Boulder County may limit home sizes

Date: Jun. 5th, 2007

By John Aguilar, Boulder Daily Camera
June 5, 2007

A home in unincorporated Boulder County would top out at 4,000 square feet on the plainsand 2,600 square feet in the mountains under a plan that officials say would decelerate the blistering pace of house-size growth.
Under the plan, people would only be able to build bigger homes if they agreed to buy development rights that would preserve agricultural or rural land elsewhere in the county — something that could cost a homeowner hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If the limits are adopted, Boulder County would become one of a select number of counties across the country to impose restrictions on the size of new homes.

The county commissioners are scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. today to take public input on the proposal.

A final decision on specific numbers isn't expected before September.

Michelle Krezek, manager of special projects with the Boulder County Land Use Department, said her department's proposed thresholds are "just a starting point" in the discussion on what to do about the size of new homes in unincorporated Boulder County, which have grown from an average of 5,189 square feet in 2004 to 6,290 square feet last year.

The county has been weighing for months whether and how it should goabout limiting the size of new homes as part of its larger effort to encourage smaller-scale development, reduced energy usage and agricultural preservation.

"It's clear in our view that this ever upward trend in consumption, consumption, consumption is not sustainable, and we don't think it's unreasonable to put some checks and balances in place," said Peter Fogg, a county land-use planner.

Fogg said his department based the suggested size limits on the median square footage of residences in the foothills west of Boulder and on the plains of eastern Boulder County, respectively, adding 10 percent to 12 percent of additional space as a buffer.

He acknowledged Monday that the proposed restrictions will not sit well with everyone.

"It's going to stir up some controversy, and some people might think it's heavy-handed," Fogg said.

Like The Land Use Coalition, a private property-rights advocacy group. In an April letter to the planning commission, The Land Use Coalition criticized the idea of a cap on house size.

The group argued that the energy efficiency of larger structures could be addressed in the county's building codes instead of through sweeping size restrictions that would infringe on people's rights to build the home of their choice.

Members of the coalition could not be reached for comment Monday.

Fogg said the limits wouldn't be the end-all-be-all for homeowners desperate to build a large home.

But there would be a price to pay for those who want to exceed them.

As part of the county's transfer development rights program, a homeowner who wanted to build big would have to pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into a bank set up to buy conservation easements and make open space purchases elsewhere in the county.

The bigger the house, the bigger the payment into the transfer development rights program.

"There's a price to everyone of land impacts, energy use and construction materials, and there should be offsets for doing those things," Fogg said.

Home-size limits
Proposed maximum size of a house in unincorporated Boulder County:

House on the plains — 4,000 square feet
House in the foothills — 2,600 square feet

Average size of new homes in the county, based on building permits issued:

2004 — 5,189 square feet
2005 — 5,929 square feet
2006 — 6,290 square feet

Source: Boulder County Land Use

Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389 or