Arapahoe County proposes to allow accessory dwelling units

County seeking public feedback on draft regulations

Nina Joss
Posted 1/23/23

By the summer of 2023, residents of unincorporated Arapahoe County could have a new housing option right in their backyards.

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Arapahoe County proposes to allow accessory dwelling units

County seeking public feedback on draft regulations


By the summer of 2023, residents of unincorporated Arapahoe County could have a new housing option right in their backyards.

The county is proposing new zoning regulations that would allow accessory dwelling units, also known as ADUs, in unincorporated areas. ADUs are secondary, smaller living units that can be added to, created within or built adjacent to a single-family home, according to the county’s website.

After a 2021 survey to gauge community support for ADUs and several 2022 study sessions on the topic, the county developed draft regulations for the land development code adjustments. Until Feb. 1, the county is requesting public feedback on these proposed regulations through a survey on their website.

“It speaks to the county wanting to have one way to help address both the affordability and the availability of housing,” said Project Specialist Gretchen Ricehill about the new regulations.

Adams, Elbert, Jefferson and Larimer counties and Aurora, Englewood, Littleton and Sheridan all have regulations that allow ADUs within their jurisdictions, according to Arapahoe County’s website.

Mother-in-law units

Currently, the county allows “mother-in-law units” that are like ADUs in structure, but have more specific criteria, Ricehill said.

“They're only allowed in the agricultural zoned districts, and then also in large lot residential areas of the county,” she said. “They are also allowed by what's called special exception, meaning that if somebody wants to have a mother-in-law unit and they meet the zoning district requirements, then they have to go to a public hearing before the Board of Adjustment to have that mother-in-law unit.”

Mother-in-law units in the county must be physically attached to the principal dwelling unit and can only be inhabited by an immediate family member of the property owner, according to the county’s land development code.

“It's difficult because that wouldn't include a caregiver that's not related,” Ricehill said. “And it wouldn't include maybe an uncle.”

Proposed ADU regulations

Ricehill said the proposed regulations would expand ADU options past the mother-in-law unit rules, allowing units to be lived in by caregivers, friends or leased out to tenants. In addition, the new regulations would allow ADUs in more areas of the county.

If the new regulations are approved, both attached and detached ADUs would be permitted in all agricultural and most residential zoning districts on lots of at least 5,000 square feet, according to the county’s website. In urban areas, detached ADUs would have to be in the rear or side yard, behind the principal dwelling.

Property owners who wish at add an ADU will have to apply for a building permit to ensure the proposed unit meets regulations and specific requirements of fire districts, water and sanitation districts and utility providers, Ricehill said.


District 3 Commissioner Jeff Baker said his constituents in the eastern, more rural part of Arapahoe County have expressed strong interest in ADUs.

“(Those constituents live) usually on larger acreage, anywhere from two and a half acres to 90 acres or more,” he said. “When you have that large of a property, the accessory dwelling units seem to make a lot of sense out there.”

In his eyes, allowing ADUs would be a step towards more affordable housing.

“Hopefully, these ADUs will be affordable -- anything that's affordable is greatly appreciated,” he said. “It won't solve everything all at once, but it's one step in the route to having more affordable housing.”

District 1 Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully said the county is continually looking at its land use codes to make sure they promote affordable and attainable housing.

“The Board of County Commissioners want to promote ADUs as a possible start to addressing affordable housing but also recognize the need to make sure the ADUs fit in the character of the neighborhood and are safe dwellings for the occupant,” she wrote in an email statement.

She added that the county continues to look at local and regional approaches to address the housing needs of the Arapahoe County community.

Ricehill said she has received some informal feedback from community residents in opposition to allowing ADUs. The main concern she has heard is that ADUs would increase density in the urban areas of the county.

But she thinks it would benefit the county to adopt the new regulations.

“It helps people address their needs,” she said. “Creating… an independent living space for a family member, aging parents, caregiver or just providing that extra income through rent. But it's not going to be the only the only avenue that the county is going to use to address the affordability and availability issues. It's just one.”


When the public comment period concludes on Feb. 1, Ricehill and her team will present the feedback at a Board of County Commissioners study session on Feb. 21. They will revise the regulations as needed and then will begin the public hearing process with the planning commission and the Board of County Commissioners.

Ricehill encouraged people to take the survey to help the county with the process.

“The comments that we receive really help us formulate the regulations,” she said. “We would like to regulations to work for everybody.”

The survey is available at

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