Economic recovery, growth, and resilience
Every municipality in the country is focused on a rapid recovery from the Covid 19 pandemic. The question for all of us is, what will differentiate Longmont from every other municipality with similar ambitions?
To be certain, we will continue collaborating with Longmont’s Economic Development Partnership, Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown Development Authority. These associations and relationships are instrumental to the recruitment of primary businesses to Longmont and supporting Main Street businesses through challenges like the ones faced during the pandemic.
Beyond compliance-based planning
We need more than compliance with zoning, the imagination of developers, and coincidence to shape Longmont’s future.
New development and redevelopment of land and property in Longmont needs to be more vision and less compliance based. Decades of compliance with zoning ordinances have produced results that, in many cases, fail to meet our standard of “highest and best use” of land and opportunity.
Examples of vision-based development opportunities include Longmont’s Main Street corridor plan and our Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) area. Both efforts reflect the aspirations of Longmont residents and possibilities for development and/or redevelopment of land that rises to the standard of “highest and best use”. Summaries of the Main St. corridor and STEAM area projects can be reviewed on the city’s Engage Longmont platform.
Why should we care about these initiatives? Because these are creative and vivid approaches for signaling to developers what Longmont leaders wish to see proposed for development. They go beyond basic compliance with zoning requirements to reflect the best hopes of the community. We will also want to hear the ideas of Longmont’s developers for development and/or redevelopment of our land.
Currently, the leadership of Longmont’s Downtown Development Authority describes the downtown area are vibrant, clean, and safe. When fully developed, the Main Street plan will result in a corridor from HW 66 to Plateau Rd, that takes vibrant, clean, and safe to new levels.
As the vision for the STEAM area is translated from possibilities to planning, proposals and then to projects, Longmont’s entire lower downtown will be transformed. Amenities will be developed that will benefit generations of Longmonters for years to come. Imagine never having to leave Longmont to access and enjoy world class education programs and facilities from pre-school through post-doctoral degrees. Imagine best-in-class performing arts and conference venues and 21 st century library facilities and services.
Sugar Mill to Vance Brand Airport
Along with the Main Street corridor and STEAM area vision-based planning already underway, we deserve clarity on how we will proceed with development when property that has been in a flood plain is removed from the flood plain along St. Vrain River. Completion of the next stretch of the Resilient St. Vrain Project (RSVP) will present unprecedented opportunities to reimagine responsible, environmentally sensitive, planning and development that will extend from the Sugar Mill to the Airport.
The City is already engaged with the Urban Land Institute to assess and evaluate possible land use from County Line Road to Martin Street. The STEAM project offers a vision of possibilities from Martin Street to Main Street.
$140 million in local, state, and federal funding will eventually be invested in restoration of the St. Vrain river corridor. Following restoration, protection of this natural amenity, along with a commitment to “highest and best” use of land that will be removed from the flood plain, should be captured in an effective vision for the corridor. When flood restoration work between Main St. and Hover is completed in in 2023 or 24, 800 acres of land will be out of the flood plain and we will be presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset expectations for development of the corridor.
Among the many development opportunities we need to “get right” is the Vance Brand Airport. The airport should be instrumental to Longmont’s future. It should be a driver of economic development and prosperity. This is only possible if our community shares a vision of a regional airport that becomes a leader in research and development of green/quiet aviation.
Both private and government investment in research and development of electric powered aircraft is rapidly increasing. Municipalities, along with private sector partners, are positioning to take advantage of investments in research, development, manufacturing of electric aircraft. Electric airplanes can also become assets in a regional transportation system. If we want to quiet the skies over Longmont, attract capital, create high-end jobs, recruit talent, connect Longmont with other future-focused cities in a the 21st Century world, and create a new hub of robust economic activity in the post-pandemic era, it’s time to get started.
Too many Longmont residents are one automobile accident, health crisis, or lost job away from losing their homes.
Housing, and reducing housing insecurity, remains a significant challenge to municipalities throughout the country. Longmont, located in Boulder County, rated as the 7th most expensive location in the country for housing costs, faces a more challenging situation than most.
Too many Longmont homeowners are housing burdened, which means they spend more than one third of their monthly income on housing costs. This leaves too many Longmont residents one medical emergency, one auto repair, or one layoff away from losing their homes.
Housing insecurity is a precursor to homelessness. If we want to prevent homelessness, we must reduce housing insecurity. To reduce housing insecurity, we must continually update ordinances that lower the initial costs, and total costs, of home ownership.
Every Longmont resident who wants safe, stable, permanent housing should be able to find it and afford it.
Reducing homelessness was a challenge before the Covid 19 pandemic. It is likely to become a much more daunting challenge in the post-pandemic era. Homeless can only be reduced or eradicated when every Longmonter who desires to live in safe and secure permanent housing enjoys access to it. We cannot house the homeless without developing more affordable housing options in Longmont.
In December 2019, the City Council adopted an Inclusionary Housing ordinance that was a positive step toward creating more affordable (subsidized) housing for residents who qualify for subsides. This was a necessary, but wasn’t a totally sufficient step in the right direction.
Work remains to be done to grow Longmont’s inventory of housing options for eligible residents. To assure, with confidence, that all Longmont residents are unburdened in safe, secure, and permanently affordable housing, we must leverage every available resource, both public and private. This means optimizing Longmont’s housing authority, courting investors in tax credit funded housing development, and partnering with developers of affordable housing.
This also means working with business owners and neighborhoods on the design of affordable housing projects, so they are congruent with neighborhood design standards, even as housing options are more diverse.
Home ownership and child-care are the two biggest expenses for many Longmont families. Affording both should be achievable for working families in Longmont.
If Longmont is to be a community in which young individuals or couples can purchase a home, start their careers, raise their families, invest in the community, and mature along with their children, then housing stock must be available and attainable for them. These are individuals or couples who do not qualify for subsidized housing but aspire to purchase a home, raise their families, and build equity in the city in which they work.
Today, the housing stock in shortest supply is what housing experts refer to as “attainable” housing. This is housing priced so working families, earning $85,000 to $115,000 can qualify to purchase market rate homes priced between $375,00 and $400,000. This combination of income and housing costs requires no more than one third of homeowner income being obligated to mortgage, interest, and fee payments.
Here is the problem. There are very few homes in Longmont available for sale in Longmont in this price range. The median family income in Longmont is $75,000. This is why 20% of homeowners in Longmont are considered “housing burdened” and so many young families who want to live and work in Longmont are unable to do so.
There is a direct correlation between City Council adopted housing ordinances and the development of attainable housing inventory. The interests of teachers, City of Longmont employees, entrepreneurs, and other young professionals aspiring to own a home in the city in which they work have not been served well by Longmont’s housing policies. More imagination, creativity, learning, and willingness to work with builders of attainable housing is needed if Longmont is to avoid becoming older, less diverse, and less vibrant.
Just as a relationship exists between City housing policy and available, attainable housing stock, a relationship exists between housing policy and Longmont’s carbon footprint. Prior to the pandemic, 60% of people who work in Longmont commute from outside of Longmont into the city. Understanding that the total percentage of commuters into Longmont each day may change slightly in the post-pandemic era, we need to make it feasible for people who work in Longmont to live in Longmont. Living near where one works decreases the use of automobiles and reduces traffic congestion. Biking and walking to work increases.
Economic recovery, growth, and resilience will be, at least partially, tied to the success of Longmont’s primary employers. Primary employers located in Longmont note that current housing costs and the shortage of attainable housing is an obstacle to recruiting talent. In the post-pandemic era, we should be able to differentiate Longmont from other Front Range municipalities based on a variety assets. Attainable housing needs to be among them.
Talent recruitment is essential to our community if we are going to recover economically. Potential new, talented employees are unlikely to locate to communities without high quality, reliable, affordable child-care options.
Prior to the Covid 19 pandemic, high quality child-care and early childhood education was understood by economists to be a solid investment in human capital with a return on investment anywhere from 7 to 16 times the cost of child-care and early learning opportunities.
High quality child-care and early learning opportunities was understood by educators as essential for children to be “school ready” by the time they enter kindergarten. School ready children are far more likely to succeed in school and graduate from high school than children who are not.
High quality child-care and early learning was understood by military leadership as a national security concern. Children who experience high quality child-care and early learning opportunities are far more likely to qualify for military service as young adults and are better equipped for the personal disciplines required for success in the military.
Now we’ve seen what parents of children younger than 5 years old have always known. Every sector of the American workforce is dependent on access to high quality, reliable, affordable child-care and early childhood education programs. When access to child- care is not an option for working parents, parents of young children are not an option for employers.
Child-care and early childhood education options for parents simply disappeared during the pandemic. If our local economy is going to recover quickly, with resilience, and grow in the post-pandemic era, working parents of young children must be able to access high quality, affordable, reliable child-care.
The 2020 and 2021 City of Longmont budgets included funding to salvage (in 2020) and grow child-care capacity (in 2021). Building on these investments, Longmont’s economic recovery, growth, and resilience into the future will depend on the capacity of our child-care and early childhood education industry.
City government cannot do this alone. In partnership with Longmont’s Early Childhood Community Coalition, Longmont’s Economic Development Partnership, our Chamber of Commerce, the Early Childhood Council of Boulder County, the Bright Eyes Coalition, and the St. Vrain Valley School District, we will continue leveraging opportunities to grow and sustain a “best in class” child-care and early childhood education system.
There is no question that child-care is critical to economic recovery in every community. The same can be said about attainable housing. The combination of costs for housing and child-care account for a majority of monthly income for most young families. Add costs for ongoing education and training and it is easy to understand why the Building STEAM vision includes bringing a four-year college or university campus to Longmont along with growing Front Range Community College’s presence. If we want to attract the kind of talent that carries Longmont into a productive future, we need to grow affordable, high-quality, child-care, attainable housing, and education options in Longmont sooner rather than later.
Reduction of Longmont’s Carbon Footprint
Every municipality in the world must commit to reduction of their carbon footprint. We owe this to future generations. If not now, when? If not us, then who?
The best time to implement Longmont’s Sustainability Plan was 25 years ago. The next best time is now.
Longmont’s Sustainability Plan is thoughtful and comprehensive. While it addresses a variety of environmental concerns critical to Longmont’s future, my focus remains on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the strategic, consistent, and effective use of the Sustainability Evaluation System (SES). The SES is an organized collection of criterion and standards for evaluating potential development projects. It was initially developed to evaluate City of Longmont projects. We are now positioned to use it to evaluate private sector development proposals.
When considering approval of development projects, the SES evaluation process should ensure that future projects contribute to the “triple bottom line” of people (social equity), planet (the environment), and profit (to developers and broader economic benefits to the community).
Climate Action Taskforce Recommendations
If sustainability plans represent what we need to do over the next 25 years, then our Citizens Climate Emergency Taskforce recommendations are what we need to do now so we can think about Longmont 25 years from now.
In the summer of 2020, recommendations from the Citizens’ Climate Emergency Taskforce were accepted by City Council. Priorities were established for 27 recommendations based on their impact on the reduction of Longmont’s carbon footprint, the cost to implement, and the time required for implementation. The most promising of these recommendations are:
- deployment of state-of-the art meters,
- public education and engagement,
- development of a beneficial electrification plan to be phased in over a 10-year period,
- Benchmarking of commercial buildings,
- Distributed energy resources,
- Commercial efficiency and rebates,
- Building codes, and
- Low-income residential efficiency.
The next Mayor and Council will need to remain disciplined in listening to members of the taskforce along with all Longmont residents in setting budget priorities for implementing the recommendations with the greatest impact on reduction of Longmont’s carbon footprint while mitigating potential negative, unintended impacts, on vulnerable members of the community.
Local Public Transportation Options
We need a clearer, shared, future-focused understanding concerning the future of local transportation.
Longmont needs a local transportation plan that integrates with a regional plan and that reflects the future of transportation. A sustained public engagement process, to educate all Longmont residents on the future of local transportation, should be implemented in 2022.
Current efforts are underway to consolidate transportation recommendations from multiple studies into a “transportation roadmap”. This effort needs to be vetted through a vision of the future of local transportation. This is likely to include autonomous electric vehicles, ride hailing or subscription services, and smaller electrified buses. All of these support living in Longmont without dependence on car ownership.
Regional Transportation Options
Mid-sized cities like Longmont deserve transportation plans that seamlessly connect them to both centers of commerce and transportation hubs.
Commuter rail to Longmont is long overdue. The only way to make this happen in the relatively near future is through a thoughtfully developed and effectively executed political strategy. Longmont needs to play a pivotal role in strategy development and implementation. If this is going to happen, Longmont’s Mayor must provide serious, focused, and persistent leadership along with City Council members in Longmont and the other municipalities in Boulder County.
Funding required to meet regional transportation solutions promised in the 2004 RTD “FasTracks” vote is unlikely to materialize any time soon. Longmont, along with RTD and other Boulder County municipalities, must organize and prepare to compete for additional (federal) funding. In addition, we need to recruit private sector investors, to deliver state-of-the art regional transportation solutions to Longmont. If FasTracks is not feasible in the near-term, then work needs to be done with other Boulder County elected officials, the RTD board, and others to identify and pursue creative alternatives.
Solid Waste Diversion
Longmont’s current efforts to divert solid waste from the landfill to recycling and composting centers are necessary but insufficient for future reduction of our carbon footprint.
Longmont has made substantial progress in recent years on diverting solid waste from our landfill through our recycling and composting initiatives. It’s a good start. But, it’s only a start. The next Mayor and Council must work effectively with City of Longmont staff members, Longmont residents, County Commissioners, and service providers to create regional partnerships and solutions. This includes commercial landscapers, builders, the hospitality industry, and multi-family dwelling properties to divert solid waste from the landfill to commercial composting and recycling centers. Regional options for “hard to recycle” items in addition to demolition waste, building materials, and commercial composting, will have a meaningful impact on our zero-carbon goal.
Platt River Power Authority’s Integrated Resource Plan
PRPA is critical to achieving the City Council adopted goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030.
Platt River Power Authority (PRPA) supplies Longmont with electricity. PRPA is critical to achieving our goal of 100% of electrical energy consumed by Longmont residents being generated by renewal energy sources (wind, solar, and hydro) by 2030. PRPA’s Integrated Resource Plan, which will be updated by 2025, needs to reflect their commitment to this goal. The City of Longmont is obligated to continue informing residents about progress toward the goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030 and the composition of RRPA’s Integrated Resource Plan as it prepares the 2025 update.