Spine Road’s affordable and workforce housing would add diversity and opportunity to Gunbarrel


I’m writing in response to a May 27 op-ed by the Gunbarrel Community Alliance (GCA) (Re: “The poor door and the pattern of legalized segregation in Boulder”) and to encourage support for the Spine Road project scheduled for Boulder Planning Board site review on June 17. 

I’m an affordable housing advocate who volunteers for the Boulder Housing Network and a member of the Better Boulder Board and the Boulder Arts Commission, though here I speak only for myself. For the past few years, my work has included research and writing about affordable housing and equitable land planning for the Urban Land Institute and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and I’m familiar with how pushback against more diverse and affordable housing has heaped additional stress on our housing crisis in Colorado and across the U.S. 

The Spine Road project is located next to the Diagonal Highway on 9.7 vacant acres of Celestial Seasonings property at the intersection of Spine Road and Gunbarrel Avenue in Gunbarrel. It features 230 workforce and affordable homes in 20 small two-to-three story buildings with a variety of housing types, from studios and live-work units to three-bedroom apartments and townhomes. It’s connected by walking paths, bike lanes and a mobility hub to help reduce car use. It also includes community and commercial spaces, such as a library, central park/open space, pool and fitness center, meeting/event space, community garden and café/coffee shop. 

The local developer, Andy Allison, has met the City’s inclusionary housing requirement of 25% affordable homes with 59 permanently affordable rental units for moderate-income households earning up to 60% of the area median income (AMI). The project also has 165 market-rate workforce rental units and six for-sale Habitat for Humanity townhomes for middle-income households. Typical residents could be teachers, first responders, nurses, artists, food service staff and other essential workers. 

One reason I like this project is that workforce and affordable housing are located on the same site. This is unusual in Boulder, where developers often choose to locate required affordable homes miles away in a one-off affordable project or pay cash in lieu of constructing them. This commitment is more complicated in terms of financing but encourages a more balanced community.

Spine Road’s affordable and workforce homes would add diversity and opportunity to Gunbarrel with a broader range of household incomes and housing types. What Boulder needs most and what the Planning Board is now studying is “missing middle” housing, such as duplexes, triplexes, townhomes and small apartment buildings. This will provide more options for people who can’t afford or don’t need $1 million-plus single-family homes, the type of residential zoning that dominates in Boulder and that has contributed directly to our high land costs and exclusive housing market.

Another reason I like this project is its focus on art and community spaces. As an arts commissioner, I know the number one issue for Boulder’s thousands of working artists is affordable housing, studio and exhibit spaces. The Spine Road project has programmed spaces for a gallery, studios, art classes, events, nonprofit organizations and a public art walk. Check out how the Bus Stop affordable apartments and gallery spaces for local artists, built by Andy Allison and Thistle Communities, have helped activate the NoBo Arts District.

GCA claims the City and the developers are continuing the “poor door” approach of providing inferior conditions for affordable homes compared to market-rate homes. But if you review the Spine Road site plan, you’ll find amenities are shared and the affordable and market-rate homes are adjacent to each other and front equally on the central open space. Affordable and market-rate buildings by Coburn Architecture are of similar quality in design, materials and features. 

The City aims to make 15% of homes permanently affordable by 2035, including 1,000 middle-income homes. As of December, 8.4% of city homes were affordable. We have a way to go to reach our affordability goals and to create a more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable city. The affordable homes in the Spine Road project would be among the first in Gunbarrel.

What really is continuing Boulder’s history of classism and racism is the belief that more diverse and affordable housing (and the people who live there) don’t belong in our neighborhoods. The real poor door is the one that opponents use to force out people who can’t afford to live here, where they work. Let’s consider how big-picture thinking about this and other affordable and workforce projects can help create the equitable, diverse and resilient city we say we want. 

Kathleen McCormick has lived, worked and raised a family in Boulder for the past 28 years.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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