What Do I Need To Do To Build A New House?
What Are My Setbacks?
A setback is the distance between a structure and the property line and/or the centerline of a major roadway. The setback requirement varies depending on your zoning classification, road adjacency, and in some cases, a building envelope established through the platting of a subdivision. See Yards, Lot Lines & Setbacks for a list of general setbacks.
Please also be aware that there are supplemental setbacks from some major roads, see the Boulder County Land Use Code Article 7-1403.
To find out your setbacks, either phone our office at 303-441-3930 or email the Land Use Department. Be sure to include your address, Assessor’s ID Number, or Parcel Number so we can find your property on our zoning maps.
Can You Answer Zoning Questions About My Property Within The City?
When it comes to land use planning and building, Boulder County does not have jurisdiction within the county’s incorporated cities and towns. This means that if you want information about your zoning, about getting a building permit, or any other specific land use question, you must contact the city in which your property lies. See Municipality Contacts Within Boulder County for general contact information.
What Is My Zoning?
The zoning on your property depends on your location. The vast majority of the unincorporated land area within the mountains is zoned Forestry (F) and the vast majority of the unincorporated land area in the plains is zoned Agricultural (A). However, we do have other zoning categories.
To find out your zoning, we can help you in a few different ways:
- For a general idea of zoning in areas, view Property Viewer (online maps).
- Email us via Ask a Planner Form the property address and we will assist you in determining the correct zoning.
- Visit our office in the Courthouse Annex Building on the southwest corner of 13th and Spruce Streets in Boulder. We have zoning maps available at the front desk for your review.
- Call us at 303-441-3930. With your address and/or legal description, we can tell you your zoning over the phone.
I Own A Vacant Piece Of Land. Can I Build A House?
Whether or not you can build a house on your land depends on several factors:
- Before you can get a building permit, you will need to make sure that your property meets the legal definition of “building lot.” To do this, the Land Use Department has a Building Lot Determination process. See Building Lot Determination application.
- The property must meet all applicable zoning regulations and must have been subdivided legally.
- The property must be physically buildable.
These are just a few of the other issues to consider when you are purchasing and building on a vacant parcel:
- Do you have a source of water?
- Can a septic system be installed?
- Is the property in the floodplain?
- Do you have legal access to the site for a driveway?
Is The Site Plan Review Process Required For My Project?
Site Plan Review must be completed before you can get a building or grading permit for the following activities:
Site Plan Review is required in order to issue building permits on any vacant parcels, for cumulative increases in floor area of more than 1,000 sq. ft. (residential or nonresidential) over that which existed on the parcel as of 9/8/98, for cumulative increases in residential floor area which results in a total residential floor area of a size greater than 125% of the median residential floor area for the defined neighborhood in which the subject parcel is located, and for changes in use unless the change in use is to a residential use. SPR is also required for grading permits (except for grading as part of normal agricultural or mining practices), and Boulder County access permits and floodplain development permits issued by the Transportation Department.
SPR is also required for Telecommunications Facilities which are located on an existing structure and meet the zoning districts height limit (otherwise a Special Use is required), for all development within a Natural Landmark or Natural Area, in a Rural Community District, or on Conservation Easements held by Boulder County, and for Wildlife Rehabilitation of more than 20 non-domestic animals or with outdoor caging.
Site plan review is not required if the permit is only needed for:
- Earthwork that is part of normal agriculture of mining practices (outside of floodplains).
- Restoration of a building that has been damaged or destroyed by fire, explosion, flood, tornado, riot, act of the public enemy, or accident of any kind (if replacement is applied for within 6 months of the event);
- Construction work that does not change the use or increase the existing floor area by more than 1,000 square feet, cumulatively over that which existed on 9/8/1998 UNLESS the project is exceeding the residential presumptive size limitation for the neighborhood.
- Construction of an accessory structure which is less than 1,000 square feet.
- Developments in subdivisions approved after February 22, 1994 (unless the subdivision approval otherwise requires SPR).
- Development in Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Districts to the extent it covers the SPR criteria in its plan.
Can I Run A Business Out Of My Home?
Some types of businesses can be run out of the home. The Boulder County Land Use Code Article 4-516 addresses Home Occupations. In short, Article 4-516 (L) states that home occupations are allowed in all of the county’s zoning districts with the following provisions:
- A home occupation can include the person(s) that resides in the residence, as well as one employee.
- The use cannot result in noise, light, dust, or other air pollution noticeable at or beyond the property line.
- The home occupation can only involve the incidental sale of stocks, supplies, or products.
- The use must clearly be subordinate to the mail use on the site, a residence. The character of the lot must remain residential.
- The use cannot include the outdoor storage of goods , materials, or equipment.
- Signs identifying the business cannot be illuminated and must be two square feet or less in size.
- The area used for business cannot exceed one-half the total floor area of the dwelling, including any business activities carried out in an accessory structure. (Child care can exceed this limitation).
- The use cannot produce traffic volumes exceeding that produced by the dwelling unit by more than 16 average daily trips, or a maximum of 30 trips during any 24 hour period.
- Home Occupations do not include nursing homes, restaurants, vehicle repair businesses, or boarding houses.
- In subdivisions, no more than one vehicle associated with the use, registered as a passenger vehicle, light truck, recreational truck, or farm truck may be parked outside on the property. The number or type of registration for vehicles associated with the use is not limited on properties located outside of a subdivision.
How Many Animals Can I Have On My Property?
The number of animals you can have depends on your zoning classification, the type of animal, and the area of your property which is available to the livestock. See the Zoning Reference Chart which lists the number of “animal units” allowed in each district.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind related to the number of animals you can have:
- An animal unit varies depending on the type of animal. For example, a horse equals one animal unit but it takes 50 chickens to equal one animal unit.
- Check your covenants if you live in a subdivision. Often the covenants (privately controlled restrictions) are more stringent than the county’s zoning restrictions when it comes to having livestock on your property.
- Dogs and cats are defined as “Domestic Animals” and are not subject to the same restrictions as livestock. In the Rural Residential, Estate Residential, Suburban Residential, and Multi-Family zoning districts, you may have up to four weaned animals. In all other zoning districts, you may have up to seven weaned animals. If these numbers are exceeded, the use falls into the category of “Kennel” which has separate, special requirements.
- Also, see Keeping Animals in Boulder County.
My Neighbors Are Doing Something On Their Property That Is A Nuisance, How Do I File A Complaint?
When the Land Use Department staff receives a complaint, a county zoning inspector is assigned to follow up. The inspector examines the site (without trespassing) and determines if the alleged use violation exceeds what is allowed by the Land Use Code. While some uses can certainly be annoying to an adjacent property owner, the use may be legally allowed by the regulations. In such cases, the property owners in questions may have to work out the issues privately. In cases where the zoning rules are being violated, the inspector contacts the alleged violator and begins enforcement of the rules.
If you wish to lodge a complaint, you can contact our office by phone at 303-441-3930. Or, you can report a complaint to the Land Use Department via the Report a Land Use Code Violation. Be sure to include the location of the property you wish to report as well as a description of the activity occurring on the property.
Please keep in mind that if you email us, we will retain a printed copy of the correspondence, in which case, your complaint would not be anonymous.
See Common Land Use Violations for more information.
Can I Subdivide My Property?
The prospect of subdividing a property is complicated and depends on numerous factors. In general, the answer to the question is “NO” if the subdivision will result in the creation of any parcels under 35 acres. If you sell off a piece of property smaller than 35 acres without going through an official subdivision process with Boulder County, you are in violation of State of Colorado law. The two pieces involved in the subdivision may not qualify for building permits.
Parcels 35 acres or more may be divided out of larger pieces by deed. This means that no formal county subdivision process is needed to create parcels 35 acres in size and larger.
Parcels under 35 acres may be subdivided in a very limited number of situations. The best thing to do if you want to subdivide your property is to call the Land Use office at 303-441-3930.
Can I Move The Boundary Lines Of My Property?
If you and a neighbor wish to adjust the boundary lines between parcels, you must have approval of the Board of County Commissioners through an official Boundary Line Adjustment process. If none of the properties involved in the adjustment (before or after adjustment) is under 35 acres in size, this process is not necessary.
Can I Find Out The Status Of A Land Use Proposal In My Neighborhood?
Basic information on Site Plan Review and other types of Land Use Review processes are available at Development Applications Under Review proposals.
You can also check on the status of a file by phone or Email us with the Docket number of the proposal. The Docket number will be listed on any correspondence you have received about the proposal and/or will be located on the public notice sign that is posted at the site. The Docket number starts with two or three letters, followed by the year and then a number. For example, a docket number may look like this: HP-11-0009.
We can also check the status of the docket with an address or owner name.
What Is Required To Convert A Residence To An Accessory Structure?
The existing dwelling must be converted to an accessory structure prior to occupancy of the new dwelling. Bathing facilities must be eliminated by removing the bathing plumbing fixtures and all associated plumbing. Cooking facilities must be eliminated by removing the cooking appliances and all associated wiring and gas piping. A building permit is required for this conversion.
Can I Build A Tiny Home In Unincorporated Boulder County?
Yes, tiny homes or modular structures can be built in Boulder County, but they must meet planning and building requirements, including:
- All structures must be on permanent foundations (not on wheels or trailers) in unincorporated Boulder County.
- Site Plan Review is required for any new development requiring a building permit on vacant parcels in unincorporated Boulder County.
- Limited Impact Special Use (LU) Review is required for adding any additional dwellings to a parcel with an existing single family dwelling.
- All dwellings must have water service or a permitted well and a sewer connection or on-site wastewater treatment system.
- Boulder County BuildSmart and Wildfire Mitigation requirements apply, including sprinkler systems.
- Compliance with the 2015 International Residential Code (“IRC”): Section R304: Minimum Room Areas:
- R304.1 Minimum area. Habitable rooms shall have a floor area of not less than 70 square feet (6.5 m2). Exception: Kitchens.
- R304.2 Minimum dimensions. Habitable rooms shall not be less than 7 feet (2134 mm) in an horizontal dimension. (Exception: Kitchens.)
- R304.3 Height effect on room area. Portions of a room with a sloping ceiling measuring less than 5 feet (1524 mm) or a furred ceiling measuring less than 7 feet (2134 mm) from the finished floor to the finished ceiling shall not be considered as contributing to the minimum required habitable area for that room.
- Please also refer to IRC Sections R305, R306 and R307, which contain provisions for minimum ceiling heights, having a bathroom and a kitchen with hot and cold running water, and the minimum clearances required around bathroom fixtures, respectively.
Can I Build A Yurt Home In Unincorporated Boulder County?
Yurts are typically not permitted as dwellings in unincorporated Boulder County, as they generally do not meet building safety requirements, including insulation, light, ventilation, wind and snow loads, and the flame spread rating of exterior materials.
For additional planning information on tiny homes or yurts, please contact the Planning Division through the Ask a Planner Form or call at 303-441-3930. Please contact Land Use Building Safety and Inspection Services through the Ask a Building Official or call 303-441-3925 concerning building requirements.
Can I Live In An RV Or Travel Trailer, Or While I Build A House?
The Boulder County Land Use Code Article 4-507 B 5 c allows camping on a parcel for 14 days per year only. Travel trailers, fifth wheels and RV’s do not qualify as dwellings (Article 18-137) and so may not be lived in permanently or during the construction of a home or on any vacant property within unincorporated Boulder County.