Cirque Meadows by Adam Johnson

Rural Land Use Process

What is it?

The Rural Land Use Process resolution was adopted by the Larimer County Commissioners to assist landowners who wish to develop their property while maintaining their land in agriculture or other open space.

Current state law gives landowners the right to subdivide their land into 35 acre parcels without any county land use review. The Rural Land Use Process is a development process which offers landowners a new approach for developing the land without going through full subdivision review.

The RLUP does not change the zoning for these lands, nor does it take away the ability to do 35-acre developments. Instead, the process gives incentives to encourage alternative development and help retain the rural and agricultural lands of Larimer County. This process is intended to be voluntary, user friendly, and flexible.

Rather than rules, the process uses guidelines which allow the flexibility to tailor requirements to each unique piece of land. Land features that are of value to Larimer County residents are identified and efforts made to preserve them. Compared to other development processes, the Rural Land Use Process is less restrictive, faster, and more predictable in the outcome.

Why would I want to use this process?

This process is not for everyone; however, the advantage of this process is that it enables homes to be clustered in one area of the property (on 2.0 acre or larger lots) and preserves the remaining land in a conservation easement or protective covenant. Such preserved land must remain free of development for a minimum of 40 years and be utilized for purposes such as agriculture, wildlife, and open spaces.

This process allows you to benefit from your land financially by dividing it into smaller parcels and keeping the larger parcel for your continued use, if so desired.

Some of the benefits are:

  • Protects and encourages continuation of existing agricultural uses.
  • The development review process is faster and less restrictive than other county development processes and offers property owners a more predictable outcome.
  • Property can be developed creatively, meeting the needs of the landowner, in a manner that preserves the rural character of Larimer County.
  • Private open space is created and unique natural features are preserved; maintaining rural characteristics of property tends to increase property values.
  • In return for efforts and increased costs to retain unique land characteristics, owners may be allowed more housing units than would be permitted under the standard state rules--one unit per 35-acres.
  • Site planning for cluster development can better utilize existing infrastructure and potentially reduce total infrastructure costs.
  • Flexibility in site location allows for better planning of roads and other infrastructure improvements.
  • The majority of development engineering work occurs after project approval.
An important part of the Process is to involve the adjacent neighbors and the community early in the planning stages of the development. Neighbors and other interested community groups are advised of the proposal and neighborhood meetings are scheduled to inform and discuss the plan. Comments from the surrounding landowners and community members are taken into account in order to develop win-win solutions which support the goals and objectives of the larger community.

What does it take to be eligible for this process?

In order to be eligible to participate in this process:
  1. You must have at least 70 acres of land (may be combined with contiguous land that is owned by a neighbor).
  2. You must reserve at least two-thirds of the total area of land for preservation of agriculture, wildlife, and open spaces (referred to as residual land) to be preserved and remain free of development for a minimum of 40 years.
  3. You must provide a management plan which defines the roles and responsibilities for managing residual land. If you choose a conservation easement, a third party, such as a land trust, homeowner's association, etc., shall be designated as the grantee of the easement and shall be responsible for monitoring the easement.

What is a conservation easement and/or protective covenant?

A conservation easement and/or protective covenant is a restriction that landowners place on their property to protect the land for a certain type of use, such as farming. This is a voluntary legal document that is recorded on the deed and restricts the land to agriculture and open space uses.

The easement removes the development rights but the landowner still holds the title to the property, the right to restrict public access, and the right to sell, give, or transfer ownership of the property.

What are the steps to this process?

The landowner and Rural Land Use Center Director meet to discuss objectives to preserve, sell, or develop the land.

The landowner and Director visit the property to better understand the land and its attributes and to assess whether the Rural Land Use Process can be realistically applied. Discussions about all aspects of developing the land (number, size and layout of sites, roads, access, utilities, water supply requirements, wastewater, proposed open space, protected areas, environmental impacts, possible incentives, types of fees, etc.) take place at this time.

A memorandum of understanding is prepared based on the discussions and negotiations between the landowner and the Director. The memorandum describes the project and nature of the plan. If the landowner wishes to proceed with the process, the memorandum is signed, a preliminary plan is developed, and a file is started.

The Director prepares a notice and provides copies of the plan for initial review, comments, and suggestions by affected agencies and persons, including but not limited to utilities, fire district, ditch companies, County engineering and health departments, and neighboring property owners, to name a few.

A neighborhood meeting is scheduled to review the plan in detail. Meetings are informal and attempt to:

  • Minimize confusion, unrealistic expectations, and fear.
  • Create harmonious flow for the proposal process.
  • Inform and educate the public about the proposal.
  • Gather feedback and input from the public regarding the proposal.
The landowner and Director will review the recommendations made from the above comments/meetings. The potential cost/benefits of suggested changes will be evaluated and negotiated in terms of the trade-offs (incentives) available through the Process. Review agencies and the Director will review and make recommendations regarding the appropriate development standards for the project. The neighborhood and public will be notified of any substantial changes made to the plan. If deemed necessary, additional public meetings will be scheduled.

Once the preliminary plan meets the stated purposes and objectives of the landowner and Larimer County, the plan will be forwarded to the Rural Land Use Advisory Board for recommendation. It will then be forwarded to the Board of County Commissioners and placed on the Commissioners' agenda for the next regularly scheduled land-use hearing. The Director will follow procedures for public notice of this hearing.

At the conclusion of this hearing, the Board of County Commissioners may approve, disapprove, or approve with conditions the rural land plan. If the County Commissioners seek to impose additional conditions not previously discussed with and agreed upon by the landowner, the Board shall allow the landowner and members of the public an opportunity to comment about the proposed conditions. Any such additional conditions shall be reasonable and achievable.

The Board of County Commissioners shall issue a written findings and resolution stating its decision and the reasons for its decision.

If the Board of County Commissioners approved the preliminary rural land plan, the landowner will have 365 calendar days to submit the Final Plat, a Final Development Agreement, and other required documents (i.e., covenants, easement agreements, etc.) prepared in accordance with the preliminary approval.

When all documents are reviewed and in compliance with the preliminary approval, they will be presented to the County Commissioners for administrative review and signature and recorded with the County Clerk and Recorder. On-site improvements may begin after all documents are approved and recorded.

Optional Administrative Process

In April, 2000, the Board of County Commissioners adopted a new section for the Rural Land Use Process called the Administrative Process. This section was adopted in response to criticism that the process was too slow.

The administrative process limits the number of total buildable lots, does not require a neighborhood meeting and limits the referral agencies that review the project. Because of these limitations, the time it takes to get to a hearing before the Board of County Commissioners is shortened compared to the normal process.

Please see Section 5.8.5.D of the Larimer County Land Use Code for further details and explanations of the limitations.

Background Image: Cirque Meadows by Adam Johnson. All rights reserved.