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Boulder updates building codes to allow tiny homes, tighten energy efficiency

Restroom signage requirements to become non-gendered

A tour was offered of 10 tiny houses at the WeeCasa Winter Open House in Lyons in 2018.
A tour was offered of 10 tiny houses at the WeeCasa Winter Open House in Lyons in 2018.

Tiny homes might not only start popping up in Boulder, but they may even roll into the neighborhoods.

City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a package of updates to municipal building codes, adding in an optional allowance for tiny homes. It specifically requested an amendment to city staff recommendations that tiny homes must be constructed and inspected on a fixed foundation and hooked to fixed utilities.

Instead, tiny homes could be built in an off-site facility, such as the Lyons-based SimBLISSity Tiny Homes builder, inspected there for safety through a certified process, and later brought to a lot in Boulder and set on a fixed foundation.

Council did not address tiny homes on wheels and able to be semi-frequently towed to new locations. Such living facilities are usually considered vehicles rather than structures and are not governed by residential building codes, according to city staff.

“The impact on a neighborhood is far reduced when you can just roll a tiny home into a yard and your neighbors don’t have to put up with construction for three, six months, a year, two years,” SimBLISSity owner Byron Fears said to Council.

The dwelling type, able to be quickly moved to a new location or not, has grown in popularity as an affordable housing option in recent years.

“Boulder County has such an intense need for obtainable housing, movable tiny homes is that,” Fears said. “We build homes for $65,000 to $150,000. That is obtainable.”

Councilwoman Rachel Friend expressed interest in considering allowing the more mobile category of tiny homes with wheels in the future, with Mayor Sam Weaver indicating openness to discussing the idea.

Among other changes made, the city’s energy codes also became more stringent, including requiring officials set higher recycling and reuse rates for materials during demolitions and requiring existing single-user restrooms to be identified with signage as being gender-neutral by the start of 2021.

Making single-user restrooms more inclusive was a rule change supported by local LGBTQ advocacy group Out Boulder County.

The city also provided building owners and their agents the option of designating multiple-user restrooms as gender neutral.

Councilman Aaron Brockett also proposed requiring the energy behind outdoor heating activities, for facilities like pools, to be offset through on-site solar power panels at commercial buildings and not just residential. City staff is set to bring such an amendment back to the code changes at third reading of the ordinance.

Alex Cassidy, a longtime commercial architect in Boulder, applauded the city’s updating the requirements to make building less environmentally degrading, but decried the city’s review times for projects he has worked on lately for having lengthened by several weeks than what he experienced before in the city.

“Now our review times are six weeks,” Cassidy said. “… If you’re going to implement new code, and more code, you really have to support your staff with what they need to be able to enforce the code and get this stuff done in a timely manner. Otherwise, a lot of these small businesses are getting chopped off at the knees by this.”

Boulder Assistant City Manager and Interim Planning Director Chris Meschuk verified the complaint, and said his department is working to improve this year.

“This year is really a focused effort for all of us in Planning and Development Services to do some pretty serious reimagining of how we get our work done to be able to improve those review times,” Meschuk said.

The updated codes are set to take effect in July.