2010 Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan
Since 1970, the City of Boulder and Boulder County have jointly adopted a comprehensive plan that guides land use decisions in the Boulder Valley. The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP) seeks to protect the natural environment of the Boulder Valley while fostering a livable, vibrant and sustainable community. The current plan was ﬁrst adopted in 1977. Since then, six major updates have been completed: 1982, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010. The 2015 BVCP Major Update will continue through 2016.
The BVCP provides a general statement of the community’s desires for future development and preservation of the Boulder Valley. The principle of sustainability drives the overall framework of the BVCP.
The BVCP policies guide decisions about growth, development, preservation, environmental protection, economic development, affordable housing, culture and the arts, urban design, neighborhood character and transportation. The policies also inform decisions about the manner in which services are provided such as police, ﬁre, emergency medical services, water utilities, ﬂood control and human services.
The BVCP Land Use and Area I, II, III maps deﬁne the desired land use pattern for the Boulder Valley regarding location, type and intensity of development.
The planning area encompasses the Boulder Valley, which is generally deﬁned as those areas bounded by the mountain backdrop on the west, 95th Street on the east, Davidson Mesa and the Coal Creek drainage on the southeast, the south county line on the south, Mineral Road on the northeast and Neva Road and Niwot Road on the north, as delineated on the approved Area I, II, III Map.
Boulder enjoys a long history of community planning. Some key planning milestones include:
- 1910: Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. developed plans for parks and street improvements.
- 1959: Boulder voters approved a ‘blue line’ charter amendment that limited water extensions above an elevation of 5,750 feet to preserve the mountain backdrop.
- 1967: Boulder was the ﬁrst city in the nation to institute a dedicated sales tax to purchase open space lands.
- 1971: voters approved a 55-foot building height limit.
- 1974: the city adopted the Historic Preservation Ordinance, which has been instrumental in preserving and encouraging rehabilitation of historic buildings and districts.
- 1976: city voters instituted one of the nation’s more restrictive residential growth-management ordinances.
- 1977: the city and county approved an intergovernmental agreement and the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan to concentrate urban development in the city and preserve the rural character of lands outside the city service area.
- 1982: the city adopted the Solar Access Ordinance to ensure residential buildings have access to sunlight.
- 1986: the Downtown Plan and Downtown Design Guidelines were adopted.
- 1992: the Wetlands Protection Ordinance was adopted, regulating development within a buffer area of streams and wetlands in the city.
- 1993: with the amount of vacant land in the city diminishing, a community visioning exercise called the Integrated Planning Project focused on “what’s best for what’s left” and resulted in a set of goals and action items that included reducing the non-residential development potential within the city.
- After an analysis of the development potential of Area III, the Planning Area III-Rural Preservation Area and Area III-Planning Reserve designations were created.
- 1995: the city adopted its first subcommunity plan, the North Boulder Subcommunity Plan.
- 1997: the city reduced projected job growth through a combination of land purchases, rezoning, and ﬂoor area limitations in industrial zones.
- 1999: an inclusionary zoning ordinance was adopted, requiring 20 percent of new residential development in the city to be permanently affordable for low- and moderate-income households.
- The 2000 major update to the Comprehensive Plan resulted in policy and land use changes to promote additional housing and mixed use development in appropriate locations. Also, the size of the Planning Reserve was reduced by 200 acres and some properties on the eastern edge of Boulder were moved from Area II to Area III-Rural Preservation Area.
- 2004: implementation of the 2000 major update and the city’s jobs: Housing Project included land use regulation changes to allow residential uses in industrial zones, a new high density residential zone district and rezonings in certain areas to higher residential densities and mixed use.
- 2009: the Compatible Development Ordinance revised regulations on house form and mass to protect the character of established single-family home neighborhoods.
Planning for the Boulder Valley does not end with the adoption of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. More detailed planning puts the vision into practice. The diagram below shows subsequent steps for implementing the Comprehensive Plan.
Subcommunity and Area Plans
Subcommunity plans and area plans provide direction for speciﬁc geographic areas. They provide a link between the broad policies of the Comprehensive Plan and more detailed zoning, development review and capital improvement programming decisions.
City departmental master plans are developed to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. They establish detailed policies, priorities, service standards, facility and system needs and capital budgeting for the delivery of speciﬁc services and facilities provided by each city department. The plans identify three levels of funding or investment strategies: ﬁscally constrained, action and vision.
Zoning District Regulations
Whereas the Comprehensive Plan Land Use Map provides a generalized picture of desired future uses in the Boulder Valley, the city zoning map assigns every parcel of land in the city a zoning district. This regulates allowable uses, density, setbacks, height, affordable housing requirements, solar access protection and more. The county’s zoning code regulates parcels within the Boulder Valley not annexed to the city.
Programs and Services
Many of the Comprehensive Plan policies are implemented through city programs and services. Funding for these is allocated annually through the city budget, using a model of priority-based budgeting, which reflects the core mission of the city and individual departments.
Capital improvements carry out the Comprehensive Plan's policies of orderly and efﬁcient provision of urban facilities and services. Funding for capital improvements are planned on a six-year timeframe through the Capital Improvements Program (CIP). Departmental master plans and subcommunity and area plans help guide prioritization of improvement projects.
All new development or redevelopment projects must conform to land use and zoning regulations, which are developed and amended to be consistent with the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan.
The Comprehensive Plan Action Plan outlines the actions needed to implement Comprehensive Plan policies that are not currently addressed through other plans or programs. The action plan establishes the timing and priorities for new program initiatives, planning projects and regulatory changes; ongoing programs or projects are not included. The plan is developed to be ﬂexible and responsive to city goals and resources.
The action plan is adopted by City Council and revisited at each annual update to the Comprehensive Plan. The county is sent a referral and invited to identify those actions, projects or other activities in the action plan in which they wish to participate. The county may also propose new or additional collaborative actions to the city for its consideration during the action plan review as part of the annual update.
The city and county have been remarkably successful in working together to implement the vision set forth in the 1977 Comprehensive Plan, most notably in channeling growth to the city’s service area, preserving lands outside the urban growth boundary, keeping the community compact, intensifying the core area, providing for affordable housing, and improving alternative transportation modes.
As of January 2010, the City of Boulder (Area I) had approximately 43,400 housing units, 97,500 residents and 97,000 jobs. The remainder of the Service Area (Area II) had approximately 6,000 housing units, 12,000 residents and 3,000 jobs. About 30,000 students attend the University of Colorado.
Over the next 25 years, Area I is projected to add about 6,000 housing units, 15,000 residents and 19,000 jobs. CU student enrollment could increase by 5,000 to 15,000 by 2030. Most of the growth that will occur in Area II will follow annexation to the city and therefore is included in the projection numbers for Area I. Since there is little vacant land left in the city’s Service Area, most of this growth will occur through redevelopment.
Some key trends that point to changing conditions in the community provided the context for the 2010 major update.
1. Demographic challenges . Boulder’s population is aging, and the county population of age 60 and over is expected to more than double by 2020. The majority of Boulder households are now non-family households, and the poverty rate for local households is continuing to increase. These trends will likely result in a higher demand for human services and a wider range of housing types. Also, Boulder continues to lack adequate amounts of housing for low and moderate income households. Both affordable and market rate housing will increasingly occur in commercial and industrial areas, which will require new services and amenities to create livable neighborhoods.
2. Ramped up climate action. The urgency of the need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels has intensified, and so has the city’s efforts to be both a leader and a partner in the community in reducing local energy demand, improving energy efficiency and moving toward more renewable energy. This calls for strengthening policy direction on climate action and related factors in transportation, land use, agriculture, urban forestry and waste reduction.
3. Economic challenges. The city’s competitive position in retail development and job growth has changed as neighboring communities have developed retail and employment centers of their own. This combined with a recent national economic downturn has meant that city revenues have not kept pace with the rising costs of providing public services and facilities. The effect is that economic vitality efforts are more important than ever.
To respond to these trends and other concerns, two broad focus areas were identiﬁed for the 2010 major update: sustainability policies encompassing social equity, environmental health and economic vitality, and urban form and community design. Also identified for 2010 update was the need to simplify and clarify the process for considering service area expansion into the Area III-Planning Reserve.