he finished, thunderous applause broke out and I was tremendously relieved. Judging from the volume of clapping hands and shouted whoops, most of the room was sternly against new restrictions.

After the break (during which Council discussed municipalization of our power supply), nearly everyone who spoke was against the measure. Citing a wide variety of well reasoned, intelligent objections person after person cautioned City Council to not rush the process. They warned that 0.35 was a radical change with many unintended consequences.

As the meeting progressed, a pattern became apparent. Those against the new restrictions (or against the lack of process) tended to be young homeowners with future plans or those with aging parents. They were people who bought recently and were preparing to undertake reasonable additions. They were architects, builders, and real estate agents whose economic well being was tied to a healthy real estate markets. A woman from the Chamber of Commerce spoke eloquently about the impact to construction related jobs. A builder spoke about his extreme efforts to make a large house environmentally sustainable and the need to respond to the market. Another told us that many of the neglected older homes, the "character" that City Council was trying to save, was beyond redemption. That it was so far out of code, so long neglected, that the properties were literally rotting. He argued, maybe it wasn't worth saving. Meanwhile, the few people who stood up to support the ordinance were generally much older. Their children grown, their working days behind them. They clearly had no need for additional space. No wonder they were upset about larger homes in their neighborhoods. The dichotomy was clear to anybody in the room last night.

As they spoke, it occurred to me that one reason the first group were predominately elderly was because they were retired and could get in line to sign up before the doors opened at 5pm. I arrived only a few minutes after 5pm and I was 20th on the list of speakers. That was far enough down to push me into the second group, past the meeting's lengthy agenda item. Luckily, I was able to stick around but many others couldn't. At least a dozen people were unable to wait, likely because of family or other obligations. The setup for speaking in front of City Council, a "first come, first served" approach beginning at 5pm, discriminates strongly against working people. When working people finally get their turn, Council members have likely been in session for hours and they simply can't have the same level of attention as they had at the beginning of the meeting. As it stands now, if you want to get City Council's attention you better get there early. I recommend getting there before sign up starts.

Overall, there was an outpouring of concern expressed to City Council last night. The points made were heartfelt and intelligent. I just hope Council Members were listening.

If you couldn't attend the meeting last night, it's not too late to have your opinion heard. Please consider writing an email to City Council at: council@bouldercolorado.gov.


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2 comments:

  1. I was one of the non-senior citizens who spoke in favor of the interim measure. Later in the evening I had an opportunity to head down below council chambers where overflow crowds can gather and watch council on closed circuit tv.

    Interestingly, the crowd there was primarily developers, I'd say 8 out of 10, a number of whom I count (still!) as friends. We had a spirited, but cordial debate. I valued the exchange because my friends raised a number of important issues that I agree must be considered.

    In the end I came away with a very good feeling that although we might have disagreed about the interim ordinance, there was broad agreement on permanent restrictions. It was encouraging to me that not all developers want to maximize size. Many recognize, as I put it in my comments, that the core value of our real estate comes in ensuring that Boulder is a livable city, and that "mega-mansions" won't really accomplish that. I actually predict broad agreement on the final, permanent ordinance that comes out of council.

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  2. Osman,
    I have started a yahoo group for the purpose of organizing together, discussing this issue, and finding ways to fight it. Please email me at my temporary email address of rationalplanning@gmail.com for details on how to join. Please feel free to post this email address or information on your site. Thanks

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