Ready to Lose 25% of Your Property Value?

by Osman Parvez

Should there be limits on the size of homes in Boulder? How large is too large? Results from an economic study on the issue were released yesterday.

From the Daily Camera:

The latest version of the proposed house limits would cap houses in the plains at 4,500 square feet above ground and houses in the mountains at 3,000 square feet above ground.

The study also presented a "quick and dirty" analysis on how the new program would affect property values and estimated it was possible that some land could lose as much as 25 percent of its value.

But land-use planners pointed out that the program would benefit people who want to buy a smaller house because they could sell the extra development rights.

The majority of the public who spoke Wednesday to the Planning Commission — in front of an audience of about 60 people — opposed the program and questioned the validity of the analysis.

"You are dealing with our lives, not numbers on a spreadsheet," said Allenspark resident Margaret Wray. "And remember, viable does not necessarily mean reasonable."

The Planning Commission will hold another public hearing in January before making a recommendation to county commissioners, who have the final say.

What do I think? As you might guess, I'm opposed to limits beyond current zoning but am open to other ideas. A better system, in my opinion, might require a review period for building permits that give neighbors an opportunity to get involved and have their say. Rather than passively restrict home sizes with draconian limits, concerned parties might weigh-in on the design of the home. Builders might be required to get approval, if neighbors have actively moved forward and filed to be involved. This type of system, requiring active participation and due process, might balance the interests of adjacent land owners without major damage private property rights.

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  1. Bad idea. Letting your neighbors too far in on the design process will be a nightmare for homeowners - who are not always "builders" - especially in a town where the knee-jerk reaction to any building is "not here" (ironic for a "progressive" city - no?). As much as I agree that houses are too big - ridiculously big (next door to my 600sf house they are building a 6500sf monster for a family of 4 in central Boulder). Limiting the size of homes should come from the folks who live in them - not city or county government. Governments too often get this kind of thing wrong, and cause unintended hardships. This will be strcuk down in court - the players are far too rich to keep the lawyers out of this one.

  2. Density again. Really, i know i sound like a tinfoil hat wearing type but when you approach any of these proposals it always results in higher density.

    A better way is intensity rather than density. FAR is floor area ratio. A 100x150 lot has a FAR of 0.2 for a 3000 sf single story. A basement could be rated at 25% and a second floor 66% and a third floor at 100%. Just flagpole numbers but you get the idea.

    The agenda behind a straight size cap is to limit "luxury" development.

  3. On Nantucket, where I first rolled up my sleeves in the real estate business, the entire island is designated a historic district. The town has an elected commission to review building permit applications. Items considered include very subjective suitability criteria and local architects have become quite adept at managing the idiosyncratic process.

    So.. there you have one option which doesn't severely impinge on a property owner's right to build (at least in terms of square footage) but still gives some weight to softer issues such as appropriateness for a neighborhood. Now, I'm not necessarily advocating for such a board, per se. I'm simply illustrating the possibilities for a more effective system than simply restricting SQFT.

  4. I never envisioned you wearing a tin-foil hat Rob.. though maybe I could maybe see you in one of those collars that keep dogs from biting or licking injured areas.

    Just kidding, of course. I agree that there will be legal challenges. I also agree that government usually gets it wrong and that the people who live inside should generally be the ones to decide on size.


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