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Building Height Land Use Code Update

Project Update

The city started a public process in December 2017 to explore new regulations around building height modifications and how affordable housing would be linked to such requests. During their Jan. 2018 retreat, City Council requested that staff prepare an ordinance removing or extending the expiration date for current building height regulations, which allows height modifications in certain parts of the city or under certain circumstances. Removing or extending the expiration date means that the current limitations set forth in Section 9-2-14(c)(1) and (2), B.R.C. 1981 will stay in place until otherwise modified by City Council. 

Upcoming Public Hearings Regarding Building Height

May 15: City Council holds a first reading of the ordinance. A public hearing will not occur on this date. If you choose to speak to council at this meeting, comments may be given during the public participation portion of the meeting. Please note the public hearing and council deliberation will not occur until June 5.

June 5: City Council holds a public hearing for the second reading of the ordinance. Interested -members of the community are encouraged to attend this meeting.

Also, during its retreat City Council asked staff to begin addressing a broader set of community benefits. Staff is now preparing a new project scope for regulations and incentives to ensure that new development provides benefits to the community beyond those otherwise required by the underlying zoning. The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan policy below is the primary policy guidance for this project. City Council will further discuss this new work during an Aug. 28 Study Session. Staff will share more information soon, including ways for you to remain involved in the project. 
Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan

Policy 1.11 Enhanced Community Benefit

For land use or zoning district changes that result in increases in the density or intensity of development beyond what is permitted by the underlying zoning or for added height that increases intensity, the city will develop regulations and incentives so that the new development provides benefits to the community beyond those otherwise required by the underlying zoning. Any incentives are intended to address the community economic, social and environmental objectives of the comprehensive plan.  Community objectives include without limitation affordable housing, affordable commercial space, spaces for the arts, community gathering space, public art, land for parks, open space, environmental protection or restoration, outdoor spaces and other identified social needs and services. Community objectives also may be identified through other planning or policymaking efforts of the city.

For more information please contact: Karl Guiler ( [email protected] , 303-441-4236) 


In early 2015, City Council adopted a two-year building height ordinance to address the community concern that height modification requests (up to 55 feet) could have been considered on any property in the city through the Site Review process. The ordinance does allow height modification requests in a few select areas within the city. For more information see the map below. It also requires city staff to analyze, through a public process, circumstances where height modifications may be appropriate. This topic was explored through the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan update, which included two community surveys and policies to guide the city’s next steps. In early 2017 City Council extended the two-year ordinance to July 2018. Prior to 2015, the city code permitted height requests to build between 35-feet and 55-feet through the Site Review process anywhere in the city.

How can I get involved?

Stay informed of all things planning related by signing up for the city Planning bi-weekly email here !

Share your ideas for the project at a coffee talk with staff in January 2019. The city invites all interested residents, business owners, property owners to talk with staff over coffee about how to implement the community vision for building height. Stay tuned for more information on dates and times.    

Unable to attend a coffee talk event? We’ll have an online questionnaire covering the same materials. Look for the questionnaire in December and be sure not to miss it by signing up for the Planning email!

See the figure below for future opportunities to be involved. The project webpage will be updated as specific dates are confirmed.

Process at a glance: 










Frequently Asked Questions

Is the city considering changes to the citywide Charter 55-foot height limit?

No. The Charter of the City of Boulder was amended in 1971 to limit the height of buildings in the city to 55 feet. A change to the 55-foot height limit would require a vote to amend the city’s Charter; that is not proposed.

In which part of the city are buildings currently allowed up to 55 feet (through Site Review)?

With certain exceptions listed above, the current building height ordinance (expires in July 2018) exempts specific parts of the city where adopted area plans provide guidance about the desire building heights and allows requests for building heights up to 55-feet depending on whether a project is found compatible with surrounding context and has high quality design, as required by the Site Review process. Those areas are shown on the following map.

What is the general scope of the project?

Analysis and engagement will focus on the following topics:

  • Identify the criteria (e.g., mapped location, zoning district, and/or other) that should be used to determine properties that will be eligible for an increase in building height (up to City Charter 55-foot limit) and/or intensity (floor area) in exchange for providing community benefit, specifically affordable housing.
  • Identify the types of projects that may apply for height modifications with or without community benefit (in this case, affordable housing).
  • Determine the type and amount of affordable housing benefit that would be provided to achieve increased building height.
  • Determine additional design standards for projects requesting a height modification.
  • Identify subsequent Land Use Code amendments to address other community benefits as part of a future project.


What is building height modification?

A height modification is a request to exceed the zoning district limit (typically 35-feet or 38-feet) through the  Site Review  process. Other than open space requirements, no specific design or use requirements beyond the standard requirements for Site Review are required by height modification requests. The Site Review process assesses a project’s compatibility with surroundings and requires a higher level of quality in terms of building design and materials, site design, landscaping and circulation etc.

By contrast, a  Variance  is a permitted deviation or waiver of the land use regulations if specific criteria is met. Variances are most commonly requested due to factors outside the property owner’s control, such as natural or topographic features that prevent compliance with development standards. Variances for additional building height are not permitted.


How is building height measured?

Height means the vertical distance from the lowest point within twenty-five feet of the tallest side of the structure to the uppermost point of the roof. The lowest point shall be calculated using the natural grade. The tallest side shall be that side whose lowest exposed exterior point is lower in elevation than the lowest exposed exterior point of any other side of the building (  §9-16  ). The building height limit is lowered to 25-feet on properties with slopes greater than 20-degreesContent of title 2 section.

How does the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan address building heights?

The primary policy guidance for this project is found in  Policy 2.35, Building Height  which calls for reviewing and updating the Site Review regulations to provide clear guidance on height and intensity of land uses and to address the relationship of building height to aesthetics and views.  In exchange for benefits that further community objectives, such as the provision of permanently affordable housing, the city might consider additional height (up to the City Charter 55-foot height limit) or intensity.   Other community benefits (e.g., affordable retail space, arts and culture) are addressed in Policy 1.11.

The BVCP also identifies a hierarchy of centers and locations for mixed use and higher intensity development – and conversely the neighborhoods where lower densities and shorter buildings are expected.  However, the Zoning District map, districts and form and bulk standards do not necessarily correspond with the intended character described in the BVCP. 

The BVCP notes that  Centers  are places where a mix of land use and commercial activities are concentrated.  Regional Centers constitute the highest level of intensity.   (  See the City Structure map on p. 37 of the plan showing the hierarchy of centers and community transit network.  )

Policy 2.16, Mixed Use & Higher Density Development  , says:  the city will encourage well-designed mixed-use and higher density development that incorporates a substantial amount of affordable housing in appropriate locations, including in some commercial centers and industrial areas, and in proximity to multimodal corridors and transit centers.   Policy 2.18, Boulder Valley Regional Center  includes guiding principles that describe the intended intensity and heights of buildings that may be higher than envisioned for neighborhood centers with buildings potentially up to four or five stories, provided than housing and usable public spaces are included.  Along 28th Street (from Spruce to Iris) is intended to be more modest intensity -- buildings up to three or four stories.  (  Note the map on page 43 of the plan.  )   Policy 2.19, Neighborhood Centers  , notes that neighborhood centers should be “at a scale and intensity lower than downtown and the regional centers.” 


Building Height Modifications Ordinance