Stage 1 fire restrictions, enacted for unincorporated areas of western Boulder County.

Land Use Code text amendments related to Marshall Fire Accessory Dwellings

DC-22-0003: Land Use Code text amendments related to Marshall Fire Accessory Dwellings

Approval & Overview

On August 4, 2022, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) held a public meeting to review Docket DC-22-0003. The Commissioners voted (3-0) to approve Docket DC-22-0003: Marshall Fire Recovery Accessory Dwelling Text Amendment. View the adopted Land Use Code text amendments or Resolution 2022-062.

This Land Use Code change broadens the allowances for Accessory Dwellings to include a Disaster Recovery Unit. The provisions adopted by the BOCC allow Disaster Recovery Units up to 900 square feet in size to be approved through an expedited review. They can be built as standalone structures or incorporated into other structures. Short-term and vacation rentals are not allowed in these Accessory Dwellings. Staff is working to update the Land Use Code with the approved changes. Read more…

The Boulder County Land Use Code applies to the unincorporated portions of Boulder County, not in incorporated cities and towns.

Past Public Hearings

  • Board of County Commissioners Public Hearing, August 4, 2022
  • Planning Commission Public Hearing, July 20, 2022
    • On July 20 the Planning Commission approved and recommend that the Board of County Commissioners approve the text amendment. Planning Commission provided direction to staff asking that clarification regarding who was eligible to build an Disaster Recovery Unit Accessory Dwelling, how the distance between the Accessory Dwelling and the Footprint of the destroyed home is measured, and how parking requirements are addressed. Planning Commission also supported increasing the 700 sq. ft. size maximum and asked staff to consider an option where the size is established using a percentage of the allowable Residential Floor Area and includes an overall limit which could not be exceeded.
    • View the staff report and draft text amendments for July 20, 2022
    • View the agenda or watch the meeting recording

Timeline and Public Meetings & Hearings

On May 3, 2022, the Board of County Commissioners authorized staff to pursue text amendments to the Land Use Code regarding Accessory Dwellings. Staff developed proposed text amendments focused on the Marshall Fire response to be pursued immediately. The Board of County Commissioners also authorized staff to consider the expansion of Accessory Dwellings more broadly within the county which will occur at a later date. See the May 19, 2022 Press Release – Opportunities for input on including Accessory Dwellings as part of Marshall Fire rebuilding in Unincorporated Boulder County.

  • May 1-21: Docket Set Up, Research & Analysis, Prepare Outreach and Engagement, Preliminary Drafting
  • May 3: Authorization by the Board Of County Commissioners
  • May 22-28: Outreach and Engagement Activities (Survey, In-Person and Virtual Community Meetings, Virtual Activities)
  • May 29-June 15: Draft Text Amendment for Referral
  • June 16-28: Referral & Public Comment Period and Community Meeting to Review Draft Text Amendment
  • June 29: Development Review Staff Meeting (DRSM) For Internal Staff Review of Draft Text Amendment
  • June 30-July 1: DRSM Follow Up, Finalize Proposed Text Amendment, Draft Planning Commission Staff Report
  • July 12: Planning Commission Hearing Materials Due
  • July 20: Planning Commission Public Hearing
  • July 21-26: Planning Commission Follow Up and Draft Board of County Commissioners Staff Report
  • July 27 – Board of County Commissioners Hearing Materials Due
  • August 4 – Board of County Commissioners Hearing


On December 30, 2021, Boulder County declared a local disaster in response to the Marshall Fire, which caused severe damage and loss of property in Boulder County. During the community outreach and engagement about rebuilding after the Marshall Fire, community members expressed a desire to see Accessory Dwellings become more easily and more widely permitted within the Fire impacted area.

A variety of needs were expressed in relation to the desire to include an Accessory Dwelling as part of a Fire rebuild. These include: providing an affordable housing option by providing smaller units, creating a housing options which may allow residents to return to their community, generating an income stream to help people offset the financial burden that reinvesting in the rebuilding of their property, creating space for multigenerational living, contributing more housing units to the area in response to the housing shortage.

While the impetus for this proposed text amendment was the Marshall Fire and the immediate needs of those residents, the reasons to support and allow the expansion of Accessory Dwellings exists for many other residents of Boulder County. The creation of additional dwelling units in the unincorporated areas of the County where urban services are not available and the demands for additional services generated by additional populations in rural and remote areas cannot be met by the County has traditionally resulted in the limited allowance for Accessory Dwellings in the Land Use Code. This fact remains valid today however, recent updates with in the Housing Element of the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan and the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan related to addressing the regional housing crisis could support a limited and targeted expansion of Accessory Dwellings within the County. The priority for staff is to address the needs of Marshall Fire survivors first. To benefit from any regulatory relief, the Land Use Code text amendment would need to occur quickly as fire survivors need to make design and financing decisions soon. As staff begins this process, we anticipate moving forward with a limited Accessory Dwelling expansion program to benefit fire survivors. A broader review of the use of Accessory Dwellings countywide will also occur as a separate text amendment. Staff anticipates that much of the work for the targeted text amendment will inform the broader effort and a timeline for the larger scope effort will be developed later.

Boulder County Comprehensive Plan housing policies that support the county reviewing options and potentially allowing more opportunities for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

  • HO 1.04 Limited Increases in Density. In circumscribed situations, the county may enable increased residential density that meets affordability needs, is integrated within or adjacent to existing developed areas, is capable of being served by adequate public facilities, is considerate of long-term cost impacts on public facilities, and has strong multimodal transportation connections or potential for such connections.
  • HO 1.06 Innovation and Evolution of Housing Solutions. The county allows for innovation and creativity in policies and regulations as demographic conditions, building typologies, and new housing strategies evolve over time.
  • HO 3.05 Accessory Dwelling Units. The county will consider accommodating more housing in defined areas and circumstances by providing opportunities for well-designed attached and detached accessory dwelling units with limited impacts on the county’s natural resources and transportation infrastructure.
  • PH 5.01 Affordable Housing. Boulder County recognizes there is a connection between individuals having safe, affordable housing and their physical and mental health, and the county supports efforts to create, conserve and preserve affordable housing.

Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan housing policy

“Preserve & Enhance Housing Choices” 7.07 Mixture of Housing Types
The city and county, through their land use regulations and housing policies, will encourage the private sector to provide and maintain a mixture of housing types with varied prices, sizes and densities to meet the housing needs of the low-, moderate- and middle-income households of the Boulder Valley population. The city will encourage property owners to provide a mix of housing types, as appropriate. This may include support for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Owner Accessory Units (OAUs), alley houses, cottage courts and building multiple small units rather than one large house on a lot.

Through the text amendment process staff considered if and how the use of Accessory Dwelling Units may be expanded in a way that reflects the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan while permitting Accessory Dwellings in locations where enough of the basic needs are met, access to services is available, and the ADU will fit into the character of the area. The analysis to determine the extent of an amendment was based on review to include services availability, public engagement, analysis of comprehensive plans, and referral agencies’ comments.

Staff requested that the Board of County Commissioners authorize text amendments focused on the Marshall Fire response which would be pursued immediately as well as an authorization for staff to consider the expansion of Accessory Dwellings more broadly within the county, specifically changes to Article 4 and Article 19 of the Boulder County Land Use Code related to the Accessory Dwelling use and any other related Articles and provisions necessary to integrate these changes.


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