Cirque Meadows by Adam Johnson

Estes Valley Plan

Chapter 4 - Land Use

A. Land Use Plan


The Land Use Element is the focal element of Estes Park Directions and has guided the formulation of transportation, economic, and housing elements. As the focal element, the Land Use Map illustrates the vision that the Valley has for itself in terms of where it should develop, the anticipated scale and intensity of development and how various land uses relate to each other.

The Land Use Element also recommends a wide range of land uses and densities, in response to extensive citizen participation, existing land use analysis, and the community survey. The Land Use Element also serves as the guide for implementing new land development regulations (zoning and subdivision).

The Future Land Use Plan has several key elements:

  • The Plan which is based on broad noted public input and noted environmental features proposes a series of new land use categories, and locations for these uses. This Plan proposes a uniform system of land use categories and regulations between the Town and County.
  • Proposes a joint Town/County planning commission for the Estes Valley.
  • Proposes a new regulatory system that includes location and environmental performance standards, service capacity standards, site and architectural design standards and sensitive land protection.
  • Proposes a detailed implementation (action) process.
  • Proposes exploration of a growth management system.

The land use issues identified during the public workshops provide the basis for defining the opportunities and directions for the Future Land Use Plan. The following issues tend to be among the most important discussed during the process. They include:

  • Incompatibility among adjacent land uses, land forms and zoning.
  • Acknowledgment that the range of uses allowed in some existing zoning districts is too broad.
  • A wider range of zoning districts for both residential and commercial uses is needed.
  • Demand for small-lot single-family development.
  • Demand for large single-family lots, which may conflict with clustering concepts.
  • A new Planned Unit Development process.
  • Performance standards for new development.
  • Maintained as the commercial and entertainment core.
  • A comprehensive trail and bike path system.
  • Improve gateways and entries into Estes Park that reflect the community's concern for the environment.
  • Provide a high quality arts environment.
  • Preserve open space in its natural condition.
  • Provide regulations that address appropriate building size, site coverage, and site disturbance.
As part of the Future Land Use Plan, the consultant and Town have prepared a Geographic Information System (GIS). The system is capable of producing detailed maps and printouts of all parcels within the planning area, with the County Assessor's parcel identification number, ownership, existing land use and zoning, parcel size and future land use. Existing land use, existing zoning and the Future Land Use Plan maps and figures are presented in this chapter.

Zoning Classification
Number of Parcels
Acres by Classification
Percentage of Total Acres
Accommodations - A 195.00 1,982.74 9.43
Business - B 21.00 74.64 0.36
Commercial - C 42.00 97.39 0.46
Estate - E 2,118.00 6,536.44 31.10
Estate- E-1 231.00 162.88 0.78
Forestry - FO 2.00 7.75 0.04
Multi-Family - M-1 10.00 9.85 0.05
Open - O 42.00 1,627.14 7.74
Residential - R 4.00 4.26 0.02
Rural Estate - RE-1 280.00 3,837.41 18.26
Tourist - T 367.00 2,426.31 11.54
Downtown Commercial - cd 260.00 41.72 0.20
Outlying Commercial - co 372.00 858.16 4.08
Estate - est 865.00 1,243.33 5.92
Restricted Industrial - i1 12.00 15.00 0.07
Multi-Family - rm 723.00 489.72 2.33
1 & 2 Family - rs 709.00 495.39 2.36
null 6,253 19,910.13 94.74 %

Note: There are 138 parcels representing 1106.08 acres with a "null" value. These parcels are typically road right-of-way.

Source: Town and County Records


The study area consists of approximately 32 square miles. A little over 5.4 square miles are within Town limits. Figure 4.2 below summarizes the existing land use within the study area.

Within the study area, 6,823 acres are vacant, with 1,001 acres in town, and the remaining 5,822 acres outside of town. Within Town limits, 79% of the existing parcels have some type of improvement; 70% within the County are improved. However, many of the improved parcels are eligible for subdivision, or additional development. The larger parcels of undeveloped land tend to occur in the North End and Marys Lake planning areas.

Current Town zoning consists of three residential districts, two commercial districts, and one industrial district. Current County zoning consists of eighteen districts, with twelve used in the Estes Valley.

Existing Land Use
Number of Parcels
Number of Acres
% of Total Acres
Accommodations 180.00 1,663.40 7.91
Agriculture 47.00 2,103.77 10.01
Commercial 392.00 442.98 2.11
Commercial Undeveloped 107.00 296.84 1.41
Condominium (Multi-Family) 91.00 107.01 0.51
Duplex 7.00 5.31 0.03
Forest 2.00 217.50 1.03
Institutional 139.00 2,030.14 9.66
Multi-Family 94.00 80.88 0.38
Private Open Space 71.00 1,569.45 7.47
Public Open Space 75.00 1,945.50 9.26
Residential Unimproved 1,232.00 3,446.88 16.4
Row 129.00 803.68 3.82
Single Family Residential 3,676.00 6,185.90 29.43
Null 145.00 116.32 0.55
4.00 0.65 0.00

Source: Larimer County Assessors Records


Current Town and County zoning classifications allow for substantial residential and commercial growth. Based upon the public workshops, and revised future land use categories and a proposed Future Land Use map were developed. Utilizing these two tools, a residential growth projection was also made, with the following assumptions:

  1. County Assessor records were used to determine "vacant" parcels.
  2. A typical density was used, based on proposed future land use categories.
  3. 25% of the land area of the vacant parcels was deducted to account for roadways.
  4. Existing improved parcels that are large enough to be subdivided were considered as potential new development lots.
  5. The forecast estimated 2.3 persons per household.
Two different approaches were examined. Both approaches tend to indicate a potential Valley population of 19,000- 20,000 people over time.

It should be noted that Census Tract 28 is not the same geographic area as the Estes Valley Planning Area. The 1990 census count for the census tract was 9,139. Based on a current analysis of each improved residential parcel, it appears that the Valley's 1996 population is approximately 9,861 people. Assuming an existing population of 9,861 within the Valley, and a 2.8% rate of growth as suggested by Dr. Adams, (Chapter Three) future population projections are shown in Figure 4.3 below:


B. Future Land Use Plan


This section describes the proposed Future Land Use patterns and development types for the Valley as a whole. Additional information on the nature and character of each planning area is included in Chapter Six. In order to define the desired future land use for a specific parcel, please refer to the Future Land Use Map and the specific discussion associated with the land use classification for the given parcel. This narrative is intended to provide an overview.


The future land use portion of the plan focuses development so that more compact or urban types of development occur close to the Town core. More compact development patterns are also encouraged in areas which can easily be provided with urban services. In general, the plan focuses commercial development within the downtown core, and transitions to lower density commercial and accommodation uses and ultimately residential uses as one moves away from the center of the community.

Future land use patterns also relate to environmental features within the study area and the geographic features which create the Valley. In general, commercial and accommodation development is discouraged in areas where environmental features pose a constraint for development. The Plan proposes limited development on steep slopes, visually sensitive areas, areas with significant wildfire hazards, wildlife migration routes and habitat, and flood-prone areas allow for only limited development within the plan. Performances standards will be developed for these areas.

The plan also acknowledges a relationship between the community and Rocky Mountain National Park. Accommodations and commercial development outside of the core area are generally located on transportation spines which connect to the park. Undeveloped land close to the park is generally proposed to have lower densities, corresponding to natural features and providing a transition to National Park Service lands.

In summary, the plan proposes more intense development in the core of the community, transitioning to lower density development as one moves out from the center. The plan also recognizes the relationship between the Valley and Rocky Mountain National Park as it relates to access and land use transitions. The future land use plan allows for a direct correlation between the existing land use and the desired future land use patterns on a parcel-by-parcel basis. The future land use map provides information on an individual parcel.

C. Future Land Use Categories

Within the Town of Estes Park and Larimer County there are several locations where the zoning and allowable use and densities are not compatible with the physical or built environment. A new set of land use categories has been proposed as part of this Comprehensive Plan. The Town of Estes Park and Larimer County will use these land use categories as the basis to prepare a unified development code, including uniform zoning, subdivision, and development review.

The proposed future land use categories and their definition follow. These categories do not represent a proposed regulation, but identify concepts. These proposed land use categories and locations have been identified on the Future Land Use Map. In order to implement the future land use map, zoning will need to be modified.

In preparation of the Future Land Use Plan, a "best-fit" land use category was applied for existing developments.

In some cases, an existing lot may be smaller than the proposed land use category. It is the intent that pre-existing, legally created lots, having an area less than required for the category in which it is located, may be utilized for an allowable use. (e.g., a legal lot of record, 0.75 acres in size, proposed to be placed in a 1.00 acre single-family residential category, could be used for one single-family dwelling.


Future land use designations have not been made for two areas that are identified as special study areas. The Fall River special study area is located along Fall River Road and the Giant Track special study area is located on Marys Lake Road. These areas are shown as "Special Study Areas" on the future land use plan and will be subject to additional study and analysis during Phase III prior to receiving a future land use designation. The special focus of this Phase III study will be additional neighborhood input and in depth study of the unresolved land use issues which were the subject of special concern within these areas.


RE-1 - Rural Estate: 10 acre minimum. There may be a provision that would allow for one house on a site, for example, but if 75% of the site were placed under an open space conservation easement, two dwelling units could be built.

RE - Rural Estate: two and one-half (2½) acre minimum.

E-1 - Estate: One (1) acre minimum. This would allow for low density single-family development.

E - Estate.: One-half (½) acre minimum. An intermediate density single-family neighborhood. (1 dwelling unit/net ½ acre)

R: One-fourth (¼) acre minimum. Higher density single-family district which could assist with affordability. (4 d.u./net acre)

R-2 - Two-Family Residential: 27,000 S.F. (minimum). Two-family dwelling.

A residential district providing for duplex construction.

MF - Multi-Family: 3 - 8 dwelling units per net acre. A multi-family district.

PUD-R Residential Planned Unit Development: An overlay district, for which the P.U.D. is reviewed based on demonstrated and approved exceptional site and architectural design.

Note: Net Density: The number of dwelling units (d.u.) per net acre of land (i.e.,. 1 d.u./ net acre).
Net Acre: The area included within a salable portion of land exclusive of public street right-of-way) equal to 43,560 square feet.


CBD - Downtown: A district allowing many uses with the purpose of establishing the downtown as the retail, cultural, and entertainment center of Estes Park. Several use levels may be established by location. Second floor housing may be a requirement for new construction and substantial rehabilitation.

C - Commercial: A district allowing a wide range of uses, modified with a system of performance standards. Residential uses would be allowed, but not as a principal ground floor use. (e.g., residential uses, if proposed, would be required to be on the second floor of a commercial use).

O - Office: A district which could allow transition between residential and commercial areas. Construction to be residential in character.

A - Accommodations: A district specifically designed for the Estes Park accommodations market. This district could also include some accessory uses (e.g. gift shop, restaurant). There would be locational development considerations (e.g. riverfront, neighborhood), and performance standards for site and architecture.

A-1 - Accommodations: A district designed for development of rental cabins, which are residential in character. Density may range from 2 - 4 units per acre. The size of buildings and number of units per building may be limited.

CR - Commercial Recreation: A district designed for uses such as campgrounds, miniature golf, stables, etc.

I-1 - Light Industrial: A district allowing light industrial use, with performance standards

PUD - C Commercial Planned Unit Development: A district that would allow for a mix of use types, including commercial and residential, and having performance standards for site design and architecture.


INS - Institutional: A district for public and semi-public uses.

PR - Parks/Recreation/Open Space: Public use and park areas.


Development in special areas would also be further refined through a system of locational and environmental performance standards and level of service. sA short description of potential "performance standards" follows.

  • Downtown. This overlay may add a standard that requires second floor housing for new development or redevelopment. The downtown may also have a number of different use or character areas with different standards and development criteria within the district.
  • Performance Standards. Standards would be added that address land quality limitations and development suitability. Density would be adjusted by a site's characteristics. Performance standards could be included for steep slope, wildfire, riparian systems/drainage ways, visual quality, wildlife, utility service, access, and vegetation.
  • Highway Corridors. Developments within a certain distance of highway right-of-way would be required to meet exceptional site and architectural design standards. Bulk-plane standards could be added which adjust building height based on setback.
  • Commercial. Performance standards may require that commercial sites be developed as commercial use on the ground floor. Second floor housing would be allowed.
Land Use Classification
Number of Vacant Parcels
Vacant Acres by Classification
Percentage of Total Acres
Accommodations - A 216 1331.88 6.3340
Accommodations: Low Density - A-1 210 642.81 3.0270
Commercial - C 177 170.98 0.8131
Downtown Commercial - C-D 364 218.25 1.0379
Commercial Recreation - CR 10 41.83 0.1989
Estate: ½ acre min. - E 1388 776.14 3.6911
Estate - E-1 1484 1787.86 8.5025
Fall River Study Area - FR_stdy 58 489.46 2.3277
Giant Track Study Area - GT_stdy 36 50.43 0.2398
Restricted Industrial - I-1 52 74.03 0.3521
Public/Semi-public - INS 65 486.24 2.3124
Multi Family: 3-8 du/acre - MF 282 241.44 1.1482
Office - O 8 14.48 0.0689
Parks/Recreation/Open Space - PR 155 4184.25 19.8989
Commercial - PUD-C 1 1.95 0.0093
Residential - PUD-R 359 197.85 0.9409
Residential: 1/4 acre min - R 455 103.95 0.4944
Two Family: 27,000 S.F. min - R-2 94 74.29 0.3533
Rural Estate: 2 1/2 acre min - RE 685 4959.89 23.5876
Rural Estate: 10 acre min. - RE-1 325 4536.61 21.5746
null 133 642.92 3.0575
6557 21027.54 99.9701

Source: Town of Estes Park

Land Use Classification
Number of Vacant Parcels
Vacant Acres by Classification
Percentage of Total Acres
Accommodations - A 31 159.80 1.5514
Accommodations: Low Density - A-1 55 251.50 2.4417
Commercial - C 22 19.64 0.1907
Downtown Commercial - C-D 31 30.09 0.2921
Commercial Recreation - CR 1 1.48 0.0144
Estate: ½ acre min. - E 317 183.44 1.7809
Estate - E-1 337 522.42 5.0719
Fall River Study Area - FR_stdy 18 97.56 0.9472
Giant Track Study Area - GT_stdy 6 9.84 0.0955
Restricted Industrial - I-1 11 9.79 0.0950
Public/Semi-public - INS 4 71.08 0.6901
Multi Family: 3-8 du/acre - MF 61 39.46 0.3831
Parks/Recreation/Open Space - PR 146 4158.78 40.3751
Commercial - PUD-C 1 1.95 0.0189
Residential - PUD-R 103 65.95 0.6403
Residential: 1/4 acre min - R 71 17.08 0.1658
Two Family: 27,000 S.F. min - R-2 10 9.56 0.0928
Rural Estate: 2 1/2 acre min - RE 249 2802.97 27.2124
Rural Estate: 10 acre min. - RE-1 105 1847.96 17.9407
1579 10300.35 100.00

*Note: This does not include 3,517 acres of Parks/Recreation/Open Space

Land Use Classification
Number of Vacant Parcels
Vacant Acres by Classification
Percentage of Total Acres
Accommodations - A 185 1172.08 10.9263
Accommodations: Low Density - A-1 155 391.31 3.6478
Commercial - C 155 151.34 1.4108
Downtown Commercial - C-D 333 188.16 1.7540
Commercial Recreation - CR 9 40.35 0.3761
Estate: ½ acre min. - E 1071 592.70 5.5252
Estate - E-1 1147 1265.44 11.7966
Fall River Study Area - FR_stdy 40 391.90 3.6533
Giant Track Study Area - GT_stdy 30 40.59 0.3784
Restricted Industrial - I-1 41 64.24 0.5989
Public/Semi-public - INS 61 415.16 3.8702
Multi Family: 3-8 du/acre - MF 221 201.98 1.8829
Office - O 8 14.48 0.1350
Parks/Recreation/Open Space - PR 9 25.47 0.2374
Residential - PUD-R 256 131.90 1.2296
Residential: 1/4 acre min - R 384 86.87 0.8098
Two Family: 27,000 S.F. min - R-2 84 64.73 0.6034
Rural Estate: 2 1/2 acre min - RE 436 2156.92 20.1070
Rural Estate: 10 acre min. - RE-1 221 2688.65 25.0639
null 133 642.92 5.9934
4979 10727.19 100.00

Next chapter - Chapter 5 - Mobility and Circulation

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