Finding the ‘win’ in what’s right for the Boulder community

Many BizWest readers have followed the recent debate over a proposed increase in the Affordable Housing Linkage Fee, a fee the city of Boulder imposes on new commercial development to cover the cost of meeting the affordable-housing needs that new development is assumed to create.

The Boulder Chamber initially took a strong position in opposition to any increase in the Linkage Fee above the current $9.53 per square foot rate that the city council adopted last year.  Among our concerns is the relatively high rate of the current Linkage Fee compared with other communities in the Denver-metro region (most don’t even impose such an assessment) and peer cities across the country.  Further, we have yet to fully assess the impacts of the current fee.  I could go into further detail regarding our concerns, but that’s not the point of this column …

After in-depth analysis and several discussions with city of Boulder staff, as well as outreach to our membership, our partners in the affordable-housing community and city council members, it became clear that holding the line on any increase in the fee wasn’t a logical position on which to stand our ground.  Other interests were making a strong argument for some increase — many even set the minimum bar at an increase of $35 per square foot or higher — a proposition that a majority of city council members seemed inclined to support.

It was becoming clear that we could fall on our sword in a losing fight against an increase based on the above arguments and many others.  Alternatively, we could work with others who might even disagree with our position to see if we could find common ground.  Fortunately, with a shared interest in most effectively addressing our community’s affordable-housing goals, we found support for a more modest increase to $12 per square foot of new commercial development amongst a coalition of Boulder’s affordable-housing providers, social-service agencies and other business interests.

After much debate at their Nov. 15 meeting, the city council ultimately voted by a 6-3 majority in favor of the coalition’s proposal.  As with any “compromise,” there are detractors on all sides.  I am hopeful, though, that coming together in this coalition — overcoming our differences in the name of a broader community solution — will create a much more sustainable path forward.

While it may be tempting for some to talk about “winning” an important vote at city council, I much prefer the perspective that coming together in a collaborative fashion around a difficult decision is a victory for all of us.  I am pleased that other community members are making the same observation.  Michael and Marsh Caplan have been writing about improving public process and had this to offer on the coalition we formed around the Linkage Fee:

“The divisiveness in our country has deepened. What might be done to help Boulder to bridge the gap as we wrestle with some very challenging local issues? A good start has been made by John Tayer and Betsey Martens. …  [T]he organizations for which they work often represent opposing viewpoints. Knowing this, they decided to work together, bringing in several other groups to seek solutions to Boulder’s affordable-housing problem. By respectfully listening to understand one another’s concerns and ideas, it seems an acceptable compromise was crafted regarding linkage fees.”

The president-elect often speaks in terms of winning, as if there are always winners and losers in every situation. The implication can be that every decision leads to a zero-sum outcome.  We know this isn’t the case and that for every complex issue we face, there isn’t always one clearly right answer.  For that reason, the Boulder Chamber will always offer an open ear to those who disagree with our position, searching for areas of common ground, and seeking the most balanced solutions for our community.  That’s the winning formula for all of us!

John Tayer is CEO of the Boulder Chamber. He can be reached at 303-442-1058 or via email at


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