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Hell, No, They Won't Grow

Boulder property owners worry that the county's slow-growth policies have become no-growth policies.

Under the new law, when a private-property owner feels a local government has wrongly required him to give up his land, he can file a complaint with his elected officials. If the two sides can't come to an agreement, the property owner can sue; if he wins, he will be reimbursed by his local government for all legal expenses.

Mygatt predicts that the law, which took effect July 1, will encourage more lawyers to try land-use cases against the county. And if lawsuits don't stop the Boulder County commissioners from telling people what to do with their land, she hopes the voters will. "I've always been a liberal Democrat, but I feel like the party isn't representing the people anymore," Mygatt says. "The majority of people in Boulder County are happy with the way things are going. They don't hear about the people who are getting hurt -- they just hear about the county preserving open space."

And if a recent poll commissioned by Boulder County is an accurate indicator of public sentiment, Mygatt is right. In June the commissioners hired the Public Information Corporation of Littleton to conduct a survey of county residents' attitudes regarding its open-space and land-use policies. Eighty-two percent of the respondents agreed that the county should limit development on steep slopes; 79 percent agreed that the county should "limit mountain scarring caused by the construction of roads to new houses." Forty-one percent of those polled ranked growth management as the most important issue facing Boulder County, while only 2 percent indicated that property rights are the most pressing concern.

Permission denied: When Jim and Tara Parks asked to insulate their small apartment complex, the county gave them the cold shoulder.
Victoria Shearer
Permission denied: When Jim and Tara Parks asked to insulate their small apartment complex, the county gave them the cold shoulder.

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Previous Westword articles

"A Slippery Slope,"
March 11, 1999
For mountain property owners in Boulder, the road home may be getting steeper.
By Julie Jargon

"A Growing Problem,"
June 11, 1998
Opponents of urban sprawl threaten to take the issue straight to the voters.
By Stuart Steers

"Spaced Out,"
September 11, 1997
Colorado residents take the initiative in slowing growth.
By Eric Dexheimer

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Members of the Land Use Coalition say people should be wary of statistics gleaned from a telephone "push poll" that included such questions as: "Please tell me if you feel that a landowner should or should not be able to build a house where they want even if the site selected resulted in the following outcomes: The house would be located in significant wildlife habitat; the house would be located on a ridgeline or would impact a mountain backdrop; people in the neighborhood believe the size or appearance of the house would not be compatible with nearby houses; the access road to the house would create a significant new scar across a mountainside; the house location creates a new wildfire hazard; people in the neighborhood are concerned about the impact of the new house on their own property or their own view."

The coalition was so wary of the results that it hired Kevin Vryan, project manager at the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University, to evaluate the county's poll. He concluded that the questionnaire "suffers from some serious threats to reliability and validity and possesses unnecessary biases that would taint any findings. It concerns me that data yielded from this poll may be used to determine public policy or affect public opinion."

And the commissioners do plan to use the poll to affect public opinion: They're currently trying to raise support for an extension of an open-space sales tax set to expire in 2008. Of the poll's respondents, 70 percent said they would support a ten-year extension of the current tax; 58 percent said the county should spend more money on open-space purchases even if it means a tax increase.

The first sales tax that was earmarked for county open-space purchases was approved by voters in 1993, along with a $35 million bond. In 1995 and 1997, voters approved two more $35 million bonds. Although the tax passed in 1993 won't expire for another nine years, the county is currently using most of its annual revenues to pay off bonds. So in November, Boulder County voters will decide whether to continue paying the quarter-of-a-cent tax for another ten years and whether to approve a $35 million bond so the county will have the cash ready to buy the BLM land.

The commissioners had also considered a November ballot measure that would create a mountain general-improvement district to raise more property-tax revenue so that the county can buy undeveloped building lots in the mountains. Although the majority of the poll's respondents had indicated they would support such a tax, Stewart says the commissioners decided they didn't have enough time to rally support for the measure.

Coalition members suggest that the commissioners may also have recognized that asking mountain landowners for more money right after they'd proposed severely restricting mountain development was not politically astute timing.


Hiking up the narrow equestrian trail that runs alongside her property in Nederland, Arlene Baldwin stops to catch her breath. Her chocolate Labrador runs ahead. "See that house over there? That's where we used to live," she says, pointing to a wooden house by Lazy Z Road.

During the four years that Arlene and her husband, Rex, lived on the lower end of their 7.5-acre property, they mapped out their future: They would construct a second home on the lot beside the original house; after they retired, they'd move to the new house and live off the income from renting out their original home. Their new Victorian-style house would be smaller than the previous one: 1,900 square feet versus 3,000 (although by the county's calculations, which included the wraparound porch and garage, it also would total 3,000 square feet). Instead of being located at the bottom of the hill in a thicket of trees, the new house would be up higher, with unimpeded southern exposure and a direct view of Mt. Thorodin.

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