Boulder County Board of Review updates exterior building requirements for future structures

At its first meeting in almost six years, the Boulder County Board of Review on Wednesday signed off on a recommendation to update exterior building requirements for all future structures in the eastern portion of unincorporated Boulder County to help prevent or slow future fires.

A worker wets down areas of the Marshall Fire debris Wednesday in Louisville. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff photographer)

“There is ample evidence that shows homes built with these measures are less likely to ignite from wind-born embers,” said Ron Flax, deputy director of the Boulder County Community Planning & Permitting Department and chief building official.

The board unanimously approved the update recommended by the Community Planning & Permitting Department. Next, it will be reviewed and voted on by the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners during a May 12 meeting.

The recommended update would require that all future exterior structures built in Wildfire Zone Two comply with the county’s ignition-resistant standards. This zone makes up the eastern portion of unincorporated Boulder County and consists of plains and grasslands.

These standards require builders to use Class A roofing materials or any ignition-resistant materials on the exterior of structures. The current ordinance only requires the use of Class B materials.

Other requirements in the update include a mandatory 3-foot minimum non-combustible perimeter around the home. Fences and retaining walls must also be constructed using non-combustible materials and must sit three feet away from the home.

The ignition-resistant requirements are already in place for structures in Wildfire Zone One, which is the portion of the county that contains the mountains and forests, Flax said.

During the meeting, board member Douglas Greenspan asked whether the county plans to offer incentives to homeowners with older homes in hopes of enticing them to make changes that will be in line with the county’s ignition-resistant construction requirements.

“We’re going to have a thousand new homes probably in Superior and Louisville, but there are thousands (of other) homes that already exist that are going to be interlaced with those homes that won’t have any of this protection,” Greenspan said. .

Jim Webster, project manager with the planning & permitting department, said the county’s Wildfire Mitigation Partners program, meets with homeowners in the county to explain how home fires ignite. The program also provides custom reports to homeowners with steps they can take to mitigate a fire on their property.

“We’ve been spending millions of dollars and thousands of hours on mitigation in the foothills and mountains,” he said.

He said the program is not available for homes in Wildfire Zone Two, but the county is working to expand the program’s reach.

Architect Lance Cayko of Longmont asked the county why other methods of fire mitigation aren’t being pursued as well to protect homes from fires such as the Marshall Fire, which started in the grasslands and spread through subdivisions.

“Why aren’t we doing prescribed burns, and why aren’t we mowing more often because it’s not even an arguable counterpoint that the open space is contributing to the fuel of these fires?” asked Cayko with F9 Productions Inc.

Board member Stephen Titus said the ignition-resistant materials can help prevent fires, but he also acknowledged Cayko’s concerns for additional mitigation tactics.

“Boulder has invested an enormous amount of money in purchasing open space, and it was all of this open space that brought fire to the communities,” Titus said.

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