Boulder is figuring out how to accommodate more folks. So why is it so hard to get an ADU in the country?


The city of Boulder has done a 180-degree turnabout in the last years: It has embraced densification and is trying to figure out how to squeeze in more people of all income levels. Changes in zoning and co-ops are on the table. Use to be one would get busted for having a rental above a detached garage; now the city is promoting such arrangements.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, the county folks are subject to much more stringent requirements which haven’t been loosened in a coon’s age and seem confusing at best and unfair at worst:

– Square footage building allowances are calculated with a “median square footage of area” formula which seems downright arbitrary in a lot of cases. So you can build a 6,000 square foot home on a teeny Boulder city lot, but on your 30 county acres you may only be able to build a 2,000 square foot one. Just to make things a bit more restrictive, the nearby monster subdivisions with huge homes are not factored into this median. Why doesn’t the amount of land you have get factored into the size of the house you can built? Certainly if your house is sitting in the middle of 30 acres, you’re not affecting your neighbors as much as if you have one acre. And why are basements counted within this allowable square footage? How is your basement affecting your neighbors or the ambiance of the surrounding area?

– Getting an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) and/or additional outbuildings approved is based on a subjective process: a property owner must prove “need” based on what they’re planning on doing on the property for the county to perhaps approve. The decision has more to do with what an owner plans to do with the property than the property itself. How crazy frustrating is this to property owners or potential buyers?

– Building or remodeling anything in the county is known to be a huge, expensive headache, much worse than building in the surrounding cities. Some builders won’t even take on projects in the county because of this. The advice often given to residents who want to build or remodel and have to deal with county regulators: “Lawyer up.”

Why are all these issues so much more difficult in the county? While we appreciate the county’s efforts to maintain wide open agricultural and wildlife corridors and the quality of life in the county, we also want clear and objective regulations which reflect the residents’ needs and the way people live. Maybe it’s time for the county to take its cue from the city and revisit and revise its regulations.