LOUISVILLE — Boulder developer Markel Homes Construction Co. plans to construct a mixed-use project in its North End community, the final section set to be built out with the Louisville subdivision on South Boulder Road that’s been in the works since 2006.
The Louisville Planning Commission this month unanimously recommended that city elected officials approve a development plan amendment that calls for 38 new residential units across 13 multi-family buildings and 40,562 square feet of office and retail space in four commercial buildings.
Markel is requesting a height waiver that will allow for some of the buildings to be a couple of feet taller than Louisville’s standard 40-foot maximum.
“This is really decades in the making,” said Melissa Sherburne, a planner who served as a Markell representative during this month’s Planning Commission hearing, noting that the commercial element of the developer’s proposal could fill in some service gaps that have long existed in the mostly residential North End neighborhood.
Three of the four commercial buildings feature retail uses on the first floor with offices above. The fourth building is a single story with retail space with an outdoor patio area.
Louisville Planning Commission member Allison Osterman said that “it is really important to move forward as quickly as possible” so North End can evolve into the truly mixed-use community it was conceived to be.
“It’s taken a long time, and it’s unfortunate” that existing residents have had to wait a number of years for North End’s development to conclude, Markel CEO Michael Markel said.
“We do the best that we can and there are always going to be some people who you can’t make happy,” he said.
Another area of relatively widespread dissatisfaction within the Louisville community: affordable housing.
Markel plans to ask the Louisville City Council to allow the developer to pay a cash-in-lieu fee to the city rather than build affordably priced units on site at North End. Cash-in-lieu payments have fallen increasingly out of favor across the Boulder Valley as officials and residents alike have questioned the impact such fees have on affordability.
“Getting the fee in lieu is a very bad idea because of inflation, and we don’t have any place where we can put that housing right now,” Louisville resident Sherry Sommer said this month during a public hearing on Markel’s proposal. “Any money we get will just evaporate.”
Markel argued that including on-site affordable housing increases the prices developers must charge for market-rate homes in the development, resulting in an overall exacerbation of cost-of-living inflation across the community. Some participants in the public hearing appeared amenable to this logic, others more skeptical.
Louisville Planning Commission member Steve Brauneis said he was “disappointed” that Markel has chosen not to include affordable housing on site, but the city’s code is written in such a way that permits developers to seek cash-in-lieu agreements with the Louisville City Council, and Planning Commission members must play within the rules of the game.