The Holiday Neighborhood project has turned a greyfield site in Boulder, Colorado into a low-rise, mixed-use, residential community that is transit-supportive, energy efficient, and includes a substantial amount of affordable housing. Located at the city’s northern limits, Holiday Neighborhood is surrounded by low-density, car-oriented, post-war residential, commercial, and industrial development. It is bordered by U.S. Highway 36 to the northeast; Broadway Street, a major transit spine, to the west; and a residential neighborhood to the south.
The community plan for Holiday Neighborhood centers on two interconnected goals: sustainability and affordability. Fortunately, the initiatives that increase affordability have coincided with sustainability practices. The planning goals were acheived through a clustered, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood of two- to three-story buildings that reduces energy consumption and encourages walking, biking, and transit use.
One of the first principles of the community plan is to take advantage of Boulder’s substantial existing bike and bus infrastructure. The City’s existing density zoning for the site was doubled to 50 units per hectare, which contributed to the neighborhood’s transit-supportive densities and desired urban character. Higher densities also addressed affordability—a major challenge facing the City of Boulder—by allowing for smaller homes. The project offers a range of housing types, including single detached, townhouse, studio mews, live/work, lofts, duplexes, triplexes, and apartments.1
A mix of land uses was essential to achieve the community plan’s walkability and community integration objectives. Initially, the City of Boulder was reluctant to allow retail spaces in Holiday Neighborhood. However, growing traffic congestion prompted the City to allow nearly 40 retail spaces to mitigate traffic outflow from the new neighborhood by bringing services closer to where people live. The commercial buildings create a focus and retail center on Broadway Street for the surrounding community. Holiday Neighborhood also includes a cluster of live/work studios along the site’s main pedestrian route, allowing people to watch artists and craftspeople at work.2
Planning History and Context
Holiday Neighborhood was developed under the direction of the City of Boulder, which has a population of 103,000. Boulder has been implementing growth management policies since 1976, beginning with the “Danish Plan”, which limited residential growth to a maximum of two percent a year. The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 1977 and last updated in 2008, directs growth into the existing urban area, promotes compact walkable communities, and protects the open space and rural lands surrounding the city.
The city’s natural setting greatly contributes to its livability. Boulder’s open spaces at the foothills of the Rockies, extensive parks system, comprehensive bicycle network, and compact walkable neighbourhoods all contribute to the city’s desirability. However, there is a limited housing supply and prices are high—the median price for a single-family home in Boulder was USD $450,000 in 2004. In response, the City has made affordable housing a long-term priority. It aims to provide access to housing to both low- and moderate-income households (those earning less than or equal to 60 percent of the area median income).3
The idea to develop Holiday Neighborhood was conceived after the Holiday Twin Screen Drive-In Theater closed in 1989 and the land was annexed from Boulder County by the City of Boulder, along with many surrounding parcels outside the city’s northern limits. Initially, the sit’’s private landowners intended to build a “big-box” retail outlet. The City, however, was developing a sub-community visioning plan process for north Boulder that contrasted strongly with the landowners’ proposal. The City’s vision emphasized integrated, mixed-use, mixed-income communities with a New Urbanist character and development patterns that were more consistent with Boulder’s urban neighborhoods.
The City wanted to purchase the site from the private landowners to have greater certainty over its development and to prevent the “big-box” proposal from being realized. Despite opposition, city council approved the City’s purchase of the property in 1997. In 1998, realizing that the City itself should not function as a developer, it sold the land to Boulder Housing Partners, an arm’s-length public entity and the largest landlord in the city. Boulder Housing Partners has a long history of developing affordable housing, so it could easily meet the City’s requirement of making 40 percent of the projec’’s units permanently affordable.4
To provide visual diversity to the project’s streetscapes, Boulder Housing Partners hired five other developer/builders known for their innovative projects and experience with sustainability and affordability: Peak Properties, Affordable Housing Alliance, Coburn Development, Wonderland Hill Development, and Wolff Lyon Architects.5
Transportation and Transit
Holiday Neighborhood is served by one regional and two local bus routes within a five-minute walk. Emphasizing a strong commitment to transit, Boulder Housing Partners provides a complimentary bus pass to each resident.6 Overall, residents have responded extremely positively to the combined convenience of access to transit and local stores and services.
Holiday Neighborhood extends the city’s street network and existing residential fabric northward. The neighborhood’s street system is a connected and permeable modified grid, providing many direct connections into and within the development, in contrast to the disconnected circuitous streets of the surrounding community. This permeability reduces the need for cars by offering residents easy access to neighborhood stores, existing transit routes, and Boulder’s extensive bicycle trail system. For example, Holiday Neighborhood’s bike path along Highway 36 connects directly to the city’s bike trail system.
Vehicle dependency is further reduced through Holiday Neighborhood’s participation in the eGO CarShare program, a nonprofit serving the Boulder-Denver metro area. The program is pay-as-you-drive and provides the convenience of a car without the costs of ownership. The decrease in car dependence allowed the developers to successfully apply for a variance to the parking requirement for the Wild Sage Cohousing development, a 34-unit townhouse project within Holiday Neighborhood that cooperatively shares and operates its common areas. The Wild Sage project was required to supply only 1.1 parking spaces per housing unit, as opposed to the City’s standard of two spaces per unit.7 Additional communal green space was created as a result of reduced parking requirements.
Parking throughout Holiday Neighborhood is provided on the street and in small shared surface lots behind buildings.
Public Realm and Built Form
The Holiday Drive-In Redevelopment Standards and Guidelines, developed by Barrett Studio Architects, provide direction on siting and massing, parking, lighting, landscape, architectural elements, and materials for each type of housing. The document also contains guiding principles on:
Evoking a “sense of time and place” by responding thoughtfully to climatic conditions; celebrating and highlighting the site’s natural stormwater drainage patterns; using simple forms, patterns, and materials and clear structure; and creating an architectural expression representing the contemporary time and place.
Creating “diverse connections” through the community using uninterrupted green spaces and visual corridors that connect
to the central pedestrian spine; and making the neighborhood accessible to people of all ages and mobility levels, cyclists, and public transit users.
Making the community “human-scale” by using smaller material modules with attention to detail in outdoor spaces and buildings; creating variety in building uses, geometry, massing, texture and color; creating building forms and facades that are responsive to the street; and incorporating landscaping, balconies, and rooftop gardens.8
Reduced building setbacks allowed many smaller lots with diverse purposes to be closer to the street. In conjunction with higher densities, retail amenities, and mixed-uses, the reduced setbacks contribute to a pedestrian-oriented environment, and provide for more live-work options.
Holiday Neighborhood’s narrow tree-lined streets are pedestrian friendly. On-street parking creates a buffer between the sidewalk and the street, and curb bump-outs at intersections shorten pedestrian crossings.
The neighborhood’s open space system provides links and pathways throughout the development and to the surrounding community. A pedestrian spine extends from Broadway Street, through the central two-acre community park, to an orchard and bike trail along Highway 36. The orchard and a large community garden provide fresh fruits and vegetables for residents.
Architectural expression in Holiday Neighborhood consists of a collection of contemporary, farmhouse-inspired, and Victorian-era styles. Distinct color palettes of red, yellow, and green harmonize these diverse styles, which are further unified by front porches and units that address the streets and walkways. Commercial brick buildings are reminiscent of those found on a small-town main street.
Energy and Environmental Sustainability
To obtain building permits, developers and architects were required to meet environmental sustainability criteria set out in the City’s Green Points Program. The development team went a step further and established Green Guidelines for the Holiday Neighborhood that “challenged project designers to use innovative, efficient designs and technologies that were also sufficiently cost-effective to turn a profit in a project focused on affordability.”9
A grant the Sustainable Futures Society received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to “green” Holiday Neighborhood helped achieve this goal. The Sustainable Futures Society, a Denver-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable development, directed the grant money to project designers to research and explore design elements that would “increase project sustainability and demonstrate tangible air and water quality benefits.”10
Individual buildings in Holiday Neighborhood were built with some of the most extensive energy efficiency features to date. Solar water heating systems, passive solar orientation, and extra insulation in homes have significantly reduced all forms of energy consumption and servicing costs. The higher initial costs associated with the construction of high-efficiency homes were offset through a partnership with one of the project developers, Affordable Housing Alliance, as well as Habitat for Humanity. Under this plan, homeowners contributed sweat equity (their own labor) to the construction of their homes.
The Wild Sage Cohousing development received an Environmental Protection Agency energy rating of 5 Star Plus—the highest possible rating—on all of its 34 homes. This rating is the result of the cohousing development’s many sustainable features, including recycled and low-toxicity materials, concrete floors, light-colored flat roofs to reduce heat island effect, cluster development, solar panels, passive solar orientation, and lowered parking standards.
Innovative stormwater management strategies, or low-impact development practices, were used to deal with the neighbourhood’s surface runoff. The community park has sand filter beds that remove pollutants by infiltration and microbial decomposition.11 This system allows the park to be used for both recreation and water treatment. The Affordable Housing Alliance site also used low-impact development practices, such as planted swales to capture and channel stormwater from rooftops.
Holiday Neighborhood | Boulder, Colorado
27.3-acre mixed-use project comprised of “subneighborhoods”
$80 million project; site acquired in 1997 and project completed in 2008
334 residential units ranging from 580 to 2,700 square feet
34-unit Wild Sage Cohousing
40 percent “affordable housing” requirement
58,000 square feet of three-story retail, restaurant, and office space
Ratio of jobs to residents: 1:15
Residents and jobs per hectare: 81
Gross residential density: 12 units/acre
Maximum height: 3 stories
Central commons serves as “great room” to community
Community garden and numerous pocket parks
Extensive energy efficiency and renewable energy measures
Cutting-edge stormwater system
1.1 parking spaces per unit on average
Served by local and regional bus service
Awards and recognition include PLAN Boulder County Award for Urban Design Excellence, Colorado National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials Award, Urban Land Institute Landmark Project for Developing Sustainable Communiities
Developers: Boulder Housing Partners, Peak Properties, Affordable Housing Alliance, Coburn Development, Wolff Lyon Architects, Wonderland Hill Development Company
Master plan by Barrett Studio Architects and Studio 2 Landscape Architects