The city’s Planning Board last week voted 4-2 to approve a plan to tear down the Millennium Harvest House Hotel and build 303 apartments, which the developer has said seeks to address the city’s student housing crunch.
The developer, Landmark Properties, an Athens, Georgia-based firm, still needs to obtain a demolition and building permit from the city before breaking ground on the project.
The site and use review application, approved by the Planning Board on Aug. 8 with some conditions, describes the plan to tear down the hotel — which was built in the 1950s — and replace it with contemporary “purpose-built student housing.” It would rise four stories tall and encompass much of the same footprint as the existing hotel and parking lot. The architect on the project is Shears Adkins Rockmore, a Denver-based firm that also designed the University Hill Hotel, which is now under construction.
The developer needed permission from the Planning Board to redevelop the site because it wants to build up to 53 feet high — which is above the 35 feet allowed under the city’s zoning rules — and also because it is proposing to build about half the amount of parking spots required under city code.
Given the project’s location outside of single-family neighborhoods, it has generated relatively little opposition. By contrast, a proposed project near Baseline Road and Moorhead Ave. to build up to 90 units of mixed-use student housing has faced criticism from neighbors who worry about additional car traffic.
Instead, much of the pushback to the Millennium Hotel redevelopment came from the Planning Board, which twice delayed its approval of the project. Several members said they did not like the proposed architecture. Others wanted additional assurances that the area around the Boulder Creek would remain open to the public.
On Aug. 8, the developers presented design modifications to the building, including lowering the height of the entranceway, adding setbacks to break up the building’s “massing,” and using a greater variety of materials to make the building appear less uniform.
The nearby multi-use path along Boulder Creek would be rerouted and have wider-angle turns where it crosses the creek near the fish observatory, which is proposed to remain in place. The daycare center on the south side of the creek would also remain. The developer is proposing to remove Rocky Mountain Tennis Center’s courts and replace them with open space and a “half-court basketball court, four pickleball courts, and a dog park.”
The project would include half the required number of parking spaces — 348 spots. This is forcing the developer to get creative in encouraging tenants to not park a car at the site. It wants to require tenants to pay a $75 monthly fee for a parking spot. Tenants who don’t seek a parking spot would receive a $150 per year stipend to pay for “alternative transportation,” such as car or bike sharing programs. Bike parking and e-bike charging stations would be located on site. Employees and tenants would also be eligible for a three-year RTD Eco Pass paid for by the developer.
The shortage of off-campus housing for CU Boulder students has been a persistent challenge for the university. CU Boulder has about 10,000 beds on its campuses for its approximate 36,000 students. (The university requires first-year students to live on campus.) The university’s aging inventory of on-campus housing “has been unable to keep up with enrollment growth,” according to the university’s 2020 Housing Master Plan. And for students who live off campus, the master plan states, the high cost of housing is “pushing them further from the campus core.”
The developer is not proposing to build any deed-restricted affordable housing units. Building such housing is one way developers can comply with the city’s affordable housing requirements.
Instead, the developer has indicated it will pay an estimated $18.9 million to satisfy the city’s inclusionary housing program requirements, according to Michelle Allen, the manager of the city’s inclusionary housing program.
“This project is intended as student housing and most students do not qualify for affordable rental housing,” Allen wrote in an email to Boulder Reporting Lab. “[Housing and Human Services] has found that non-student families renting affordable units do not thrive in student focused developments so cash-in-lieu is an excellent outcome for the city.”
Under the city’s program, developers can build 25% of the total dwelling units as permanently affordable or pay cash-in-lieu, among other options. The money goes into the city’s Affordable Housing Fund, which is used to subsidize housing projects elsewhere in the city.
In addition to the demolition and building permits, the developer will need a city wetland permit. The site is located near Boulder Creek and in a floodplain.
In the coming weeks, the Boulder City Council will decide whether to “call up” the site and land use review plan and vote on it.