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That's what she said

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Planning Board Visits Le Boulevard


images from staff memo:

Progress towards Boulder’s ambitious future Champs Élysées, the South of Downtown Area (SODA), proceeded forward this Saint Patrick’s Day evening (3/17/2011). City of Boulder Planning staffers Sam Assefa and Susan Richstone came before the Planning Board and proposed a series of adaptations to the existing SODA design guidelines and building code.

The most significant proposal of the evening was a solidification of design guidelines recommending a 65 foot building setback. Previously, a 75 foot setback was the norm along Canyon Boulevard. For the majority of existing buildings within SODA, the implications of a 75 foot verses 65 foot setback are minimal. However, for the former Rob’s Music site, the 65 foot proposal is welcome news to developers. The 10 foot difference will be equivalent to an 18% increase in developable retail floorspace. According to the property owner, this is the difference between a profitable project and a project that simply won’t happen.

For the broader Boulder community, design and code guidelines for SODA are significant in that they represent the city’s holistic attempt to unify the north and south sides of Canyon Boulevard. The planning department’s objective is to create a more functional and aesthetically pleasing street scape. Even with the smaller 65 foot setbacks, rather than the current 75, city planning staff assure the Planning Board that there will be sufficient remaining right of way for pedestrians, bikeways, and greenery. As the 75 foot guideline exists, city planners believe Canyon Boulevard’s average 180 foot width with zoning for 50 foot buildings along both-sides creates an aesthetically off-balance environment.

In the interest of breaking the monotony of heights and building facades, city planners are encouraging a reduction in building’s third floor setbacks from 20 feet to 15 and in some cases allowing for a zero setback on third floors. Additionally, in the interest of architectural variety, city staff recommends flexing the three story building height limit from 35 feet to 38. At the core of these code adaptations is a belief that it will allow for a more varied collection of building heights and result in a positive aesthetic impact.

click to enlarge

Of all the SODA related proposals, the most creative and interesting of the Saint Patrick’s day evening was Sam Assefa’s cantilevered building proposal. The main focus of the cantilevered buildings  would be on buildings on the south side of Canyon. The idea is to encourage the construction of buildings that create an arcade like effect, mimicking  the architectural feel that exists in many European metropolises as well as exists at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle. If such buildings were to be built in conjunction with the 13th Street Farmer’s Market, the cantilevered space could be used as a covered space for the Farmer’s Market vendors.

While the concept of several blocks of covered walkways along the south side of Canyon is a creative and adaptive way of imagining the space, several significant questions  remain. Planning Board members expressed concern about both the potential darkness created by overhangs as well as the potentially awkward period of buildout, in which buildings with cantilevered walkways could exist with no buildings adjacent to them.

In the end, the adaptation of the design guidelines passed unanimously with a motion by Holicky and seconded by Jones. The proposed code changes also passed unanimously, on a motion by Holicky and seconded by Shoemaker.

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