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 August 1, 1999

Boulder’s home prices too high? Tell me something I don’t know

Did you hear what I heard?

Members of Boulder’s council saying the city actually might have to think about adding more housing.

Too many jobs, darn it. The economy’s just too good.

Someone has to run all of these businesses, you know. That means more commuters, more traffic, more bicyclists getting run over. And your average Joe Worker — the guy that makes those French fries you crave for lunch — is finding our fair city’s housing price tag just a bit out of his reach.

Our own real estate stats this month show a new Boulder home’s median price (the one in the middle of the highest and lowest) in June was a startling $517,300, up from $422,400 a year ago. That’s a 22 percent increase. Not a bad return if you were fortunate to pick up one of the $400,000 cheapies last year.

Maybe you don’t need that three-car garage and the closets the size of a small condo. You’ll settle for a nice lived-in house. June’s median price for Boulder resales: $278,800, up from $268,000 in June 1998. Yikes.

Think these prices have anything to do with the fact that Boulder only issued 383 residential building permits in 1998? Of course, that was 103 more than the 220 issued in 97.

Compare Boulder’s numbers to the 1,466 permits Broomfield issued last year, and the 1,587 issued in Longmont. Even Erie, at 662, and Superior, at 761 easily eclipsed the building activity Boulder allowed.

And now our city fathers seem startled that home prices are skyrocketing.

Mayor Will Toor told the Rocky Mountain News that Boulder may even have to rezone some commercial or industrial properties to residential. And the infamous phrase “increased density” is back in vogue again. Isn’t this the same city that makes it nearly impossible for a single lot owner to build? Isn’t it the same folks who said no more splitting lots for cottage homes in the back yard? It’s certainly the same place where only a market-savvy Realtor can figure out how to buy the so-called “affordable” home.

And anyone who drives U.S. 36 or the northern I-25 corridor knows pretty quick it’s not going to get any better.

Last year, Boulder County had the third highest population increase in the eight-county metro area tracked by the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG). Some 10,200 new residents moved in. We were third in percent growth share of the eight counties at 19%, behind Arapahoe (27.4%) and Douglas (21%).

If our city leaders think we’ve got too many new jobs, take a look around us. From 1994, employment in Boulder has grown about 12 percent. But in Broomfield, it’s up a whopping 54 percent; Lafayette has 44 percent more jobs.

I don’t see any way Boulder and other county cities will ever meet their own worker demand locally. Every study finds we’re increasingly drawing workers from wherever we can get them — Denver, Fort Collins, the mountains, the moon. Boulder can talk housing ideas all it wants, but it’s no-growth stance of the 70s determined the future. We have a green belt; other cities got the tract homes.

We still might be able to put a few condos on top of Crossroads. Maybe we can build some of those Japanese-style “tubes” for workers to sleep in at night. Whatever the answers are now, they’re going to have to be pretty extreme.

Did you hear what I heard?

Members of Boulder’s council saying the city actually might have to think about adding more housing.

Too many jobs, darn it. The economy’s just too good.

Someone has to run all of these businesses, you know. That means more commuters, more traffic, more bicyclists getting run over. And your average Joe Worker — the guy that makes those French fries you crave for lunch — is finding our fair city’s housing price tag just a bit out of his reach.…

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