Should Boulder Historic Preservation Rules Include Yard Features?

According to the City of Boulder’s historic preservation regulations, the Landmarks Board has authority to make decisions on applications to alter or add to a historic property – unless the Council “calls up” an application for further review. Such was the case recently for a family that requested permission to put a swimming pool in the back yard of their Mapleton Hill property.

Property owners should be aware that buying a property with a historic designation can also mean restrictions and an additional layer of review for any proposal to modify the outside of a building. However, it is unusual for landscaping or outdoor features to be addressed by historic preservation requirements. In this case, the Landmarks Board had already denied the homeowner permission for a pool last year. The Board relented last month after the owner applied for a smaller pool in a less noticeable location.

This case is interesting because according to City staff, “Boulder’s historic preservation design guidelines provide little guidance when it comes to the review of pools on historically designated properties, or in historic districts.” This means the Board’s ability to deny the application was based on a broad power to approve or deny projects based on their opinions as to whether the project was “historically appropriate” or not. That should be a scary concept to a property owner.

The second aspect of this particular case that is interesting is the fact that the City Council “called it up.” As a reporter for the Daily Camera noted, more controversial applications have not been singled out for this level of review. As long as a Council member has the ability to call up a project, then a homeowner can be subjected to the time and expense of an additional review.

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