after the fire – rebuilding restrictions for Boulder County

Even though the fire is really just barely out and maybe not even so, I have been asked about the problems of rebuilding in Boulder County after the tragedy.  Here is the info I have found and confirmed with the Boulder County Land Use staff:

Good news for all the homeowners who are considering rebuilding after the devastating Fourmile wildfire here in Boulder County.  Many people have a very wary view of the County’s restrictions when it comes to new building and rightly so.  There are a lot of rules and regulations that must be complied with in the required Site Plan Review process.  However, staff has confirmed that for fire-destroyed properties, you will have 6 months before you will need a Site Plan Review:

“3. Restoration of a structure that has been damaged or destroyed by causes outside the control of the property owner or their agent provided the restoration involves the original location, floor area, and height. Must comply with the current provisions of the Boulder County Land Use Code other than 4-800 (also see Nonconforming Structures & Uses, Article 4-1002(D) and 4-1003(F)).

a. Such  be commenced within six months after the date  the structure was damaged or destroyed, or a latent defect discovered and completed within one year after the date on which the restoration commenced. This limitation may be extended in the case of extenuating circumstances as determined by the Director.

b. The provisions of this Section 4-802(B)(3) shall not apply to substantial improvements to structures in the Floodplain Overlay District as provided for in Section 4-400 of this Code.”

This is clearly dependent on keeping the house the same size as before but not necessarily the same shape, etc.  I will try to get some clarification from the County to verify if you can build smaller than before under these provisions.  I will also verify with staff that this means that a building permit must be either applied for or obtained within 6 months, nothing else.

Word is that they are going to be flexible on this deadline because of the circumstances.

This is very good news for homeowners whose houses were located on the tops of ridges.  The current interpretation of the Land Use regulations generally does not allow any new construction to be taller than surrounding trees.  On a ridge-top sites this is almost impossible so the maxim “thou shall not build on ridges” has been a bit of an unwritten rule in the County for a while now.  The code listed above will clearly allow people to rebuild on their existing sites (if existing foundations, septic systems, etc. can be re-used is a complex issue).  Keep in mind that significant re-grading of any portion of your property, and that includes both cut and fill, may require an additional permit and/or Site Plan Review or Limited Impact Special Review.  If you want to re-do that steep driveway, please remember this.

If you do not have information regarding the size of your existing home, the County typically uses the County tax assessor information.  We all know this is often not very accurate so there may be some interpretation allowed.

In any case, if you are rebuilding you will have to meet all the current building codes and that includes the County’s Ignition Resistant Construction and Wildfire Mitigation procedures.  Presumably this will also include the County’s relatively new energy codes as well.  If you are not considering rebuilding then the County’s Transferable Development Right may apply to your property and you may be able to benefit from your property.

I will keep updating blog posts with more information as I dig through the codes and their applicability in this situation. The Boulder County Land Use staff will be able to answer any questions you have and please, PLEASE, schedule a Pre-Application with them prior to doing ANYTHING. This is free and simple – you don’t need any drawings or plans – just sit down with staff and review what was there, what you can and can not do and how to do it.

Lincoln Hills, Colorado

For a number of years we lived at the edge of Gilpin and Boulder counties, high up in the Colorado Front Range.  Down the road from us was a small community of houses that we later found had a really interesting history.  The Lincoln Hills Country Club, located along South Boulder Creek, was a vacation development for African Americans established in the 1920s and continuing through the post-war years.  Now a collection of rather dilapidated buildings, the area has a remarkable past.

two buildings along the south bank of South Boulder Creek in Lincoln Hills or Pactolus, Colorado

Created by and for African Americans, the resort included some 100 acres laid out in hundreds of lots, at a time when African Americans were not welcome in public parks or lodgings in Colorado.  The center of the community was Winks Lodge (more in a later post) and Camp Nishoni, a summer camp for girls, run by the YWCA.  That building, partially demolished when we lived nearby, had initially attracted our attention.  According to a couple of online histories, the resort and camp hit hard times in the Depression and never really recoved, failing into disrepair and eventually sold.

Around 2004 much of the land on the north bank of South Boulder Creek was purchased by a Nederland contractor and developer with the notion of creating a flyfishing facility.  This section of South Boulder Creek had been channelized by miners and the railroad and much of the gravel was dumped in huge mounds on the north bank.  The developer’s plans to move much of this gravel offsite was energetically opposed by many local property owners because of the associated dust, noise and heavy equipment activity that it proposed.  Most confrontational was the aggressive “No Fishing” signs that suddenly popped up along a creek long used by locals.  I attended a couple of the public meetings held by Gilpin County and the stark, marked contrast between the culture of the developer and that of the largely individualistic property owners was a clear lesson on a kind of rural regentrification not often recognized by the press and public.  The unfettered use of private property is a religion in Gilpin County, but when it came to what was perceived as a public amenity, a clash was inevitable.

the new Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club sign and lodge

Flash forward a few years and on a recent visit I was shocked and a bit dismayed by the current state of things up there.  The original cabins and store of Lincoln Hills have succumbed even more to the ravages of weather and time.  Most disturbing however was the complete demolition of the last remnants of the large YWCA building, located on the edge of the developer’s property.  In its place is a new, somewhat generic “lodge” building and sign announcing the existence of the ‘historic’ Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club.  Ironically enough, the logo on the sign for the new lodge is the last image left of the demolished YWCA building.  The building was in truly horribly and possibly too-far-gone condition but its use in the image of a private club must pain the memories of the original Lincoln Hills residents.

To their credit, the developers have done a lot of work reviving the stream and making a significantly better fish habitat.  The price for this however has been to limit fishing along this section of the creek to members only, cutting off the historic access of locals.  I believe the current ownership is different than the original developer and seems to be taking a much softer and more congenial approach to integration with historic community.  And, to be fair, there seems to be very little of the community left for whatever reason.

And, in complete disclosure, I am an avid angler myself and often fished that section of Boulder Creek.  This private closure of the stream is particularly unfortunate as the County also closed what was an excellent winter fishery at the base of Gross Reservoir dam, also along South Boulder Creek.  Let’s hope the club can or already has, figured out some way to allow fishing access to locals, however limited.

For more on the history of Lincoln Hills, see including an image of one of the original resort’s advertising bills.  The Denver Public Library has a collection of papers and photographs of Lincoln Hills in their Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library.  The Denver-based non-profit, Beckwourth Outdoors, has long association with Winks Lodge and the history of Lincoln Hills:

A future post will highlight Winks Lodge, part of the Lincoln Hills development, with a long and rich past, and deserving of its own post.

(This area is also known as Pactolus.  I assume this is gold-mining-era name as the Pactolus River in Turkey is the original source of placer gold used to strike ancient coins, home of  King Croesus, as in “rich as Croesus”)

Chapel on the Rock, St. Malo

If you have driven along the Peak to Peak Highway to Estes Park, Colorado, you have certainly seen the dramatic Chapel of St. Malo, located below the towering peak of Mount Meeker.

“Upon this rock I shall build my Church” (Matt 16:18)

Monsignor Joseph Bosetti, after seeing a meteor fall in the area and searching for its remnants, was inspired by this beautiful, rugged site to pray for the funds to build a church.  Twenty years of prayers later, the chapel was constructed with local stone from a design by architect Jacques Benedict.  Benedict was a Beaux Arts-educated Denver architect with a long list of very accomplished buildings, many of Denver’s very best, including the Phipps Mansion in Denver, mentioned here in a post last week (  ).  By all accounts Benedict was a difficult, eccentric architect, but also responsible for helping to raise money for many of the public buildings he worked on.

Unusual for Benedict, the building is a kind of mash-up of northern European medieval architecture and Romanesque details.  Typically preferring Italian Renaissance models, Benedict let the rugged, rocky site dictate both the material and the design of the building.  Maybe the then remote site evoked notions of Cistercian abbeys rather than the lighter, more delicate Greek and Roman revivals.  Or just possibly, the cost and availability of producing dressed stone at this austere, wind-blown site limited Benedict to create a building of mass and weight, not so much springing up from the rocks as melding with them.

The church and associated buildings are now run as a Catholic retreat and conference center.  Dedicated to the honor of St. Catherine of Siena, the chapel is now a protected Boulder County landmark.

Saint Malo, the Catholic saint, was one of the evangelical saints credited for bringing the Orkney Islands and northern Scotland into Christendom around 550 A.D.  (I don’t know if there are any specific connections of this site with the city of Saint Malo in Brittany, France, except maybe as the ancestral home of the grantees of the land, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Malo.  Saint Malo, the city, is a medieval walled city on an island at the mouth of the Rance River in the English Channel.)

For more information, (including much of the history listed here), see

banned by Boulder County

Given the Boulder County’s Site Plan Review process, both the explicit and implicit rules within, there are a number of really great buildings that would never be allowed to be built in Boulder County.

banned houses

starting at the top left, clockwise:

house at Riva San Vitale, Ticino, Switzerland, by Mario Botta :  clearly violates  the height rule.  This house sits on the steeply sloping mountainside above a lake.  The design is meant to minimize the footprint of the house and, as a “tower”, presence the experience of the slope, the lake and the mountains beyond.  It is actually not that tall, but from the lowest point on the downhill slope, the upper part would have to conform to the angle of the slope.

Villa Malcontenta, Italy, by Palladio:  is not “compatible with surround topography”.  Like most of Palladio’s villas, this design is set off against the flatness of the land.  It is a mark of occupation, like a stick in the ground, taking in the landscape but clearly not merging with it.  Traditional villas occupy the land and maybe even dominate it.  But they also give scale and proportion to the land.

Villa Savoye, France, by LeCorbusier:  color not acceptable.  This house is a bit restless, looking to possibly move across the landscape.  But, by doing so, it makes the connection between the land and sky, it establishes this place of occupation in the sun and on the land.  It is not a ‘natural’ element of the landscape, but white, and sufficiently abstract to draw attention to the beauty of the landscape.

Gugalun House, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor: incompatible with Wildfire Resistant materials and construction.  The is a forest house, extending a vernacular building built of the products of the place, wood boards and planks, logs and panels.  It is as flammable as the surround forest, as fragile, but also as timeless.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for protecting Boulder County’s magnificent wilderness views.  But sometimes the landscape is actually improved by a building, brought into focus, given a scale.


Boulder County is not a wilderness.  It is occupied.  It has been mined, traversed, settled, abandoned, and re-inhabited all over the county.  If we had more respect for the land, for a sense of a common occupation of the land, we may not need the burdensome regulations.

However, so many people’s desire to build the biggest possible house on the tallest possible peak or ridge has corrupted the entire prospect of making meaningful architecture.  Maybe we do need to keep the regulations in place until there are enough good architects and responsible owners and builders.

In the meantime, since there is a process that requires individual, site-specific review of every new building, maybe the reviews could do the same – close, individual consideration of overall impact, location and siting, not generic rules applied without consideration to locale.

Regulations of this sort are always difficult to administer, even worse to create.  The ultimate authority on these sits with our elected County Commissioners – to approve or not all projects.  Is the will of the people clear on these issues?  Try coming to an approval meeting and see the range of comments from the public on any given project.

photo credit:  Gugalun House by Marloes Faber, Swiss alps photo from Wayfaring travel guide