Let’s get to the point. I was born and raised in Boulder City, and I support amendments to the controlled-growth ordinance. However, I believe that a vote of “no” is in the best interest of Boulder City in the case of Ballot Question No. 1, since, as written, it does nothing to ensure the positive goals some of its supporters intend.
I have my reasons for distrusting developers and point to the vacant lot where one of Boulder City’s landmarks once stood as a case in point. Nevertheless, I can’t blame a developer for seeking out the most profitable ventures.
I find myself questioning the “benefits” of the changes to the controlled-growth ordinance, since more houses don’t necessarily equate to lower prices. Why? Real estate is speculative, meaning it is more or less purchased with the intention of a higher return on investment. Thus, prices more often go up, not down.
A developer, like any businessperson, will do what is best for the bottom line. Considering Boulder City’s price-per-square-foot is 35 percent higher than that of the rest of Clark County, there is no incentive for a developer to artificially lower the price on products out of sheer altruism. Compromising quality is more likely.
Of course, an influx of new development might eventually effect lower prices. However, this might take years to achieve, as it would necessitate growth to outpace demand. This route would also result in a devaluation of existing stock, negatively affecting existing residents’ most valuable investments: the value of their homes.
As the measure exists, there are no guarantees “affordable” housing would be built by the developer. The vast majority of the land in Boulder City is owned by the residents. You are part-owner of Boulder City’s vast landholdings, which gives the city the right to attach whatever beneficial stipulations to future land sales it deems fit.
Many communities have sought and failed to implement affordable housing through well-intentioned but poorly written legislation. The measure in question lacks even the most basic of language, falling short of requiring a percentage of housing (generally 10-15 percent) to be deemed “affordable” in future development.
Furthermore, it lacks a definition of what “affordable” housing is. It’s just that sort of ambiguity that a developer can use to skirt around codes. Note, “affordable” housing is most commonly defined by a rent or mortgage that costs no more than 30 percent of the median gross monthly income of the region.
If residents want to amend the controlled-growth ordinance in the near future, we can ensure that those amendments benefit the community. Case in point: The city has the right to add language that ensures future developments on city-owned land meet given design standards, in keeping with the historic charm of old town. Conveniently enough, the Historic Preservation Committee has written up guidelines in the past for the existing federal historic district, which could easily be amended and adapted into the controlled-growth ordinance.
Furthermore, new homes don’t have to be big homes. In 1950, the average American home was a scant 983 square feet. By 2004, the average home exploded to 2,349 square feet, even though the average family size had decreased. If smaller lots are a key means of providing more affordable housing, then smaller homes can compensate and thus preserve front and rear setbacks consistent with the character of the town.
Again, as shared owners of Boulder City, we have a say in how future legislation is worded. It’s up to us to make our city what we want it to become, or perhaps remain. There are few cities that have such a privilege, and I believe it’s imperative that we take full advantage of this opportunity.
As it stands, this measure was rushed and left members of the (City) Council uneasy, as you can see in the March 14 council meeting. That video is available on BCNV.org. This legislation gives up our cards for dubious returns. Notwithstanding, none of the candidates support the measure.
Let’s take this opportunity to make the future of Boulder City work for all of us. We have the time, and certainly, as this election has made clear, the passion to do so. I urge you to vote no on Ballot Question No. 1 on June 13. After all, there’s no place like Boulder City, and I think we’d all like to keep it that way.
Keegan Strouse is a Boulder City native. He has a background in history and architecture and is currently a graduate student at Parsons School of Design in New York.