Master Plan

3. Land Use

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3.1 Urban Land Use
      3.1.1 Growth Management Areas
      Larimer County Land Use Framework Map 3.1
3.2 Rural Land Use
      3.2.1 Rural Conservation Development
      3.2.2 Rural Land Use Process
      Larimer County Front Range Land Use Framework Map 3.2
3.3 Area Plans and Studies
      3.3.1 LaPorte Area Plan
      3.3.2 Plan for the Region Between Fort Collins and Loveland
      3.3.3 Airport Influence Area
3.4 Land Use Framework Maps
      3.4.1 Land Use Categories
      3.4.2 Special Areas
3.5 Guiding Principles and Implementation Strategies For Land Use


Future land use issues are central to the purpose of the Partnership Land Use System (PLUS) project and comprise the core of the Master Plan. This chapter sets out the basic framework for land use in unincorporated Larimer County. The land use concept draws on the themes established in the early stages of the PLUS planning process and detailed in Chapter 1. The Master Plan also incorporates goals from the Northern Colorado Regional Planning Study[1]. Cooperative planning studies and their relation to the Master Plan are discussed in more detail in Section 2.4.

The Land Use Framework Maps indicate two distinct land use types, Urban and Rural). Future urban areas are located adjacent to existing municipalities where urban level services are planned, or in the case of LaPorte, in an existing unincorporated community where some urban services are already available. Rural areas comprise the remainder of the County. In designated urban areas, future land use is based on adopted community plans. In rural areas, land use and densities are based on existing County zoning.

The chapter discusses Growth Management Areas (GMAs) and coordinated land use planning efforts between the County and the municipalities in the County. It introduces the concept of Rural Conservation Development to achieve significant open space in developed parts of the rural area. It outlines the concepts of the Rural Land Use Process, which is designed to provide an alternative to development in 35-acre lots, and principles and strategies for agricultural lands. It explains the land use classifications shown on the Land Use Framework Maps and it references existing Special Area Plans and their policies. It establishes principles for patterns of new development and implementation strategies that will be used to achieve the planned settlement patterns.

3.1 Urban Land Use

Larimer County will not provide the range of services necessary to support a quality urban environment. Since 1980, when the first Urban Growth Areas were established around the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, the County's urban policy has been to encourage urban development to locate in cities and towns or adjacent to these areas with the expectation that the developed areas would soon be annexed. The urban land use principles stated in this Master Plan are intended to strengthen the link between urban land use and eventual annexation by a city or town.

3.1.1 Growth Management Areas

Principles for urban land use reinforce the concept that the most appropriate location for urban development is within municipal boundaries. Urban development should be within municipalities rather than the unincorporated portion of the County. Within Growth Management Areas (GMAs) development can occur if it meets basic service levels and is designed to be compatible with the policy or land use plan for the adjacent city or town. These requirements are intended to make future annexation possible without costly improvements to streets and utilities and to ensure that development approved in the County can be integrated into the fabric of the community when it is annexed.

Section 2.2 discusses recent development trends for new lots created in the unincorporated portions of the existing Fort Collins and Loveland Urban Growth Areas. Average lot sizes are much larger than those generally associated with urban development, at about 0.9 acre per unit. Some types of development, including Minor Residential Development (MRD), are currently exempt from the urban service standards adopted in the Intergovernmental Agreements that govern development in the existing Urban Growth Areas. MRD lots in Urban Growth Areas are often much larger than typical urban lots and often lack basic services such as public sewer. The resulting development patterns create enclaves of rural-type development within the Urban Areas, creating problems for future annexation and extension of utilities and roads. This Plan contains principles for strengthening requirements for all new development within the Growth Management Areas, which should be consistent with urban standards developed and jointly adopted by cities and the County.

The urban land use principles also state that new commercial and industrial zoning should be limited to Growth Management Areas (GMAs) and specifically designated areas in adopted Area Plans, unless the specific uses need to be located away from urban areas for some supportable reason. In the past, scattered development of this type has sometimes been approved in order to encourage economic development. More recently, the importance of quality of life issues to economic development decisions has supported reinforcing urban development standards for all new commercial and industrial uses.

3.2 Rural Land Use

Most of the development applications that are received by the County Planning Division are for non-urban residential uses. Existing zoning in the unincorporated area supports a pattern of large-lot (2.29- to 10-acre) subdivisions, which consume large amounts of land that might otherwise be in productive use. They are costly to serve with public facilities, and present issues of compatibility with adjacent residential and agricultural uses.

State law allows division of property into lots with a minimum of 35 acres without County review. The resulting developing pattern from "35-acre" development creates even greater concerns with land consumption, cost of facilities and compatibility. The Code of the West details the lifestyle and level of service that residents can expect in rural areas. The publication is available in the Office of the County Commissioners.

The PLUS process has largely focused on finding alternatives to these large-lot patterns of development, while still allowing a comparable return to landowners who have relied on historic zoning and land use regulations to estimate the value of their property. Two new development concepts have been developed as alternatives: Rural Conservation Development and the Rural Land Use Process. Both generally rely on "clustering" to achieve a future land use pattern more consistent with the vision of maintaining the existing open character of rural areas. Cluster development is a type of development design that locates the same number of houses on smaller lots to allow the remainder of the site to be used for agriculture, private open space, natural resource protection and similar open, undeveloped uses. Location of the developed and open areas is based on the characteristics of the specific site.

In addition, the Agricultural Task Force has proposed voluntary programs and incentives designed to help farmers and ranchers who wish to remain in agriculture.

3.2.1 Rural Conservation Development

The basic concept of Rural Conservation Development (RCD) is to require that all new subdivisions outside designated urban areas be clustered and designed based on the characteristics of the specific site. RCD subdivisions are designed to preserve significant open space areas, without changing the maximum residential density as determined by the existing zoning of the property.
Rural Conservation Development will generally include a minimum of 80% open space, and maximum allowed housing units will be determined by dividing the gross developable land area by the minimum lot size of the existing zoning district. Open space is achieved by allowing housing to be clustered on lots smaller than would otherwise be allowed by the existing zoning. The amount of required open space may be reduced in certain cases, if the number of housing units is also reduced, and/or there is community benefit. The proposed design must be consistent with applicable principles of the Master Plan including preservation of open character, protection of sensitive natural areas, neighborhood compatibility and efficient provision of utilities and services.

The open space portion of the development will remain undeveloped in perpetuity, except where this provision is explicitly changed by a special area plan adopted by the County. An example of an area where perpetual open space might not be appropriate is a defined area within a Cooperative Planning Area designated for future urban expansion in the CPA area plan. The ownership and management of the open space area will be determined by a management plan which will be reviewed and approved with each RCD application.

Site design principles emphasize considering the natural patterns of the landscape first, to ensure that sensitive natural areas are not considered as building sites. Ability to maintain the open area in agriculture may also be a prime consideration on appropriate sites. Compatibility with adjacent uses, including residential neighborhoods and agricultural uses, will also be considered. Generally, the cluster design concept will reduce infrastructure development costs because utility line and road lengths are minimized. In many cases, clustered development has also been found to increase the value of the building sites, due to the proximity to permanent open space.

The RCD subdivision process will not change the ability of landowners to divide property into lots with a minimum of 35 acres without County review, or to use the Rural Land Use Process (Sec. 3.2.2 below).

3.2.2 Rural Land Use Process

Current State law allows 35-acre or larger parcels to be created without any county land use review. This law has been in effect since 1972. In Larimer County in 1996, there were 4,633 parcels of private, taxable land greater than 35 acres, for a total of 522,042 acres. In some cases, 35-acre development works well. However, in the majority of cases, there are more desirable alternatives.
In July 1995, the Board of County Commissioners organized a citizen Task Force to study 35-acre development problems and to recommend solutions. The Task Force recommended new policies and procedures to invite landowners wishing to develop their lands to consider alternatives to traditional 35-acre parcels. The Task Force recommendations were incorporated into a land use regulation called the Rural Land Use Process, which was adopted by the Larimer County Commissioners on December 16, 1996. The Rural Land Use Process received a Governor's Award for Smart Growth and Development[2] in 1997.

The Rural Land Use Process is intended to be voluntary, user-friendly and flexible, and to permit and encourage development patterns tailored to the characteristics of a specific property. The new process does not include a change in zoning for these lands nor does it propose to take away the ability to do 35-acre development. Instead, the Rural Land Use Process uses incentives to encourage alternative developments to help retain the rural and agricultural lands of Larimer County.

3.3 Area Plans and Studies

Special area land use plans and studies are appropriate where conditions present unique land use issues and opportunities. These conditions require more detailed investigation than is possible for the majority of the County area, usually including a great deal of public input. The outcome of the studies may be adoption of special land use principles and implementation strategies, which are tailored to the specific issues of the area. Area plans are particularly envisioned for Cooperative Planning Areas where the plans will be developed in partnership with the affected municipalities, landowners and residents (see Sec. 2.4.1).

3.3.1 LaPorte Area Plan

LaPorte is an unincorporated community of about 2600 people, located northwest of Fort Collins at the edge of the foothills in Larimer County. After more than a year of study by the LaPorte Area Planning Advisory Committee (LAPAC) and numerous public meetings, the LaPorte Area Land Use Plan was adopted by the Larimer County Planning Commission in September 1992.

The LaPorte community is unique in Larimer County. Its size and character are comparable to that of many incorporated towns in the area. The community has many facilities and services associated with an incorporated town, including an elementary and a middle school, a community park, a fire station and public water and sewer. LaPorte has developed with a compact urban form and a good mix of commercial and service uses in its community center. The Land Use Map and the goals and policies of the LaPorte Plan show a pattern of land use that maintains the existing character of the LaPorte community and also allows for the various types of land use and development that are projected to be needed by the community as it grows.

The LaPorte Area Land Use Plan is hereby made part of the Larimer County Master Plan as a specific area plan for an urban area. Its land use map and plan objectives and policies will continue to be used as a guide to land use decisions by the County.

3.3.2 Plan for the Region Between Fort Collins and Loveland

A Plan for the Region Between Fort Collins and Loveland was prepared by a multi-disciplinary team of consultants and staff from Larimer County, the City of Fort Collins and the City of Loveland, with assistance from a citizens task force. It was adopted by the Larimer County Planning Commission in April 1995, and was also adopted by the Cities of Fort Collins and Loveland. The Plan received a Governor's Award for Smart Growth and Development in 1995.

Rural land

The purpose of the Plan is to determine the future character and vision for the area between Fort Collins and Loveland. Beginning with the goal of maintaining separation between the two communities, the Plan studies existing land use and natural resources and identifies opportunities and strategies for creating open space and buffers. The plan area includes the unincorporated rural area between the two communities as well as future urban areas for the two cities.

The Plan addresses a range of implementation options from development design guidelines to fee-simple acquisition of key properties. Several of the proposed strategies are currently being acted upon. The County Open Lands Program, which began in 1996, has used the Plan as a guide to identifying sensitive natural areas and visually significant lands for protection. The Plan for the Region recommends clustered development. This Master Plan has taken the concept of cluster development forward as a major tool to protect rural character throughout the County. A detailed area plan is underway for the Fossil Creek Sub-area, as recommended in the Plan.

The Plan for the Region Between Fort Collins and Loveland is hereby made part of the Larimer County Master Plan as a specific area plan, and its goals, sub-area descriptions and implementation strategies will continue to be used as a guide to land use decisions by the County for the area.

3.3.3 Airport Influence Area

The purpose of an Airport Influence Area is to recognize benefits and potentially adverse impacts that may occur within certain distances from public aviation facilities and to provide a policy framework to minimize these impacts as well as protect the safety and efficiency of aircraft operations. The Airport Influence Area is based on a technical analysis of the Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport and extends 400 yards beyond the outer boundary of the critical zones, 55-decibel noise contour and/or the flight pattern boundary lines depicted in the Airport Master Plan.

The potential adverse impacts of airport operations are generally of two types. Within the critical zones that surround and extend beyond the runways, safety for persons and property is of concern. Within the noise contours surrounding the airport and under the flight paths, complaints from property owners, particularly residents of the area, can eventually change or even curtail aircraft operations. At the same time, there are unique locational advantages to some types of land use for being in proximity to a public airport.

The AP Airport Zoning District was adopted in June 1977, following an initial study of the Fort Collins-Loveland Airport. It addresses many of the potential land use impacts around the airport. The AP District allows a variety of uses, including residential, commercial and industrial uses, with more intensive uses requiring special review. The area zoned AP does not exactly coincide with noise, critical area and flight paths of the most recent Airport Master Plan. In particular, the area west of Fossil Creek Reservoir, which is not zoned AP, is identified as a potential impact area in the Airport Master Plan. Future work effort will focus on improved alignment between the new Airport Master Plan and zoning in the area.

3.4 Land Use Framework Maps

The Land Use Framework Maps are intended to be a graphic depiction of the principles and implementation strategies contained in the Master Plan. They set forth a simplified diagram of how the County should evolve and develop in the future. Because the PLUS Master Plan is not tied to any specific time frame, target population or land needs analysis, the timing of future development will depend on a number of factors including choices made by individual landowners and future availability of facilities and services.

Within urban areas, more detailed future land use information is contained in adopted community plans. As these plans are accepted by the County and incorporated into Intergovernmental Agreements, the more detailed land use categories and policies of the community plans will take precedence over the generalized Land Use Framework Maps. The Land Use Framework Maps note where these detailed community plans exist.

The following land use categories are shown on the Land Use Framework Maps:

3.4.1 Land Use Categories

Rural Lands. This designation applies to all unincorporated areas outside the Growth Management Areas that are not publicly owned parks and open space. Allowed uses and densities are determined by existing zoning.

Urban Lands. This land use category includes Growth Management Areas and other urban areas designated by the County and identified on the Land Use Framework Maps. In urban areas, specific land use categories are determined by an adopted community plan.

Parks and Public Open Lands. This designation applies to existing, publicly-owned parks and open lands.

3.4.2 Special Areas

LaPorte Plan Area. This is the area where specific land use policies are provided by the LaPorte Area Land Use Plan.

Area between Fort Collins and Loveland. This designation shows the area covered by the Plan for the Region Between Fort Collins and Loveland, where policies from the document provide land use guidance.

Airport Influence Area. This area indicates the land around the Fort Collins-Loveland Airport affected by airport operations.

3.5 Guiding Principles and Implementation Strategies For Land Use

In the shaded section below, each primary paragraph (in bold type) is a statement of principle. The subparagraphs are strategies for implementing the principle.
 
URBAN LAND USE  

LU-1 The preferred location of urban land use is within municipal boundaries where urban levels of service are available. The County will not provide urban services. 

LU-1-s1 Larimer County will work with developers and with municipalities to encourage location of new urban development within city and town boundaries. 

LU-1-s2 The County will work with cities and towns to encourage annexation of existing development that is within Growth Management Areas but currently outside city limits. 

LU-1-s3 The County will ensure that its revised Intergovernmental Agreements and Land Use Code do not create disincentives for annexation of land within Growth Management Areas, either before or after development. 

LU-2 New urban-density residential uses shall locate only in areas specifically designated for urban development, i.e., Growth Management Areas and in LaPorte. Commercial and industrial uses shall also locate only in urban areas except where uses have specific requirements which justify their location in rural areas (see LU-4-s4). 

LU-2-s1 Larimer County will work with municipalities to designate Growth Management Areas consistent with municipal plans and which can be expected to be incorporated into the municipality within a reasonable time. 

LU-2-s2 The County will approve zoning requests for increased residential density and urban-intensity commercial and industrial uses only in Growth Management Areas and in areas specifically designated for urban development in an adopted Area Plan, i.e., LaPorte. All zoning changes must be consistent with an adopted land use or policy plan. 

LU-2-s3 Outside Growth Management Areas the County may designate "receiving areas" for a transfer of development rights program as appropriate for higher density development, after considering compatibility, impact on sensitive natural areas and availability of facilities and services. Location of higher densities in these areas shall be consistent with the principles of the Master Plan. 

LU-3 New urban development within unincorporated Larimer County will be designed to be consistent with and to support adopted community plans.  

LU-3-s1 Within the limits of existing County land use regulations, all new development in Growth Management Areas will be compatible with the municipality's adopted land use or policy plan. The County will rely on review comments from the municipality to help determine if requests for zoning or other development approvals are consistent with the intent of the community plan. 

LU-3-s2 Revised Intergovernmental Agreements shall limit the types of development applications which allow exceptions from the land use and development standards contained in the Agreements. Minor Residential Development and Special Review applications which generate low traffic are currently excepted from some standards. These exceptions should be eliminated and the process of considering variances and waivers to standards for all development within Growth Management Areas should be designed to ensure that City and County policies are not compromised. 

LU-3-s3 New development in other designated urban areas, i.e., LaPorte, shall be consistent with an adopted area plan. 

RURAL LAND USE 

LU-4 In rural areas, allowed uses and residential densities shall be based on the current zoning of the property.  

LU-4-s1 The maximum number of allowed dwelling units in new rural subdivisions shall be determined by the minimum lot size of the zoning district of the developable portions of the property. 

LU-4-s2 Changes in existing zoning shall be approved only when the change supports rural uses and maintains the open character of the rural area. 

LU-4-s3 Up-zoning to increase residential density in rural areas shall not be approved. Extension of higher density development patterns approved prior to adoption of this Master Plan shall not be used as justification for approval of new rezoning or lot size variance requests which result in higher density. (See also strategy LU-2-s3 above.) 

LU-4-s4 Requests for commercial and industrial zoning and special reviews which have specific requirements preventing location within Growth Management Areas may be approved in rural areas, if the uses are consistent with principles of the Master Plan. Examples of uses that may be appropriate outside Growth Management Areas are tourist-related businesses adjacent to major highways or tourist routes, agribusiness, utilities and mining operations. 

LU-5 All new rural residential development shall be designed to maintain the open character of rural areas and to protect and maintain agricultural uses and sensitive environmental areas.  

LU-5-s1 New subdivisions outside Growth Management Areas shall be designed as Rural Conservation Development (RCD) with at least 80% open space in zoning districts with a minimum lot size of 100,000 square feet or greater, and 50% open space in other districts, for agricultural operations, natural areas or other undeveloped open uses. 

LU-5-s2 Clustered housing shall be located in accordance with principles for protecting sensitive environmental areas, agriculture and efficiency of service provision. The Land Use Code shall include design standards for Rural Conservation Development. 

LU-5-s3 The Land Use Code shall include standards for consideration of exceptions to the percentage of required open space, whereby decreases in housing units and/or provisions for community benefit may result in decreases in required open space. The standards shall be based on applicable principles of the Master Plan, including LU-5 above. 

LU-5-s4 The ownership and management of open space created through Rural Conservation Development shall be set forth in a management plan which will be reviewed and approved with each RCD application. Open space shall remain undeveloped in perpetuity except where this provision is explicitly changed by a special area plan adopted by the County. 

LU-5-s5 The Land Use Code shall address exceptions which will be made to the requirement for clustered subdivisions, including undeveloped parcels of less than 20 acres and in-fill development. 

LU-5-s6 New rural subdivisions shall be designed to locate structures away from highly visible areas. To the extent possible, considering site limitations and hazard areas, design should avoid building sites on ridge lines and in open fields. Housing sites should be located on the least fertile soils for agricultural and forestry uses. 

LU-6 Clustered development shall be designed to avoid creation of development patterns such as villages or small towns that require urban level facilities and services.  

LU-6-s1 Rural Conservation Development shall be designed to limit the number of dwelling units in individual clustered areas, considering both the proposed development and existing adjacent uses and undeveloped lots. Proposed development which adds sufficient dwelling units that an area approaches the character of a village or small town shall be avoided. 

LU-6-s2 If a development plan for a large clustered area is proposed, review shall include the need for urban-level facilities and services, including neighborhood parks and schools, fire stations, arterial roads and provisions for supporting enhanced law enforcement patrol capabilities. Development of this scope shall be reviewed as an Area Plan amendment to the Master Plan. 

LU-6-s3 The Land Use Code shall require the "Code of the West" to be referenced in the protective covenants for development outside Growth Management Areas. 

LU-7 The Rural Land Use Process shall be encouraged and supported as an alternative to creation of 35-acre tracts. 

LU-7-s1 The provisions of the Rural Land Use Process shall be incorporated into the Land Use Code. 

AIRPORT INFLUENCE AREA 

LU-8 Land use decisions for property surrounding the Fort Collins-Loveland Airport shall reflect the need to protect the safety of persons and property and prevent interference with the present and planned operations of the airport.  

LU-8-s1 The County shall work with the Cities of Loveland and Fort Collins to develop consistent land use regulations or other implementation strategies for the Airport Influence Area to protect persons and property, as well as the public investment in the airport, in a manner that is fair to property owners. 

REQUIREMENTS FOR ALL DEVELOPMENT  

LU-9 Undevelopable land shall be defined in the Land Use Code and shall include the Floodway (FW) zone district and land below the high water mark of existing bodies of water.  

LU-9-s1 New development shall not occur on areas defined as undevelopable land in the Land Use Code and allowable density calculations shall not include undevelopable land. 

LU-10 All new development shall be located and designed for compatibility with sensitive natural areas.  

LU-10-s1 The Land Use Code shall include the provision that mapping of natural hazard areas, wetlands, ridgelines and other natural and cultural resource area information available from the Planning Division, be included on initial development submittals and considered in development design. Additional natural resource information that becomes available through the development review process should be incorporated in the design. (See also Sec. 6.1.). 

LU-10-s2 New development shall not occur in wetlands and natural hazard areas. Natural hazard areas include all slopes greater than 30%, geologic hazard areas classed categories 5, 6 or 7 in mapping available in the Planning Division and 100-year flood plains. 

LU-10-s3 The Land Use Code shall establish standards to control erosion and prevent infestation of noxious weeds during construction of new development. 

LU-11 Compatibility with adjacent land use shall be considered in the design of all new development.  

LU-11-s1 Neighborhood meetings shall be required where compatibility with existing residential uses is an issue. 

LU-11-s2 Development adjacent to agricultural uses shall provide adequate buffers to minimize conflicts and complaints concerning standard agricultural practices. 

LU-11-s3 The Land Use Code shall include guidelines for the use of design elements such as landscaping and buffer areas to help achieve compatibility. 

LU-11-s4 Landscaping plans shall be required as part of all major development applications and all multi-family, commercial and industrial building permits. Existing vegetation shall be maintained wherever possible, except in wildfire hazard areas where thinning to achieve defensible space is necessary. Native plants, existing drainage patterns and natural designs should be used to increase the sustainability of the landscaping. 

LU-12 Site design of commercial and industrial uses shall enhance and protect the aesthetic quality of community gateways and other high visibility corridors, including I-25, US Highways 34 and 287, and Colorado Highway 14. 

LU-12-s1 The Land Use Code shall establish aesthetic standards and guidelines for commercial and industrial development addressing landscaping, screening of outdoor storage and operations, orientation of buildings (so that businesses do not back onto high visibility corridors), parking lot design and similar design considerations. 

LU-12-s2 Intergovernmental Agreements shall address implementation of road corridor and entryway plans adopted by the municipality. 

LU-13 New development in wildfire hazard areas shall be designed to allow defensible space around structures and otherwise mitigate potential hazards to life and property.  

LU-13-s1 Recommendations for site design contained in the Recommendations for Improving Wildfire Safety in Larimer County - Final Report, should be used as a guide for establishing standards in the Land Use Code. 

LU-14 Energy-efficient design, including the potential for solar access, shall be considered in subdivision design and in the orientation of individual building sites.  

LU-14-s1 The Land Use Code shall include performance standards for solar access. 

LU-15 New roadways, including Larimer County roads, shall be designed and constructed in a manner that minimizes the impact on water quality and sensitive environmental areas and considers aesthetics. 

LU-15-s1 The Land Use Code shall establish road design and construction standards which consider protecting scenic vistas by minimizing road scars, protect water quality by minimizing erosion and protect native plant communities by minimizing disturbed areas and requiring revegetation with native plants and control of noxious weeds. 


[1] The Northern Colorado Regional Planning Study, May 1995, was conducted by Larimer and Weld Counties and nine municipalities in the I-25 corridor, to identify opportunities for coordination and collaboration on land use issues among the communities in Northern Colorado. The Study is available for review in the Planning Department.
[2] The Governor's Smart Growth program recognizes innovative growth management projects from around the State each year.

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