Cirque Meadows by Adam Johnson

Master Plan

1. Introduction

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1.1 The Partnership Land Use System
1.2 Fairness Principles
1.3 Scope and Purpose of the Master Plan
1.4 Public Participation
1.5 Master Plan Themes
1.6 Plan Organization

1.1 The Partnership Land Use System

In 1994, the Larimer County Commissioners initiated a project to examine and revise the County's land use planning system. It has evolved to be known as the Partnership Land Use System or PLUS. The Mission of PLUS is described by the Larimer County Commissioners in the following way:
Larimer County is developing the Partnership Land Use System to maintain and enhance our county's quality of life and to be fundamentally fair to all our citizens and to respect their individual rights.
Early in the PLUS project, the County Commissioners conducted a series of land use symposia and community forums to begin to frame the issues surrounding land use, development and growth. At these meetings, citizens expressed concern about two types of development issues.
The first set of issues relates to land use, growth and environmental protection. Principles and strategies for dealing with these concerns make up the majority of this document, the Larimer County Master Plan.

The second set of issues deals with the development process and the difficulties both applicants and concerned community members have in understanding and interacting with the existing land use regulations and development review process. Many citizens stated the concern that the regulations were not clearly tied to the adopted Plan and because standards are often unclear or even contradictory, land use decisions sometimes appear arbitrary or inconsistent. Another concern is to provide adequate neighborhood and community input in the development review process. The next phase of the PLUS process - development of a Land Use Code - will deal with the issues of the development process. Chapter 2 of the Master Plan, Growth Management, states principles for developing the Land Use Code in a manner that is consistent with the citizen input received in the PLUS process.

These two elements, the Master Plan and the Land Use Code, are essential to each other and together comprise the written part of the Partnership Land Use System. The Master Plan states the policy direction for land use decisions in the County and the Land Use Code provides the rules and processes to carry out the Plan policies.

The third element of PLUS is harder to describe but is also an essential element. This component makes up the Partnership part of PLUS. It is really a new way of looking at the planning process and understanding that planning is not only a compilation of policies and rules. Planning is, at its base, a community of individuals finding common goals and working on strategies to achieve them that are fair both to the individuals and to the community. This third element of PLUS must be an on-going process and will continue long beyond the adoption of the Master Plan and the Land Use Code. Examples of this on-going process include, but are not limited to, education and recommendations from advisory committees.

1.2 Fairness Principles

Larimer County

Developing a land use system that is "fundamentally fair" has been a consistent goal of the Partnership Land Use System, as stated in the project's Mission above. Statements from the citizen input portion of the project indicate that the current land use planning process is considered to be unfair by people on all sides of the issue. References to fairness are repeated throughout citizen comments concerning the new Partnership Land Use System. (See the Larimer County Partnership Land Use System Symposia Summary Report, 1994-1996 available in the Planning Department.) In order to guide PLUS and to provide a means of judging whether the Master Plan and implementing actions meet this goal, the County Commissioners asked the citizen advisory group of PLUS to develop Fairness Principles. The following principles represent a consensus statement from the PLUS Advisory Council (PAC).

A Fair Process:

  • is timely;
  • has an open process to the public for information, input, etc.;
  • has open communication including neighborhood meetings;
  • has educational components on the process for affected parties;
  • respects individual property rights;
  • respects the values of the individuals in the community;
  • considers the cumulative impacts and future generations;
  • has application of fundamental due process in all administrative deliberations;
  • has an appeal process;
  • has consistent requirements that contain flexibility within the written criteria;
  • has incentives for exceeding the written criteria;
  • makes it easy to do the right and responsible thing.

1.3 Scope and Purpose of the Master Plan

Significant changes have occurred in Larimer County since the 1988 Larimer County Land Use Plan was adopted. These changes, most attributable to the 25 percent increase in County population, involve factors such as transportation and boundaries of the municipalities. Additionally, the 1988 land use plan was never implemented by changes in the County land use regulations. These factors make review and revision of County land use policies necessary. Upon adoption by the Larimer County Planning Commission, this Master Plan will replace the 1988 Larimer County Land Use Plan. The Master Plan applies to the whole of unincorporated Larimer County, i.e., all the area outside the corporate boundaries of cities and towns in the County except the Estes Valley area. The Estes Valley area is part of a separate county/town planning process, as described more fully in Section 2.4.2.

The Master Plan Location Map shows the County and its municipalities; it also identifies the Front Range Study Area. This area of Larimer County includes all of the urban and urbanizing part of the County, except the Estes Valley, and about 94% of the total County population. In order to save costs and time, some data elements were collected only for the Front Range Study Area.
The purpose of a county Master Plan is to serve as a policy document for development decisions in the unincorporated area of Larimer County. The Master Plan can be considered the "constitution" for development in the County. It establishes Guiding Principles that should be achieved by all development. For each Guiding Principle the Master Plan outlines Implementation Strategies which provide the framework for staff work programs and for developing rules and regulations that govern land use decisions.

Master planning by county government is authorized in Colorado State Statutes. Section 30-28-106 (1) states: It is the duty of a county planning commission to make and adopt a master plan for the physical development of the unincorporated territory of the county.

The Larimer County Master Plan has several purposes:

  • To communicate the land use policy of Larimer County to citizens, landowners, developers and other governmental entities.
  • To provide a policy basis for developing the Land Use Code and other land use regulations and procedures and to determine whether they are in harmony with the community's vision and implementation strategy.
  • To provide a basis for intergovernmental agreements with the cities and towns of Larimer County, neighboring jurisdictions and the many public and quasi-public agencies that provide services to Larimer County residents.
  • To encourage County departments, other agencies and private developers to design projects in harmony with the natural characteristics of the land and the capabilities of public service and facilities.
  • To provide a basis for setting priorities and funding mechanisms for public capital improvements in Larimer County.

1.4 Public Participation

Master Plan

The Partnership Land Use System planning project began with a public participation process. Citizen input has been a significant part of PLUS throughout the development of the Master Plan. In October 1994, the County Commissioners organized a land use planning symposium to explore issues surrounding growth, specifically for the northeast area of the County. The symposium brought together approximately 60 citizens and public officials for a series of two weekend sessions. Participants were selected by a citizen committee with the intent of bringing together a wide variety of backgrounds and viewpoints.

The results of the symposium were impressive. The group began with considerable polarization between those who believed development should be encouraged and those who believed development should be discouraged. By the end of the session most participants expressed a feeling of having found common ground and a basis for proceeding to correct problems with the current planning system. For example, much discussion focused on the need for alternatives to division of large properties into 35-acre tracts. State law currently exempts this type of land division from local subdivision regulations. This discussion led directly to the formation of a 35-acre Task Force and eventual adoption of a new, flexible approach to rural development called the Rural Land Use Process (see Section 3.2).

Three more symposia followed, with the last held early in 1996. Each symposium included a public reporting of results by citizen participants at community forums held around the County. In all, more than 200 citizens participated in this symposium process. The expression of concerns about the existing situation and the common vision for a planning process that could protect the quality of life of County residents are expressed in the following Themes and throughout the Master Plan.
Other important components of the citizen input process are the PLUS Advisory Council (PAC), the Agricultural Task Force, the 35-Acre Task Force, the Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) and the PLUS Steering Committee which consists of the Larimer County Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners.

1.5 Master Plan Themes

The following planning themes emerged from the public participation process described above. These themes provide key policy direction for developing the Master Plan's principles and strategies and are reflected throughout the Plan. Strategies form the basis for the Action Plan (see Section 7.3)
TH-1. Land use shall be suitable for and compatible with the environmental characteristics of the site. The planning process shall recognize distinctions in the land, establish performance standards based on natural systems, and develop incentive-based programs to help landowners keep lands open that are desired for their open space values. 

TH-2. Natural and cultural resources shall be identified, conserved and protected.  
Environmental quality and impacts shall be considered when evaluating changes in land use. Long-term cumulative impacts of land use policies and decisions on environmental resources shall be monitored and used to evaluate the performance of the planning process. 

TH-3. Agriculture will remain a viable long-term segment of Larimer County's economic, cultural and social fabric.  
The planning process shall promote the continued health of agriculture through voluntary, incentive-based programs and strategies. 

TH-4. The Master Plan shall support logical settlement patterns that reflect the character of the Open West, i.e. the existing character of Larimer County, and protect existing neighborhoods.  
Proposed uses shall be compatible with adjacent uses and help create sustainable communities. Performance standards shall be used to protect existing uses from adverse impacts to ensure that new uses are "good neighbors." Also, development design performance standards for cluster development will help achieve an open feeling in developed areas. 

TH-5. Urban land use shall ultimately be in cities and towns.  
Becoming an urban service provider is not a goal of Larimer County. However, in Urban Growth Areas and LaPorte, in order to support community plans, urban land uses will be required. Also, the County may encourage urban development in certain areas suitable for such uses in return for preservation of open lands elsewhere in the County. 

TH-6. Open lands shall continue to be a defining feature of the landscape of Larimer County.  
The mission of the Larimer County Open Lands Program of the Parks Department is to preserve and provide significant open space, natural areas, wildlife habitat, parks and trails for present and future generations. Other planning initiatives will also help maintain large areas of undeveloped land in the County. Programs include clustered development in rural areas, the Rural Land Use Process as an alternative to 35-acre development, and voluntary programs to strengthen agricultural viability. Important open lands, natural areas, parks and trails are defined in the Help Preserve Open Spaces Initiative, the Larimer County Parks Master Plan, the Plan for the Region between Loveland and Fort Collins, and other adopted plans. 

TH-7. Buffers shall be provided between cities and towns to maintain community separation. 
Property rights within these buffer areas must be respected, as in all situations. Implementation strategies will include acquisition of land or development rights and transfer of development rights (TDRs) from otherwise developable land, as well as programs to help landowners maintain agricultural uses. 

TH-8. Adequate public facilities and services shall be provided concurrent with development.  
Level of service standards included in the Master Plan shall be performance-based and shall reflect differences between urban and rural areas. If adequate facilities and services are not available at the time of development, the developer will have several options: wait for facilities and services to be improved, finance needed improvements or select a different site. In rural areas, reducing the density of the project may also be an option. Capital expansion fees tied to actual costs of new development shall also be used to fund needed improvements in urban and rural areas. 

TH-9. The Master Plan shall encourage a balanced, economically feasible multi-modal transportation system for safe and efficient travel in the County.  
The Transportation Plan shall support and encourage the land use patterns and policies established by the Master Plan. The Master Plan shall provide and protect the mobility/transportation corridors designated in the Transportation Plan. 

TH-10. The planning process shall support a sustainable, balanced economy with equal access to housing opportunity, employment and upward mobility. 
Larimer County will continue to encourage diverse, viable companies, industries and organizations that provide high-quality employment opportunities and that benefit all citizens and businesses. The County will seek partnerships with other jurisdictions and the private sector to provide a regional approach to economic growth and sustainability, including provision of affordable housing. 

TH-11. Intergovernmental cooperation will be critical for Plan implementation.  
The Master Plan shall integrate land use policies and implementing strategies that complement and support the goals and objectives of the cities and towns and of the region. Amendments to the current Intergovernmental Agreements will need to be implemented, where feasible, concurrent with the Master Plan. 

TH-12. The Master Plan and the implementing rules and regulations shall be consistent.  
This consistency concept does not require that the Zoning Map be amended to strictly conform to the Plan's designations or that zoning be changed to implement the plan. Rather, it is intended to ensure that Plan concepts are carried out through the County's land use regulations, so that the Master Plan can serve as the County's policy basis for development and conservation of resources. 

TH-13. The planning and development review process shall be fair, open and predictable, and meet the needs and interests of the community without infringing on the rights of individuals.  
The process shall seek innovative solutions to accomplish guiding principles. The process shall also address the needs of landowners who are seeking alternatives to full-scale development, by encouraging voluntary agricultural districts, the Rural Land Use Center (RLUC) program and programs coordinated with the Open Lands Board and area land trusts. 

TH-14. Planning is viewed as a proactive process.  
The Master Plan and supporting implementation documents shall be defined, followed and periodically reviewed and refined. Monitoring and evaluation criteria shall be established for all appropriate implementation strategies to determine if they are achieving the Master Plan themes and guiding principles; and, if not, strategies shall be modified as necessary. 


1.6 Plan Organization

The remainder of the Master Plan is organized into the following chapters:

Chapter 2. Growth Management:
provides an overview of the Growth Management System and principles for urban and rural development, agricultural lands, economic development and affordable housing.

Chapter 3. Land Use:
describes County land use patterns for urban, rural, and special plan areas and includes the Land Use Framework Map. Principles for urban and rural land use, the Airport Influence Area and requirements for all development are included.

Chapter 4. Public Facilities and Services:
includes a description of public facilities and services and an approach to providing and funding facilities. Principles include adequate public facilities, coordinated planning and funding mechanisms.

Chapter 5. Transportation:
describes existing transportation facilities and deficiencies, and sets out principles for a future transportation plan and improvements program.

Chapter 6. Environmental Resources and Hazards:
outlines an approach for identifying and protecting resources, and provides principles for environmental review and protection of specific resource types.

Chapter 7. Implementation:
provides a framework for developing consistent, fair and user-friendly land use regulations and other implementation programs and outlines an evaluation and monitoring program for implementing actions. An Action Plan for specific implementing actions is included.

Throughout the Master Plan, plans, reports and studies are referenced which were used as background material. These documents provide the basis for many principles and strategies in the Plan. In many cases, the documents are the result of countless hours of citizen and staff work. This tremendous effort on the part of individuals and groups has helped to give the Master Plan much greater depth than would have been possible otherwise. The documents are listed at the end of the Master Plan in Reference Materials. The many individuals who were part of this process are hereby acknowledged and thanked. Your contribution is invaluable.

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