Your House is Too Big

by Osman Parvez

5 Questions About Limiting House Sizes in Boulder

"Your House is Too Big."


"Oh, you heard me. Your house is too big. You're ruining the neighborhood."

Sounds pretty confrontational, doesn't it? Well that's precisely the path that Boulder City Council is taking. Beginning last summer, the city revived an effort to study maximum home sizes and has indicated it will pursue the issue aggressively.

If you think you can be complacent, guess again. In January, City Council held its annual retreat during which members shared their priorities. Many want new restrictions on redevelopment put in place within their first 100 days as elected officials.

Suzy Ageton put redevelopment second on her list of priorities. She wrote, "With numerous complaints about outsized new or remodeled homes in existing neighborhoods, and the recent successful referendum petition regarding the Washington Village development, it is clear that many community members are distressed about changes in the size, density, appearance and character of our community."

Matt Appelbaum wrote, "Pops and Scrapes. Actually, the real issue is the construction of huge houses on relatively small lots, changing neighborhood character and reducing the diversity of housing sizes and types. No delusion here that regulations will notably reduce house prices, however. While this is being studied, we need to speed things up significantly – and make it clear we’re serious about changing the rules."

Macon Cowles doesn't want to wait for any further studies or public hearings. He wrote, "I favor adopting an interim measure that will take effect before the final ordinance on this issue is developed."

Ken Wilson wrote, "Bigger houses don’t help. This issue should be a priority for its impact on neighborhoods and our climate action plan."

Should you be concerned? Whether you're for home size limits or against them, be aware of what's happening. If you want to get involved, this Thursday (March 13) City Council will meet with the Planning Board to further discuss possible solutions. You should attend the meeting.

Here's a little Q and A.

Q: Why would anyone want to limit my home size?
Mostly this issue is about aesthetics. Some residents believe that many pop and scrapes are too large and out of character with local neighborhoods. To add some weight to an emotional reaction to redevelopment, they argue that limiting home sizes will keep property more affordable by not driving up home values thereby helping maintain the middle class and encouraging diversity.

Q: How is this being done?
City Council has authorized funds to study the issue. Initial results of the study have already been presented and further study has been recommended. In theory, there will be public hearings and opportunities to discuss the study and intended course of action, including this Thursday. However, current members of City Council have indicated a desire to immediately enact interim measures that place further limits to house sizes.

Q: What about my property rights?
Property rights are already restricted by zoning, building codes, and more. Although Colorado in general considered a strong property rights state, municipalities can place additional restrictions on property owners. Current rules in Boulder allow for a 80% floor area ratio, as long as setbacks and shadow lines are respected.

Q: When do you expect the changes to take place?
This is difficult to predict. Clearly some members of City Council want immediate action taken to restrict redevelopment. They have indicated they aren't willing to wait and therefore new rules could take place as early as this year.

Q: Where does Silver Fern stand on this issue?
People want to buy and redevelop property in boulder. Frankly, at a time when real estate markets in many parts of the country are suffering, this is a good problem to have. It's also important to recognize that the community has a right to weigh in on the characteristics of the neighborhood. However, heavy handed approaches like further restricted floor area ratios are not the answer. The vast majority of redeveloped properties are much more attractive than what they've replaced. If new restrictions are enacted, the mechanism must balance the rights of property owners with those of the community.

Squeaky wheels gather attention but the reaction to the Washington Neighborhood redevelopment should not be taken out of context. Unique characteristics of that project are what generated tremendous response from the community. This was far and away more reactionary than the typical neighborhood response to redevelopment. In a recent discussion on one of Boulder's neighborhood email lists, the topic of pop and scrapes generated a sizable response. While a few felt the redevelopments were too large, most thought the additions were attractive and positive for the neighborhood.

Before they jump to change regulations that have been working well for many years, City Council should understand that a vocal minority with a special interest should be taken in context of the larger community's interests.

If you feel strongly about this issue, I recommend you get involved now. If you can't attend public meetings, consider writing an email or letter to your council members. Here's City Council's email address:

Postal address:

City Council
PO Box 791
Boulder CO 80306
303-441-4478 Fax

Like this analysis?    Subscribe to our client research report.     
Want to get blog updates via email?  Click HERE.       
Ready to buy or sell?  Schedule an appointment or call 303.746.6896. 
You can also like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

As always, your referrals are deeply appreciated.  

The ideas and strategies described in this blog are the opinion of the writer and subject to business, economic, and competitive uncertainties.   We strongly recommend conducting rigorous due diligence and obtaining professional advice before buying or selling real estate. 

Please Note

This document contains forward-looking statements. You are strongly cautioned that investment results are subject to business, economic and other uncertainties. There are no guarantees associated with any forecast and the opinions stated here are subject to change at any time. Always consult your financial advisor before making an investment decision.