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Comprehensive Plan Element

Boulder County Comprehensive Plan Sustainability Element

Rehabilitation of red barn

The Boulder County Comprehensive Plan is a policy document that serves as a template for policy decisions and regulations affecting development within the County. It seeks to balance individual interests with the greater good of the community, including preservation of our open spaces, agriculture, natural resources and ecosystems.

In 2007, the Comprehensive Plan was amended to add a specific Sustainability Element.

Elements That Support Sustainable Communities

In addition to the specific Sustainability Element of the Comprehensive Plan, the goals of the Comprehensive Plan support sustainability in every aspect of the community, including social and economic sustainability:

Smart Development

The Comprehensive Plan prescribes that future urban development should be located within or adjacent to existing urban areas in order to eliminate sprawl and strip development, to assure the provision of adequate urban services, to preserve agriculture, forestry and open space land uses, and to maximize the utility of funds invested in public facilities and services. Other key design goals:

  • Existing communities should grow at whatever rate they consider desirable, within the limits of what is acceptable to the citizens of areas potentially affected by that growth, and to the citizens of the county, while preserving and improving the quality of life and the aesthetic and functional fitness of land uses within the county.
  • Diverse, compatible, and functional land use patterns should be established and, when necessary, revised to prevent urban and rural decay.
  • Within Community Service Areas, a suitable balance between employment opportunities and available housing should be established and maintained.

Environmental Management

The Plan seeks to preserve natural features and ecosystems and ensure proposed development does not have a negative impact on those natural resources. The Plan states:

  • Unique or distinctive natural features and ecosystems, and cultural features and sites should be conserved and preserved in recognition of the irreplaceable character of such resources and their importance to the quality of life in Boulder County. Natural resources should be managed in a manner which is consistent with sound conservation practices and ecological principles.
  • Air, water and noise pollution; inappropriate development in natural hazard areas; and overall environmental degradation should be reduced as much as possible or eliminated in order to prevent potential harm to life, health and property.
  • Critical wildlife habitats should be conserved and preserved in order to avoid the depletion of wildlife and to perpetuate and encourage a diversity of species in the county.
  • Significant natural communities, including significant riparian communities and rare plant sites, should be conserved and preserved to retain living examples of natural ecosystems, furnish a baseline of ecological processes and function, and enhance and maintain the biodiversity of the region.
  • Wetlands which are important to maintaining the overall balance of ecological systems should be conserved.
  • Unique or critical environmental resources shall be conserved and preserved in a manner which assures their protection from adverse impacts, with the private sector, non-county agencies and other governmental jurisdictions being encouraged to participate.
  • Productive agricultural land is a limited resource of both environmental and economic value and should be conserved and preserved.
  • Environmental Conservation Areas (ECAs) should be conserved and preserved in order to perpetuate those species, biological communities, and ecological processes that function over large geographic areas and require a high degree of naturalness.
  • Riparian ecosystems, which are important plant communities, wildlife habitat and movement corridors, shall be protected.

Parks and Open Space

The plan sets goals for acquisition and stewardship of open spaces:

  • Provision should be made for open space to protect and enhance the quality of life and enjoyment of the environment.
  • Parks, open space, and recreation facilities should be encouraged throughout the county and should be integrated whenever suitable with public facilities.
  • Open space shall be used as a means of preserving the rural character of the unincorporated county and as a means of protecting from development those areas which have significant environmental, scenic or cultural value.
  • A county-wide trail system shall be promoted to serve transportation and recreation purposes.
  • The private sector, non-county agencies, and other governmental jurisdictions should be encouraged to participate in open space preservation and trails development in Boulder County.

Community Sustainability

Sustainability isn’t just about protecting our natural environment; it also addresses establishment of a sustainable, healthy community, including affordable housing, resources such as schools and parks, and support of cultural and social facilities. The Comprehensive Plan addresses this aspect of sustainability through directives that touch upon residential land use, community facilities and economic standards:


  • A diversity of housing types and densities should be encouraged in order to assure decent housing for all persons.
  • Quality residential areas, which function as integral neighborhood units with schools, parks and other similar facilities as centers, should be encouraged.
  • Rehabilitation of existing residential facilities should be promoted where feasible.


  • Preservation and utilization of water for agricultural purposes within the county shall be encouraged.
  • A functional balance between community facilities and potential land capacities (population) should be maintained.
  • Development should not place undue burdens on any existing community.
  • Cooperation or consolidation of urban services among municipalities, special districts and companies should be encouraged, when appropriate, to avoid duplication and overlapping costs and to establish a satisfactory level of quality, quantity and dependability of those services. The proliferation of special purpose districts should be discouraged.
  • Adequate facilities and services which provide diverse educational, cultural, and social opportunities should be encouraged.
  • Adequate facilities and services to assure the health, safety and welfare of all citizens should be promoted.


  • A balanced, diversified economy should be encouraged in order to maintain and enhance the quality of life of
  • Boulder County citizens by assuring desirable local employment opportunities and strengthening and stabilizing the tax base.
  • Adequate regional, community and neighborhood commercial facilities should be encouraged while avoiding conflicting land uses and unnecessary duplication of new commercial areas.
  • New major commercial and industrial facilities should be located within incorporated areas.
  • Commercial and industrial development should provide an attractive, safe and healthy environment which does not have an adverse impact upon the surrounding areas.
  • Rehabilitation of existing commercial and industrial facilities should be promoted where feasible.
  • A climate for industry which is consistent with community growth desires and the ability of the community to absorb growth should be encouraged.


Transportation is vital to the health and viability of any community. The Comprehensive Plan places an emphasis on providing multiple modes of transportation and facilities that preserve rather than detract from our natural landscapes and ecosystems. Goals:

  • Coordinate, provide, and maintain a high quality, safe, efficient multi-modal transportation network which will provide for the movement of people and goods throughout and to points beyond the county, in a manner that avoids undesirable environmental impacts, and which conserves resources, both natural and man-made.
  • Pursue the development of alternative transportation modes and the benefits to be derived from them, including fuel savings, air quality improvements, and recreational opportunities.
  • Preserve and enhance public enjoyment of such facilities as mountain roads, bridges, scenic overlooks and landscape plantings.

Public Involvement

Public involvement is at the heart of a sustainable democracy. The plan states that “the county shall encourage public participation in the making of decisions by public and quasi-public bodies which significantly affect citizens.”

Government Relations

Governments and the communities they represent do not operate in a vacuum – their actions and policies affect neighboring communities. Therefore, Boulder County’s comprehensive plan specifically states that the county should encourage and promote coordination and cooperation between Federal, State, and Local Government entities charged with making decisions which significantly affect land use in Boulder County. To this end, Boulder County has entered into numerous Intergovernmental Agreements with the communities in the County. These Agreements aid in the planning and development of lands adjacent to each community.

Solid Waste Management

The County Comp Plan promotes conversion of the county’s solid waste from an environmental and social liability to a public asset by considering solid waste as a viable resource. The County has taken a leadership role in the promotion of recycling and disposal of household hazardous waste for the benefit of all citizens in the county.

Cultural Resources

What is the future without the past? And what is a community without culture? The Comprehensive plan includes these two goals:

  • Every effort shall be made to identify and protect historic sites which meet national, state, or local criteria for historic designation from destruction or harmful alteration.
  • Whenever possible, the county shall further the goals of cultural resource preservation using education and incentives in lieu of stringent regulatory controls.

Agricultural Resources

Agricultural enterprises and activities are an important sector of the Boulder County economy, as well as a key aspect of Boulder County’s current and historic character. The Comprehensive Plan fosters and promotes a diverse and sustainable agricultural economy as an integral part of its activities to conserve and preserve agricultural lands in the county.

In addition, the protection and preservation of agricultural lands is important to continued agricultural uses in the County. The Comprehensive Plan calls for urban growth to be located within or adjacent to existing communities to eliminate sprawl and to preserve agricultural lands for continued agricultural use. The preservation of water resources for agricultural purposes is also encouraged through land use regulations and County open space acquisitions.

Contact Us

Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience

OSCAR Team Members


Boulder County Courthouse
First Floor
1325 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302
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Hours: 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. M-F

Mailing Address

PO Box 471
Boulder, CO 80306