Boulder lot sizes and regulations

In conjunction with last Fall’s debates over the new City of Boulder Compatible Development regulations, the Planning Department posted a lot of information regarding the studies that were done in support of this legislation.  One of the most interesting maps made available was a color-coded map of the city based on lot size.  The largest lots were red to orange and the smallest blue to purple.

What struck me about this map was how the distribution of lot sizes across the city corresponded with the topography of the city.  Below is my version of the map, with the predominant high ground or mesas circled.  With some exceptions, the largest lots tend to be on the high ground.  Anyone who has lived in Boulder for any time would certainly recognize the map as also a fair approximation of house cost as well – larger lots, nicer views = more expensive.

What I found most interesting are the consequences of topography for the development of single-family houses.  The mesas and high ground areas were often the most coveted and were the first to have large private homes built, for the most part individually designed houses.  The larger sections of relatively flat land between mesas and sloping down from steeper slopes were more easily subdivided into smaller parcels.  Most importantly, these often developer-driven sections of the city were laid out with predominantly north-south running streets as opposed to the east-west streets of the mesas (which are more dictated by the topography).  In central and north Boulder these north-south streets were arranged in normative north-south blocks with few houses on the east-west connector streets.  In south Boulder, the north-south streets were subdivided into very long blocks.

I think that this development pattern was arrived at fairly innocently, without many of the current regulations as to building coverage, bulk planes, solar shadow regulations and house size in place.  However with the increasing overlay of each new regulation, even with a sliding scale of application with regard to lot size, the implications of the initial development pattern, north/south vs. east/west, has lead to a disproportional impact of regulatory restrictions.  Of greatest importance is the implications of the overlay of the new Compatible Development bulk plane ordinance with the Solar Shadow regulations on the smaller lots in the areas of the city with the north/south street orientation.

A combination of small lot size and shadow casting prohibitions on quite close neighboring properties makes additions to these properties significantly more challenging than other locations throughout the city.  That the overlay of multiple city regulations have a greater impact on lower cost properties may be of no surprise to conspiracy theorists, but I do not think that these impacts have been recognized by Planning staff, City Council or the public.  I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but some reconsideration of not just the Compatible Development regulations but also the existing Solar Shadow ordinance ought to be undertaken with regard to street orientation.  I wouldn’t advocate an even more complicated set of rules parsing these properties but some consideration ought to be given to the implications this map reveals.

Boulder's Compatible Development Regulations

Yesterday was the first day of the implementation of Boulder’s Compatible Development Regulations (Pops and Scrapes).  I have written about the major aspects of these new zoning rules here on a number of occasions:

https://mgerwing.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/pops-and-scrapes-new-boulder-regulations-part-i/

https://mgerwing.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/pops-and-scrapes-new-boulder-regulations-part-ii/

https://mgerwing.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/pops-and-scrapes-part-iii/

https://mgerwing.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/pops-and-scrapes-boulders-compatible-development-regulations-part-iv/

These new regulations will certainly cause more headaches for homeowners and buyers in the affected areas and will shift more efforts of architects toward administrative tasks and away from designing.  They may or may not work, in either case, they will be reviewed in 6 months or so, putting a chilling effect on anyone considering new work in the first half of 2010.

More concerning to me is that the controversy over these regulations, their impetus and the ensuing battles, are symptomatic of a problem plaguing little Boulder, Colorado  – what is the city and what will it become?  All cities and towns struggle with this and in Boulder’s case this argument has largely been played out on the field of zoning issues, most specifically density.  Over the last few years, bitter battles have been fought that go directly to the heart of change and density:

Washington School – adding residential units to increase the density on near North Broadway – approved by the Planning Board, city protests called up a  re-review, and finally a modified approval.

Robb’s Music site – much protest against a proposed multi-use project on the site, building up to the approved height limit – project cancelled.

Junior Academy site – many rounds and proposals of varying densities of residential units – finally approved.

CU Behavioral Science Building – on Broadway, near downtown, at approximately 70′ tall – much protest, but CU does not need City Council approval – project moving forward.

Transit Village – moving forward, slowly, after many missteps

29th Street Mall – a number of years ago, but finally the city bowed to the desired tax revenue and approved a project without housing

and of course, the Compatible Development regulations themselves.

Boulder has an incredible quality of life, surrounded by protected open space.  This and a 35′ height limit has limited the potential for growth, driving up housing prices and exporting sprawl to the satellite communities.  Many people have paid a lot of money to live in Boulder as it is, not a taller, denser city.  Most people can simply not imagine that Boulder can be better with more density.  I think they are wrong and it is the lack of imagination and leadership in Boulder that hinders a vision of the city that is more diverse and dynamic.

Florence, Italy is about the same physical size as Boulder, but is double the density.  It is a beautiful city, highly dense, but not dominated by housing towers or apartment blocks.  It is a model for what Boulder could be – a city, an urban gem, and then in Boulder’s case, surrounded by open prairie and mountains.  Urban and rural, each in contrast with the other, reveling in their difference.

Boulder’s Compatible Development Regulations

Yesterday was the first day of the implementation of Boulder’s Compatible Development Regulations (Pops and Scrapes).  I have written about the major aspects of these new zoning rules here on a number of occasions:

https://mgerwing.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/pops-and-scrapes-new-boulder-regulations-part-i/

https://mgerwing.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/pops-and-scrapes-new-boulder-regulations-part-ii/

https://mgerwing.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/pops-and-scrapes-part-iii/

https://mgerwing.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/pops-and-scrapes-boulders-compatible-development-regulations-part-iv/

These new regulations will certainly cause more headaches for homeowners and buyers in the affected areas and will shift more efforts of architects toward administrative tasks and away from designing.  They may or may not work, in either case, they will be reviewed in 6 months or so, putting a chilling effect on anyone considering new work in the first half of 2010.

More concerning to me is that the controversy over these regulations, their impetus and the ensuing battles, are symptomatic of a problem plaguing little Boulder, Colorado  – what is the city and what will it become?  All cities and towns struggle with this and in Boulder’s case this argument has largely been played out on the field of zoning issues, most specifically density.  Over the last few years, bitter battles have been fought that go directly to the heart of change and density:

Washington School – adding residential units to increase the density on near North Broadway – approved by the Planning Board, city protests called up a  re-review, and finally a modified approval.

Robb’s Music site – much protest against a proposed multi-use project on the site, building up to the approved height limit – project cancelled.

Junior Academy site – many rounds and proposals of varying densities of residential units – finally approved.

CU Behavioral Science Building – on Broadway, near downtown, at approximately 70′ tall – much protest, but CU does not need City Council approval – project moving forward.

Transit Village – moving forward, slowly, after many missteps

29th Street Mall – a number of years ago, but finally the city bowed to the desired tax revenue and approved a project without housing

and of course, the Compatible Development regulations themselves.

Boulder has an incredible quality of life, surrounded by protected open space.  This and a 35′ height limit has limited the potential for growth, driving up housing prices and exporting sprawl to the satellite communities.  Many people have paid a lot of money to live in Boulder as it is, not a taller, denser city.  Most people can simply not imagine that Boulder can be better with more density.  I think they are wrong and it is the lack of imagination and leadership in Boulder that hinders a vision of the city that is more diverse and dynamic.

Florence, Italy is about the same physical size as Boulder, but is double the density.  It is a beautiful city, highly dense, but not dominated by housing towers or apartment blocks.  It is a model for what Boulder could be – a city, an urban gem, and then in Boulder’s case, surrounded by open prairie and mountains.  Urban and rural, each in contrast with the other, reveling in their difference.

Pops and Scrapes, Boulder's Compatible Development regulations, Part IV

Yet another in a series of quick reviews of the City of Boulder’s new Compatible Development regulations due to go in effect January 4th –  in this version we take a look at the intersection of these new rules laying over the demolition/historic preservation rules.

The City requires a separate historical preservation review for buildings that are over 50 years old and undergoing significant demolition. To avoid this regulation and possible landmark designation (which greater restricts the ability to due many types of renovations and additions), the city requires that the project retain at least 50% of the existing roof and all of the walls and adjacent roof for walls that face public streets. So, what does this mean for a simple Martin Acres ranch, a typical American suburb of the 1950s?

Most houses in Martin Acres were built in the late 1950s and are now liable for review under this demolition rule. To avoid this rule and comply with the solar ordinance and the new Compatible Development regulations, I give you this:

This pig of an addition is probably the easiest, simplest structure you can build and avoid the demolition rules while still abiding by the solar ordinance and Compatible Development Regulations. The righthand side of the addition is slipped off the walls of the existing house to meet the bulk plane rules, the pitch of the roof is the maximum that be built within the Solar Ordinance. (A flat roof, by the way, would not allow sufficient head room on the second story.)

The original intent of the Compatible Development regulations was to establish a set of parameters to weed out large, ungainly additions. It is clear from the example above that you can not regulate something as slippery as “compatibility”.

After hearing countless hours of arguments for these new regulations the overwhelming impression was that many people in Boulder simply felt like a lot of the recent new houses and additions were just plain ugly. Compatible Development rules were to eliminate these monstrosities, but such ogres come is all shapes and sizes.  I would not wish for a hopelessly subjective, project-specific architectural review like one encounters in suburban Home Owners Associations. However, I also think that these regulations will not do what they were crafted to do – it seems that “ugly”  is easy.

And, beyond the strictures of the Compatible Development regulations, should we have in law a provision that all buildings older than 50 years be reviewed for their historical/architectural significance? Clearly this will eventually include every building in the city, unless someone makes a point of tearing down every building when it reaches 49 years old (An architectural Logan’s Run if you will.) I am a strong advocate for retaining older buildings, both from an architectural and sustainable perspective. However, when the most common ranchburger builder-suburb falls within those reviews, it is only time that will keep us for fighting to save the McMansions of the 1990s.

we couldn't save Penn Station, but we can the Boulder ranch

Pops and Scrapes, Boulder’s Compatible Development regulations, Part IV

Yet another in a series of quick reviews of the City of Boulder’s new Compatible Development regulations due to go in effect January 4th –  in this version we take a look at the intersection of these new rules laying over the demolition/historic preservation rules.

The City requires a separate historical preservation review for buildings that are over 50 years old and undergoing significant demolition. To avoid this regulation and possible landmark designation (which greater restricts the ability to due many types of renovations and additions), the city requires that the project retain at least 50% of the existing roof and all of the walls and adjacent roof for walls that face public streets. So, what does this mean for a simple Martin Acres ranch, a typical American suburb of the 1950s?

Most houses in Martin Acres were built in the late 1950s and are now liable for review under this demolition rule. To avoid this rule and comply with the solar ordinance and the new Compatible Development regulations, I give you this:

This pig of an addition is probably the easiest, simplest structure you can build and avoid the demolition rules while still abiding by the solar ordinance and Compatible Development Regulations. The righthand side of the addition is slipped off the walls of the existing house to meet the bulk plane rules, the pitch of the roof is the maximum that be built within the Solar Ordinance. (A flat roof, by the way, would not allow sufficient head room on the second story.)

The original intent of the Compatible Development regulations was to establish a set of parameters to weed out large, ungainly additions. It is clear from the example above that you can not regulate something as slippery as “compatibility”.

After hearing countless hours of arguments for these new regulations the overwhelming impression was that many people in Boulder simply felt like a lot of the recent new houses and additions were just plain ugly. Compatible Development rules were to eliminate these monstrosities, but such ogres come is all shapes and sizes.  I would not wish for a hopelessly subjective, project-specific architectural review like one encounters in suburban Home Owners Associations. However, I also think that these regulations will not do what they were crafted to do – it seems that “ugly”  is easy.

And, beyond the strictures of the Compatible Development regulations, should we have in law a provision that all buildings older than 50 years be reviewed for their historical/architectural significance? Clearly this will eventually include every building in the city, unless someone makes a point of tearing down every building when it reaches 49 years old (An architectural Logan’s Run if you will.) I am a strong advocate for retaining older buildings, both from an architectural and sustainable perspective. However, when the most common ranchburger builder-suburb falls within those reviews, it is only time that will keep us for fighting to save the McMansions of the 1990s.

we couldn't save Penn Station, but we can the Boulder ranch

Pops and Scrapes, Boulder's Compatible Development regulations, Part III

In an ongoing series of a cursory analysis of Boulder’s new Compatible Development regulation slated to take affect January 4th, here is another set of consequences of part of that regulation – bulk planes.

This study was looking at a generic south Boulder Ranch located on a north-south street.  It assumes flat topography and a fairly standard size lot and existing ranch type house.

Prior to the regulations, any second floor addition was limited by the solar shadow (see the diagram below).  This is not a particularly beautiful addition, but it is the simplest kind of construction – building a simple addition that mirrors the roof of the existing ranch, has an 8′ high ceiling and is built as much as possible over the existing exterior walls.  (new bulk planes shown in red, existing house is green, addition in white)

You can see the shadow cast to the north has limited the location of the north wall of the second story.  The south gable end of this typical type of addition is in violation of the new bulk plane.

To bring this kind of addition into compliance, the south side of the second story addition would have to be move to the north by approximately 5′, resulting in:

a strange little addition

To more easily comply with the bulk plane regulations, a gable-fronted second story addition could be added on:

a bit of a monster on top of the original ranch house and very different kind of style

There is an exception to the bulk plane rule that would allow a larger, second story addition that still mirrored the roof line of the ranch.  It has to be at least 40′ long to allow for the exception to violate the bulk plane, resulting in:

a frightening looking thing – note that a significant portion of the second story at the back of the house is hovering above the ground.  The width of the allowed second story has to be 40′ – deeper than the typical ranch it sits on.

In part IV we will look at the part of the new regulations that will restrict the length of the new side walls and their articulation.  (In the example diagram above, the second story addition has to be 40′ exactly, not an inch less or the bulk plane exception would not be allowed, nor an inch more or the wall articulation regulation would be violated!)

Pops and Scrapes, Boulder’s Compatible Development regulations, Part III

In an ongoing series of a cursory analysis of Boulder’s new Compatible Development regulation slated to take affect January 4th, here is another set of consequences of part of that regulation – bulk planes.

This study was looking at a generic south Boulder Ranch located on a north-south street.  It assumes flat topography and a fairly standard size lot and existing ranch type house.

Prior to the regulations, any second floor addition was limited by the solar shadow (see the diagram below).  This is not a particularly beautiful addition, but it is the simplest kind of construction – building a simple addition that mirrors the roof of the existing ranch, has an 8′ high ceiling and is built as much as possible over the existing exterior walls.  (new bulk planes shown in red, existing house is green, addition in white)

You can see the shadow cast to the north has limited the location of the north wall of the second story.  The south gable end of this typical type of addition is in violation of the new bulk plane.

To bring this kind of addition into compliance, the south side of the second story addition would have to be move to the north by approximately 5′, resulting in:

a strange little addition

To more easily comply with the bulk plane regulations, a gable-fronted second story addition could be added on:

a bit of a monster on top of the original ranch house and very different kind of style

There is an exception to the bulk plane rule that would allow a larger, second story addition that still mirrored the roof line of the ranch.  It has to be at least 40′ long to allow for the exception to violate the bulk plane, resulting in:

a frightening looking thing – note that a significant portion of the second story at the back of the house is hovering above the ground.  The width of the allowed second story has to be 40′ – deeper than the typical ranch it sits on.

In part IV we will look at the part of the new regulations that will restrict the length of the new side walls and their articulation.  (In the example diagram above, the second story addition has to be 40′ exactly, not an inch less or the bulk plane exception would not be allowed, nor an inch more or the wall articulation regulation would be violated!)