The city's wide solicitation of citizen experiences with owning, living in, living near or simply having an opinion on accessory dwelling units highlighted, anecdotally, what survey data has already shown: People who live in Boulder generally are supportive of ADUs as a tool for affordable housing.
In anticipation of the City Council reviewing in 2018 some potential ways to loosen Boulder's laws on ADUs — commonly referred to as "granny flats" — city staff held two open houses in November and December, and encouraged people to anonymously submit their stories online.
Roughly 200 people turned out for the in-person events, and even more participated online.
City staff compiled the findings into a 51-page report that is publicly available.
The report did feature a healthy dose of concerns about ADUs and, as city staff wrote, "rental housing in general."
"Many perceive rentals as a root problem of neighborhood nuisances (e.g., noise, parking, trash, etc.). Many believe the city is not doing enough to address these nuisances."
Wrote one such concern-haver, "Having eight people living in what was designed to be a single-family dwelling is difficult for the neighbors. It can be noisy, and when the tenants aren't nice, I lose sleep. Landlords don't care as long as the rent is paid."
But beyond the fact that most other responses seemed to look positively on ADUs, as nearly two-thirds of residents did when formally surveyed months ago, the anonymous testimonials showed that many people who live near ADUs are not even aware they do.
"My neighbors have ADUs," one respondent wrote, "and the occupancy of those ADUs has no impact on me. In fact I didn't even realize some were occupied until they told me."
Offered someone else: "I received the (notification from the city) about ADUs in my neighborhood. I was unaware that there were any, as was a neighbor I talked with."
In general, those who have ADUs appreciate them as vehicles for extra income or as spaces for visitors or family members. These units can take the form of an extra wing or floor of a house, or a unit separate from the main property in a building such as a garage.
"My ADU enabled me to afford to live in my house downtown, and has provided unexpected flexibility as my children have grown up and moved out," one person wrote. "Now I live in the (ADU) and rent out the larger home, so it has enabled me to downsize in place."
Added another respondent, "ADUs offer a fantastic option for current home owners to create a very helpful income stream. ADUs improve the numbers for people who would like to buy in Boulder. More ADUs means more 'middle income' folks will be able to afford a home in this town, and rental inventory is increased."
One area of apparent agreement between supporters and skeptics of loosened ADU regulations concerns vacation rentals. Should the council decide to rewrite those regulations in 2018, it should be mindful not to encourage people to build ADUs and then rent them out on Airbnb, some respondents said.
The council is tentatively scheduled for a study session on this topic Feb. 27.
Meanwhile, as promised by city staff weeks ago, Boulder had continued actively pursuing inspection of ADUs that are unlicensed or otherwise non-compliant with city code.
Boulder has pursued 123 ADU cases to date, spokeswoman Meghan Wilson said. Thirty-five of those cases resulted in a determination of no violation.
This represents a relatively higher level of ADU enforcement activity in Boulder, where city staff has made efforts in the last couple years to ramp up enforcement of a variety of neighborhood regulations, following a wave of citizen complaints alleging negligence by code officers. The 123 ADU cases this year compare to just 49 pursued in the city last year, and 35 in 2015.
When the city put out the call for ADU stories, it vowed that it would not look to use any of the responses gathered to inform new enforcement cases, despite the fact that some of the respondents illegally operate ADUs and might have put themselves at risk by saying as much at an open house, for example.
Asked whether Boulder held true to its word, Wilson said that "there have been no enforcement cases as a result of the online feedback to date," and added, "I can't say for sure whether anyone who's provided feedback hasn't had inspection or enforcement cases, but it wouldn't be directly linked" to the fact that they gave feedback.
Thirty-three of the active enforcement cases remain open, and Wilson indicated that some of those are likely to remain open for some time, as city staff has essentially tabled them until upcoming council direction provides clarity. Many who may be out of compliance today could find themselves in compliance in the future, depending on how the council acts.
That's the case for Keeli Biediger, the south Boulder homeowner who is among those 33, and whose unlicensed ADU was recently detected by the city, prompting a saga in which staff suggested she might literally move her house two feet in order to create space for parking.
The city said in November that it would be asking Biediger to kick out her two ADU tenants, but Wilson said on Thursday that officers have suspended enforcement for now.