Project Overview

The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP) guides land use decisions in the planning area of the Boulder Valley, which includes the City of Boulder and portions of Boulder County. This planning area is generally divided into three categories:

Area I is within the City of Boulder and today has adequate urban facilities and services. This area is expected to continue to support urban development.

Area II is in Boulder County but may be considered for annexation to the city. New urban development may only occur coincident with the availability of adequate facilities and services.

Area III is generally in Boulder County. Some of that land is classified as a “Rural Preservation Area” where the city and county intend to preserve existing rural land uses and character. Another portion of that land, located roughly northeast of US 36 between Broadway and Jay Road, is classified as the “Planning Reserve.” Here the city and county reserve the option of expanding the city’s service area to accommodate new urban development that will meet citywide goals.

The Area III-Planning Reserve Urban Services Study is a preliminary step to help the community and decision-makers understand the scope and extent of providing city services to this area and weigh the potential costs and benefits of expanding services here for future generations.

View the information packet to City Council from April 18, 2024 on existing conditions.


2022 Council Priority

In 2022, City Council requested a study to better understand the implications of potentially expanding services into the Area III-Planning Reserve.

The Area III-Planning Reserve Baseline Urban Services Study (BUSS) will help decision-makers and the community understand the feasibility and potential costs of extending city services into this area. The study will help determine the investment needed to extend services, but it will not recommend financing strategies, the scale or type of potential development, a timeline or whether or not the city should expand into the area. The urban services that will be analyzed include:

  • Public Water
  • Public Sewer
  • Stormwater & Flood Management
  • Urban Fire Protection & Emergency Medical Care
  • Urban Police Protection
  • Multimodal Transportation
  • Developed Urban Parks

Project Goals

  • Understand how existing infrastructure and city services could be extended into the Area III-Planning Reserve.
  • Describe the type and extent of city services needed in the Area III-Planning Reserve under low, medium and high service demand scenarios.
  • Develop an initial understanding of the potential impacts, costs, phasing and funding of providing city services under each scenario.
  • Give decision-makers information to help them determine if the city should continue to explore expanding into the Area III-Planning Reserve.

Next Steps

A consultant has been hired to provide objective technical expertise and complete the study.

The team will begin analyzing existing conditions in January 2024 with a target completion date prior to the next BVCP major update in 2025.


First Quarter, 2024 - Existing Conditions Research and Inventory

Second Quarter, 2024 - Service Demand Scenarios

Third Quarter, 2024 - Scenario Evaluations

Fourth Quarter, 2024 - Baseline Urban Services Study Report

Area III-Planning Reserve Baseline Urban Services Study 2024 project schedule. This project will start in early 2024 and be completed by the end of 2024.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Service Area concept and the creation of Areas I, II and III is one of the keystones of the BVCP, and in combination with joint city/county decision-making, distinguishes the plan from many others in the state and country. Area I (the city) and Area II (the area now under county jurisdiction where annexation to the city can be considered) form the city’s Service Area. Area III was defined in 1977 to preserve and protect the rural character by not allowing urban development.

The Area III-Planning Reserve, approximately 500 acres on the north side of Boulder, is a specific part of Area III, identified through a 1993 Area III Planning Project and is located on the north side of Boulder. The city maintains the option to expand future urban development into the Planning Reserve in response to priority community needs that cannot be met within the existing Service Area (Areas I and II). The city owns about half of the Planning Reserve area, with the remainder held by private property owners. Most of the city-owned land was purchased with Parks and Recreation acquisition funds for a future regional park. Housing and Human Services also owns a 30-acre parcel earmarked for potential future affordable housing.

View a larger version of this map in a separate window

The City of Boulder owns roughly half of the approximately 500 acres of Area III-Planning Reserve with a large portion of that acreage identified as a future regional park. The remainder of the Area III-Planning Reserve is primarily privately owned."

The study is the first of several steps the city must take when considering potential expansion of its service area. The process may be paused by City Council at each step if the criteria for future steps are unmet at that time.

The goal of the study is to provide information about the feasibility and level of investment required to extend urban services into the Planning Reserve.

Future steps of the municipal expansion process would consider policy questions related to:

  • Unmet community needs
  • Appropriate land uses, site planning, financing strategies
  • Other aspects related to potential development of the Planning Reserve

The BVCP (PDF) includes a detailed description of the potential service area expansion decision-making process in Exhibit B.

The study was designated a City Council priority project in 2022 and will provide an analysis of the feasibility of extending urban services into the Area III-Planning Reserve. It is a technical exercise intended to help staff and decision-makers understand the relative costs and challenges of extending services. This is not the first step in the annexation process. It will give decision-makers technical information and cost estimates that can inform a discussion on whether an expansion is feasible. If council accepts the findings of the study, they can continue with the process of considering expansion as part of the next BVCP update. If that direction is given, the next step will be to engage the community to determine if there are priority needs that cannot be met within the city’s current service area.

Service Area expansion is the process to extend the municipal boundary of the city and provide urban services such as water, wastewater and emergency response. The BVCP (PDF) includes a list of these urban services (see Chapter 7) and details the Service Area expansion process (see Exhibit B).

Service Area expansion into the Planning Reserve is only allowed if detailed planning for the area indicates that community benefits exceed potential negative impacts.

A process for service area expansion was set in place to ensure comprehensive planning of the area as opposed to incremental changes:

  • Step 1: Complete Baseline Urban Services Study
  • Step 2: Identify Unmet Community Needs (community value, capacity, benefit)
  • Step 3: Prepare Service Area Expansion Plan

No. The city is not developing in the Area III-Planning Reserve and does not provide any urban services in Area III. The city has been forward-looking in purchasing and holding land in this area, including a large portion identified for a regional park and a smaller portion for affordable housing. The remainder of the Planning Reserve is held by private property owners. Currently, the entire Planning Reserve is under the jurisdiction of Boulder County.

No. The study is the first step in considering a conversion of the Area III-Planning Reserve to allow for future annexation and planned urban development. While it is a first step, the study does not set in motion an actual conversion process. The study will help the Boulder community and decision-makers understand the scope, extent and feasibility of providing city services to the area. Future steps and planning processes will weigh the potential environmental, social and economic considerations of expansion.

After completion and acceptance of the study, Planning Board and City Council must hold public hearings and vote on whether or not to direct staff to move forward with the second step in the process, which is to identify community needs that cannot be met within its current Service Area.

Planned development of a large area is a multi-year effort. It is difficult at this time to develop a timeframe for when future development would occur, even if City Council requests that staff consider Service Area expansion and the city and county both determine that expansion into the Area III-Planning Reserve is the only way to provide unmet community needs.

A Service Area Expansion Plan is equivalent in scope to a Subcommunity or Area Plan, which typically takes 18 to 24 months to complete and adopt. This process would gather community input on the type of development desired and result in a detailed description of policies and priorities for the area, a proposed land use plan, multimodal transportation network, required infrastructure extensions and more. An implementation strategy for major capital infrastructure improvements and financing would be developed as part of the plan.

An adopted Service Area Expansion Plan would allow for all or portions of the Planning Reserve to be converted to Area II, meaning it is then eligible for annexation into the city. Future annexation requests would need to be processed and approved by City Council and would include additional agreements regarding what capital improvements (such as roads, utilities, etc.) would be provided by the city and those that would be provided by private developers of new projects. Any city-led capital improvements identified through the implementation strategy and individual agreements would then be scheduled into the annual six year Capital Improvements Plan for future design and construction. Many factors the city cannot control also influence the timing of development, including fluctuations in market demand, political direction and economic conditions.

The study is an important effort that will inform community conversations during the next BVCP major update starting in 2025. The Planning Board and City Council can only hold a public hearing prior to or during the early stages of a mid-term or major BVCP update to determine whether there is interest in considering a Service Area expansion as part of that update. If there is interest, Planning Board and City Council can direct staff to conduct an additional planning effort to solicit and identify priority community needs as part of the update process.

Planning Board and City Council can authorize a Service Area Expansion Plan through the BVCP update if the unmet community needs meet three eligibility criteria:

  • Community Value: Expansion will address a long-term community value described in the BVCP
  • Capacity: The existing Service Area (Areas I and II) does not include suitable existing or potential land/service capacity for community needs
  • Benefit: Expansion will benefit existing community members in the Boulder Valley and will provide lasting benefits for future generations