Hell, No, They Won't Grow

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

The Baldwins bought their land in January 1993 but didn't move to Boulder from their California home until July 1994. While out of state, they missed the legal notice in the Boulder Daily Camera that announced that the county's new site-plan review process would be instituted in May 1993. So, unlike their neighbors, they didn't hurry to build before the new rules took effect.

In June 1996, the Baldwins finally went to the county land-use department to inquire about a building permit for their second house. Land-use planners told them that because both of their parcels were on the same deed and under the same name, the land was considered to contain only one building lot. "When we first asked the planners why we weren't informed that we don't have a building lot, they said they couldn't possibly notify everyone of the rules," Arlene Baldwin says. "When we asked why we were never notified about the site-plan review, they said they couldn't find us. But each time property taxes are due, the assessor knows where to find us."

After the Baldwins hired an attorney, the land-use department changed its opinion. "This letter will confirm that a land parcel of 2+ acres is eligible for designation as a building lot by Boulder County," land-use planner Denise Grimm wrote the couple in April 1997.

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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The Baldwins didn't question their reversal of fortune; they were just happy they could finally start building. But more obstacles stood in their way. That August, as they began the site-plan review process, they learned that their land contained a natural landmark. In 1991, the county had declared Winiger Ridge, located approximately 800 feet above where the Baldwins wanted to build, to be a protected geological feature.

"You pay the county $30 for a letter stating that you have a building parcel, and then you go on your merry way. There was never any mention of our land containing a protected geological formation," Baldwin says. "I want the county to be responsible for full disclosure of all limitations on building."

As a result of Winiger Ridge's protected status, the Baldwins' land was subject to an even more stringent review; county planners told them they would have to build their home farther down the hillside. In the months that followed, the Baldwins redesigned their S-shaped driveway -- which they had proposed in order to divert traffic away from their neighbors -- to a straight road that the county said would require less excavation; recalculated the amount of dirt that would be dug after county planners said their driveway was too wide; agreed to a different color roof after planners told them that the dark metallic-green one they wanted wouldn't blend in with the landscape; and spent almost $10,000 on land surveys, property-line adjustments and architectural drawings. If her husband, who is in the construction business, hadn't been able to do most of the design plans himself, Arlene Baldwin estimates they would have spent at least twice what they did.

Eight weeks before their public hearing was scheduled for December 1997, the Baldwins went to the land-use department to pick up a map of Winiger Ridge, around which was drawn a line indicating a 250-foot buffer zone. Their land was well below the protected area, but after the hearing, county planners said the Baldwins were using an obsolete map and that the buffer zone had since been expanded to include all of the land between the ridge and Lazy Z Road. That meant their entire property rested within the buffer zone.

The Baldwins went before the commissioners again in January 1998, pleading for permission to build higher up, but the commissioners limited construction to the lower two-thirds of their property.

"The county wants us to build down here," Baldwin says, walking toward a clearing near the bottom of the hill. "Now we have no solar gain and no view. It's a real joke. If we wanted to build here, we'd have to blast out a granite outcropping to put in a septic field."

The real message the Baldwins got from the commissioners was that they were lucky to be building at all.

But the Baldwins had their own message for Boulder: Goodbye.

The couple now lives in Gilpin County. They've already sold the parcel of land that had the original house; the building lot is also up for sale, since they can't justify constructing a house without a view. "Boulder County can't tell me not to sell my land," Baldwin says, "but if they make it unbuildable, they have free open space."

She hopes the fact that the lot is already approved for a house -- albeit one without a view -- will entice someone to buy the land. But the site-plan review expires after three years, so if someone doesn't buy the property soon, the process will begin again.

And by then, the land might be subject to a wildlife impact study. In January the county passed a new rule requiring that people living in critical wildlife habitats have their land surveyed for mammals, insects and amphibians. The commissioners came up with more than 150 "species of special county concern" culled from lists of endangered and threatened animals known to inhabit Colorado. The number of protected species on a property could affect a landowner's ability to build where he wants.

"I don't know if I have one of the four protected ants on my land," Baldwin says. "But I'm afraid to find out."

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