Bizarre Broomfield Borders

On April 2, 2017 · 8 Comments

Recently Twelve Mile Circle focused a couple of articles on the boundaries of Virginia’s independent cities. That led loyal reader Scott Surgent to comment on an equally strange situation in Broomfield County, Colorado. I certainly knew about Broomfield because of its status as one of the newest and smallest of U.S. counties. It didn’t exist until 2001 and it covered only 34 square miles (88 square kilometres). I’d even featured it on 12MC before, such as when county counter extraordinaire Fritz Keppler recalled his visit to Broomfield on the first day of its existence. However, I’d never examined its borders before.

U.S. 36 En Route to Boulder, Broomfield, Colorado
U.S. 36 En Route to Boulder, Broomfield, Colorado
Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr (cc)

Take a look at Broomfield on Mob Rule or Google or even the county’s official street map. The borders seemed nothing if not bizarre. Narrow tendrils extended along roadways or tethered nearly-detached rural acreage. Broomfield included a couple of enclaves of neighboring counties within its body. It also owned a narrow exclave along a major roadway, barely wider than the lanes of traffic itself.

I wondered how this happened. Next I drilled down a little closer into Broomfield’s multiple geo-oddities.

Broomfield as a Municipality

Broomfield’s origin explained its shape. It did not begin as a county, nobody originally envisioned it as a county, and it probably never would have become a county except for its unusual growth near four other counties. The county’s history page said that Broomfield began as a little village around the turn of the last century in the southeastern corner of Boulder County. Construction of the Boulder Turnpike in 1950 offered opportunities for growth. Then the Turnpike Land Company purchased acreage nearby and created a master planned community. Development led to further development and Broomfield continued to expand. It incorporated as a municipality in 1961.

A local publication, the Broomfield Enterprise, commented on the community’s success on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 2011. Everything stemmed from bold actions. Broomfield didn’t compete with counties that surrounded it; rather Broomfield competed with nearby municipalities. Both offensive and defensive annexations occurred. Broomfield skillfully grabbed land in favorable locations and blocked other municipalities from doing the same. This led to a crazy patchwork of boundaries typical of many municipalities in the United States.

Broomfield as a County

However, the municipality of Broomfield started to encounter a number of issues as it expanded. Once confined to Boulder County, it eventually flowed into Weld, Adams and Jefferson Counties, too. That meant it had to deal with four different governments, each with its own set of regulations, adjudication, taxation, services and schools. Governance in a quad county town became tedious and difficult.

Fortunately Colorado offered precedence. The state amended its constitution in 1902 to form the consolidated City and County of Denver. Could such a device also work for Broomfield? In 1998, the municipality reviewed the possibility: "Formation of a Broomfield City & County — Is it Feasible?" (pdf). The study concluded favorably. However, implementation required a state constitutional amendment. It also needed to survive a referendum by the citizens of Broomfield. Those steps happened and the municipality of Broomfield became the City and County of Broomfield on November 15, 2001.

Nonetheless, the amendment — Article 20, Sections 10-13 — placed limits on expansion. If froze Broomfield’s existing municipal borders until it could become a county. Afterwards, Broomfield could expand only after approval of a seven-member panel that included voting representatives from the four counties that surrounded it. That effectively cemented the weirdness of Broomfield’s final municipal boundaries into its county boundaries.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Broomfield Border Overview

Borders of Broomfield County

I had a hard time following some of the borders so I drew them out by hand with a wider line. I marked some of the peculiarities with letters. Hopefully that will make it easier to follow along when I show close-up images, below. I started at the top and proceeded clockwise.

(A) Weld County Enclave

Weld in Broomfield
Weld County Enclave within Broomfield

There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason for the tiny enclave of Weld County embedded within Broomfield. All I could figure was that maybe the owners of that land didn’t want to belong to Broomfield. In Colorado, local residents needed to vote affirmatively to join a municipality. Somehow this little pocket escaped Broomfield’s clutches as it expanded.

(B) Broomfield’s Eastern Tendril

Eastern Tendril
The Eastern Tendril

The little patch of Broomfield south of W. 152nd Ave. almost qualified as an exclave. I took an optimistic look, hoping it might be true. However, the width of Huron Road extended as a tendril connecting what appeared to be nothing more than an empty field, to the rest of the county. Who knew what future use Broomfield intended for this space? Regardless, Broomfield grabbed it.

(C) Broomfield’s Southwestern Tendril

Southwestern Tendril
The Southwestern Tendril

I thought I might have spotted a boundary cross. Upon closer inspection, however, I dispelled that possibility. Broomfield stuck a narrow corridor between Boulder and Jefferson along W. 120th Ave.

(D) Northwest Parkway Corridor

Northwest Parkway
The Confusing Northwest Parkway

I could only describe the Northwest Parkway Corridor as a complete mess. Clearly, Broomfield coveted the parkway as it grew. Maybe if it controlled the parkway it could control access to and from the parkway. Like a castle wall, it could keep other municipalities at bay. However, in the process, it created a confusing situation. It left a section of Boulder connected to its home county by two narrow corridors, along S. 104th St. and U.S. Route 287. It created a Broomfield exclave along the parkway and an adjoining exit ramp. It also created a Boulder enclave within Broomfield, separated from the rest of its home county solely by the width of W. Dillon Road.

(E) The Zigzag

Northwest Parkway

The strangeness of one section of the border between Broomfield and Weld completely confounded me. First, I didn’t know how to describe it. Zigzag seemed to fit, except it formed rectangular lines rather than triangular. Second, why? What purpose would it serve for Broomfield to erect that figurative wall so close to its own border? It didn’t even seem to include anything consequential. Maybe it had something to do with the golf course immediately to the west. I don’t know.

On April 2, 2017 · 8 Comments

8 Responses to “Bizarre Broomfield Borders”

  1. Andy says:

    Broomfield’s bizarre borders give it a somewhat-bizarre high point /at a corner/ of the boundary — the intersection of Indiana Street and 120th Ave. Nonetheless, the views from that spot actually aren’t bad. Here’s a report from when I visited in 2015:

  2. Fritz Keppler says:

    Yep. The handful of times I’ve driven in the area since Broomfield’s establishment have been crazy, thank goodness for a recording GPS to determine afterwards which county I was in at any particular time!

  3. Philip Newton says:

    The concept of a city (or village or town or other municipality) belonging to multiple counties is odd to me – I would expect a city to belong either to exactly one county, or to be a county of its own. Is it not a strict hierarchy in the US, but instead, the two levels are largely independent?

    If a municipality that belongs to a county expands, I would expect that the county expands in precisely the same way, rather than that the newly-added part of the municipality continues to be part of the old county.

    • Scott Surgent says:

      In California, no city can span more than one county, and county-line readjustments are almost never made to accommodate small jogs that would otherwise make sense. I grew up in California and assumed that this was a rule in every state. However, it seems most states (at least many in the west) allow for cities to span more than one county… maybe California is an exception.

      There are a few cases in Arizona, most of them trivial, e,g, a tiny portion of Apache Junction in Pinal County that juts into Maricopa County. The “biggest” example is Peoria, a western suburb of Phoenix, which has incorporated the entire Lake Pleasant and all lands around it. Most of Peoria lies in Maricopa County but a significant amount of the northern hills surrounding Lake Pleasant lie in Yavapai County. I am assuming that having jurisdiction over the entire lake and lands makes patrolling it a lot simple. It is a very popular recreational area.

      It begs the question if old Broomfield city, which spanned four counties, may have set a “record” for most counties spanned by an incorporated municipality. I agree that incorporating into four counties was asking for trouble. I am happy the Broomfieldians were able to come up with an elegant solution to their dilemma.

      • We looked at some other examples back in 2013, in Quad County Towns and Quad County Towns, Crowdsourced.

      • Rhodent says:

        Crawling over county lines is a common thing in North Carolina. Of the ten biggest cities, two of them are in two counties (Raleigh is in Wake and Durham, Cary is in Wake and Chatham), one of them is in three (Durham is in Durham, Wake, and Orange), and one is in four (High Point is in Guilford, Randolph, Davidson, and Forsyth). Most multi-county cities are mostly in one city and only have a tiny amount of land in the others, but there are a handful that have significant presence in multiple counties. The largest is Rocky Mount (pop. 56,000, the 15th largest city in the state), which was originally split almost evenly between Nash and Edgecombe Counties although subsequent annexation had made it about 2/3 in Nash and 1/3 in Edgecombe.

    • SounderBruce says:

      In practice, county borders are supposed to be a lot more permanent than ever-changing city boundaries. If a county’s border is a straight line from sea to mountain, then it’s assumed that it will stay like that forever.

      This applies to Bothell, Washington, a suburb of Seattle that was originally in King County but expanded across the straight-line border into Snohomish County thanks to suburban annexation.

  4. Joe says:

    I noticed in (A) that Weld County Road 6 runs through Broomfield. Any idea how that is handled today? I’m guessing they kept all legacy road designations (like Weld County Road 6) but turned maintenance of the road over to Broomfield County for the portion within it.

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