You are here: Boulder County, Colorado
Boulder County, Colorado

Growing Existing Towns to Conserve Rural Spaces

Cathy Bryarly, Boulder Country

Known for its vibrant university town, Boulder County is mostly rural with a mix of prairie farms and mountain forests, including some 137,000 acres of national forest. Agriculture has been a main stay in this area since the early 1800s. As nearby metropolitan Denver expanded westward toward Boulder, agricultural land gave way to housing developments. More than 80,000 acres of farmland were lost between 1982 and 1997.

To save their rural lands, 10 incorporated towns in Boulder County teamed up to assure that new developments fall within or adjacent to existing towns. Together, they identified lands best suited for development and those best saved as rural lands. This shared vision was formalized through intergovernmental agreements that specify urban growth boundaries for each city and town. Within those boundaries, communities encourage compact growth.

One method of saving land is an innovative program that transfers development rights from unincorporated, rural lands. Developers purchase these development rights from rural landowners and then use the rights to build within or near town. Most residents accept compact growth that is simultaneously protecting rural lands.

Open space bonds, routinely passed since 1993, fund land purchases which add
to the livability of communities. The Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department owns or has conservation easements on just over 99,000 acres of open space—of which about 23,000 acres are leased to local farmers and ranchers.  

Additional information:

Stewart, R. 2011.

Vivienne Jannatpour
(303) 678-6277