Compatible Development Update (Pops and Scrapes)

by Osman Parvez

First a quick review.

This issue is about community reaction to large new or remodeled homes on small lots. When Boulder City Council met in January of 2008, they identified this as being a high priority and tried to implement an emergency change to the maximum allowable floor area ratio (FAR). Due to public outcry over the lack of process, City Council backed off and brought on a team of consultants (led by Winter and Co) to develop a community process to reach consensus.

The issue is now once again at the forefront of City Council's agenda. The public process is about to be concluded and a new set of regulations enacted. I've reviewed the consultant's packet of recommendations and was surprised to see they were more reasonable than I expected. I personally attended the February 24th City Council meeting to hear Winter and Co present their recommendations and reviewed the March 3rd City Council public hearing.

These are my take away points:

1 - City Council would like new regulations enacted in mid to late May. This is coming fast. Winter and Co indicated that their recommended regulations are designed to work together to but Council is modifying those recommendations with input from the Planning Board.

2 - Lot square footage will matter more than ever. Property owners with existing large homes or large lots will clearly see an economic benefit. Those with small homes on small lots may be negatively impacted. Surveyors should see an increase in business.

3 - New regulations will significantly reduce allowable home sizes and include standards for overall building coverage, FAR, and wall articulation. A sliding scale based on lot size is likely.

4 - Economic impacts were given only a superficial consideration. In their presentation to City Council - Winter and Co were questioned on economic impacts. In response, they cited unnamed studies and gave generic conclusions. They also mentioned anecdotal conversations with a few visiting city planners from other communities that enacted similar regulations as support for minimal impact. The consultants stated they were not directed to give attention to economic impacts because this would have significantly expanded the scope of their project. In my opinion, we're going in blind on economic impacts at a time of unprecedented economic turmoil.

This key document outlines Winter and Co's recommendations versus the recommendations from the Planning Board vs direction from City Council. The agenda item dealing with compatible development at the March 3rd meeting begins around 9:40pm. It's also worth watching the February 24th City Council video.

If you care about this issue, I highly recommend contacting City Council to express your concerns.

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  1. Osman - thanks for the report. This issue is so loaded, and I feel that any regulations they decide upon will have a myriad of consequences that we do not foresee today. It is mind-blowing to me that economic factors have been largely ignored, and council is in effect stealing from a portion of the citizenry in order to appease another segment of the population. Why can't these issues be resolved on a case by case basis, with an impartial arbiter at the table as well? Blanket regulations seldom achieve their intended goals (Glass-Steagal repeal comes to mind). It will be interesting to see, in two years time, where this lands Boulder and its' homeowners...

  2. You know, you gotta live next door to one of these neighbor anomalies to really get the impact. Honestly, I would have preferred 2 double wide trailers on the lot next to me rather that the big concrete wall that I got.

  3. I was living on 7th St in Newlands for 2.5 years as the house next door was torn down, and a new - very very large - home was built (on 2 lots! - don't ask) within 6 feet of the property line and complete with 4 ft tall concrete wall ON the property line. So I feel your pain. The reality, however, is that the folks who built next to me just got a big improvement in the value of their home, as the new rules would most likely not allow it, and they snuck under the wire. The owners of the home I rented (who were born there - 60? yrs ago - and grew up in the 450sf house) will see less income when they sell as well. Fair? I don't know how you can make this completely fair. I am uneasy with government meddling in private property without researching all potential impacts, and yet I am not against all regulations - some are necessary. I am not convinced that these are necessary. Boulder chose to close its borders, to stop spreading as most American cities do, with the greenbelt policies. The flip side of that decision - if the city desires to attract and retain new generations of participants (homeowners, families) - is to become more dense. Without adding density the city becomes virtually static, the population will age, and the rental v. owner ratio will balloon past 50/50 - a poor sign for a vital city. So what's it gonna be?


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