Cirque Meadows by Adam Johnson

Estes Valley Plan

Planning Area 7 - Downtown

The Downtown Planning Area is generally defined by the Estes Park Urban Renewal Authority district boundaries. Where all the other districts have been defined by a variety of factors, including topography, site-character and other variables, this planning area is defined by the original legal boundary for the urban renewal district.


The topography within downtown is flat to gently sloping, with rock escarpments defining the perimeter. To the north and east of downtown (Stanley Village and the Stanley History District), the terrain is gently sloping from north to south. South from Elkhorn, on Moraine Avenue, the terrain is gently rolling with a large cut slope identifying the western boundary of the area. The western portion of the planning area includes the extension of downtown along the US 34 business loop and the Elkhorn Lodge. The terrain is generally flat in this area, with large escarpments defining the southern boundary of the planning area.

The elevation within the Downtown Planning Area ranges from approximately 7,500 feet at the location where the river drains into Lake Estes, to an elevation of approximately 7,620 feet at the highest point within the Stanley Historic District.

There are distinct character areas within this planning area. The downtown commercial core, centered at the intersection of Elkhorn and Moraine Avenue, provides a highly developed pedestrian environment with small retail stores. The streetscape along Elkhorn contributes to a lively and pedestrian-friendly downtown. The rock cliffs surrounding downtown provide a scale and context for downtown.

There is a stone embankment along the western side of US 36 as it approaches the intersection of US 36 and US 34. The hillside west of the US 34/36 intersection and south of the Big Thompson River is open and undeveloped, and publicly owned.

Over the last several years, the Town of Estes Park has acquired several properties along West and East Riverside Drive which front on the Big Thompson River. The Town has converted much of this area into a riverfront greenbelt. It is anticipated that this will continue in the future.

Another distinct area within Downtown is the Stanley Historic District. The historic significance of the Stanley Hotel and the surrounding buildings creates a setting and image for the entire Valley. The site is generally open, and slopes gently to the south. Views to the south and west are outstanding, with the background formed by the peaks in RMNP. There are outstanding rock formations located within the northwest portion of the Stanley Historic District, which add to the area's character.

There are numerous natural landmarks and rock outcroppings within Downtown. The rock formations adjacent to downtown are significant in their appearance, and help to define the character and boundaries of the downtown commercial core. The rock outcroppings behind the Stanley Hotel are important and give context and a backdrop to the hotel. The

Knoll property is also a landmark as the rock cliffs are a backdrop for the entry into downtown.

Native vegetation is relatively sparse within the planning area. Some stands of pine can be found on hillsides. Natural drainages include willow and other riparian vegetation along the Big Thompson and Fall River. Extensive ornamental and native plantings have been done in conjunction with the downtown improvements, along both Elkhorn Avenue and the Riverwalk.

The Big Thompson and Fall Rivers are the main water courses that flow through the Downtown Planning Area. They join inside the planning area at Riverside Plaza and continue east into Lake Estes. Black Canyon Creek also flows into the planning area, and joins the Big Thompson just downstream from Riverside Plaza. Overall, the river system in downtown is a unifying design element.

Wildlife, especially deer and elk, frequent the planning area. Deer and elk migrate through the Stanley Hotel area on a year-round basis and pass through to Black Canyon Creek and the west.

There are many important viewsheds within the planning area. Views from the downtown to RMNP and Longs Peak have been framed and maintained as part of the downtown design effort. The views from the Stanley property to RMNP and Longs Peak have been carefully considered in master planning for that property as well. Maintaining downtown views of the surrounding rock cliffs is also important.


The downtown planning area is the only planning area totally within the Town boundary. The primary land use within downtown is commercial, including retail shops, offices and restaurants. In the outlying area, there is the Stanley Hotel, Stanley Village Commercial Center, Holiday Inn and Conference Center, and other accommodations uses. Residential, accommodations, and commercial development are planned for outlying parcels within the Stanley Historic District.

Most of the land uses within the planning area are intensive and compatible with one another. Most of the downtown is fully developed. Stanley Village, is designed as a highway-oriented use, and functions well in that regard. Redevelopment of existing buildings within downtown will continue on an incremental basis.

The Stanley Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel, completed in 1909 by F.O. Stanley, is a striking building. Across the country, the facade of the hotel is recognizable, and is linked with the Town of Estes Park. View corridors, facade easements, and other legally binding steps have been taken to preserve the views of the hotel from major roads in town, and to protect the integrity of the hotel. Public ownership of the Knoll property will have a positive impact on the Stanley Hotel and image of the community.

Land Use Classification
Number of Parcels
Acres by Classification
Percentage of Total
Accommodations 5.00 55.56 20.56
Commercial 185.00 53.94 19.96
Commercial Unimproved 30.00 30.98 11.46
Condominium 3.00 1.46 0.54
Institutional 72.00 37.73 13.96
Multi-Family 10.00 4.39 1.62
Public Open Space 5.00 22.92 8.48
Residential Unimproved 22.00 10.30 3.81
Right-of-Way 4.00 41.72 15.44
Single Family Residential 48.00 10.21 3.78
null 7.00 1.05 0.39

All major highways within the study area intersect within the Downtown Planning Area. These highways include US 36, connecting Lyons and the Boulder-Denver area with Estes Park, and which accesses RMNP to the south and west; US 34, connecting Loveland, Fort Collins and Wyoming with Estes Park; and Highway 7, which links Estes Park to Allenspark and the Peak-to-Peak Scenic By-way.

Having these major linkages connect within a small scale, pedestrian-oriented downtown shopping area causes severe traffic congestion during the peak summer season. This is inconvenient for shop owners, pedestrians, people in their cars trying either to enter or leave RMNP, and local merchants and business people trying to access local needs such as the downtown Post Office. There is no other street system within the planning area, as the highways serve multiple purposes in this area.

Parking is also a major concern within downtown. Discussions to alleviate the parking problems range from structured parking to outlying parking and a shuttle system. There have also been discussions with the National Park Service to provide a joint transit system that would serve both the Town of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

A key element of what may someday be a Town-wide trail system is located downtown. A successful Riverwalk has been built to provide direct access along the Fall River and Big Thompson River. The Riverwalk now extends from Picadilly Square, south of the Post Office, into Riverside Plaza and continues along the river to connect to the Estes Park Conference Center at the Holiday Inn. A new extension of the Riverwalk will connect downtown with Lake Estes via the Big Thompson River in the future.


The traffic and parking congestion currently focused in downtown must be resolved in order to maintain a positive image of Estes Park to visitors and residents alike.

Key Issues.

  1. Traffic congestion in downtown and entry corridors is a major problem during the tourist season.
  2. At peak periods, downtown parking is inadequate and adds to traffic congestion.
  3. The quality of development within the Stanley Historic District is regulated by its Master Plan. The Stanley Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as having the designation of a property with national significance. The hotel is a landmark within Estes Valley. Redevelopment of the hotel property should be encouraged. The Stanley Historic District is located within the proposed Downtown District. However, the various parcels within the Stanley Historic District have been designated to reflect the provisions and requirements of the Stanley Historic District Master Plan.
  4. An excellent river walk exists within downtown. There is the potential to extend the Riverwalk to adjacent areas as new development occurs within downtown, to create a system of integrated Valley trails.
  5. There are wetlands along MacGregor Avenue north of the Municipal Building that should be preserved.
  6. There are many steep slopes and rock outcroppings adjacent to downtown. These add visual interest and diversity to downtown and should be preserved with view corridors.
  7. Many redevelopment opportunities exist within downtown, including the mobile home park and south Moraine Avenue.
  8. There are several undeveloped parcels which, when developed, could positively impact the character of the planning area. The Knoll property, directly north of Town Hall, is a key site within the area.
  9. Within the downtown district there is a wide variety of uses. Therefore, as standards for the downtown district are prepared there will necessarily be a variety of development standards, criterion and design guidelines.
Development Guidelines


The guidelines listed below are unique to the Downtown sub-area and are intended to address the various issues, of Downtown which were identified throughout the future land use planning process.

DT 1. All redevelopment shall strengthen the unity of the block as a single entity. Please refer to specific guidelines on color, horizontal elements, building heights, and facade fronts for specific details. The block is seen as an entity.

DT 2. All redevelopment shall preserve the visual quality of the individual facades and careful consideration given to treatment, placement and size of signs.

DT 3. Maintain a variety of building heights. The primary facades should be nor more than two stories high. A 36-foot height could occur only on Moraine Avenue and the north side of Cleave Street if a third floor is used for residential.

DT 4. Maintain the visual emphasis of each block at its corners. Renovations of corner buildings should be more elaborate than renovations of other buildings.

DT 5. Maintain the same high proportion of glass in renovations and new construction. At least 60% of the ground level facing the street shall be transparent window surface. First floors, which have large areas of glass and small areas of opaque materials are clearly separated visually from upper floors.

DT 6. Maintain the clear distinction between first floors and upper floors. Use of horizontal moldings, awnings, or sign boards to emphasize the distinction between floors.

DT 7. Maintain the pattern created by upper story windows and also their vertical horizontal alignment. Window sizes and shapes should not be altered during renovation. New construction should use windows of similar sizes and shapes as adjacent facades so that established patterns are maintained.

DT 8. Facades will be aligned with the sidewalk line. There shall be an 8 foot setback from the street property line for sidewalks.

DT 9. Maintain the traditional pattern of recessed entrances.

DT 10. Maintain the pattern of primary building entrances facing the street.

DT 11. Build out to side lot lines to maintain the sense of a "wall" along the street.

DT 12. Maintain the similarity in building widths. The minimum street frontage and river frontage width of retail shops shall be 25 feet.

DT 13. Building components should be similar in size and shape to those already in use along Elkhorn Avenue. The 100 block of East Elkhorn shall serve as the building design standard.

DT 14. Variety in building materials is acceptable as long as other design criteria are met; however, it is desirable to maintain the present distribution of building materials along the block. All construction, redevelopment and building facade changes shall be reviewed by the Town of Estes Park Planning Staff for color and material consistency.

DT 15. Keep signs subordinate to buildings. Signs should fit with the existing features of the facade. Backlighted plastic signs are not allowed. Symbolic logos are encouraged.

DT 16. Subordinate color schemes to be the composition of building elements. The colors chosen for one building should bear some relationship to other colors used along the block. The use of contrasting colors to accentuate architectural details is desirable.

DT 17. Materials used for renovations or additions should be finished in ways that are consistent with the original building.

DT 18. All roof mechanical equipment shall be screened.

DT 19. All businesses closed during off-season months shall leave window displays in place or allow displays by community groups.

DT 20. All development/redevelopment adjacent to Fall River or the Big Thompson River shall provide access and orientation to the rivers.

DT 21. Franchise architecture is not allowed.


The downtown area is intended to develop as the dominant commercial core, consisting of a variety of character districts. Within this area, a maximum development height of two stories and 25-foot storefront widths should be encouraged.

Second floor housing is appropriate throughout the area. Ground floor housing should be located off of Elkhorn or Moraine and integrated into commercial and accommodation development.

This area is also proposed as the center for arts and cultural activities. Many of these uses will be located immediately in the core of the community, while others may create transitions away from Elkhorn or Moraine toward other uses.

Significant community landmarks and historic structures which should be preserved are located downtown. While commercial development exists throughout the area, large scale retail (or "big box") type development is encouraged to locate at Stanley Village.

The Downtown Planning area is intended to develop as an exciting, mixed-use, urban core with open space along the rivers, and structures such as the Stanley Hotel providing an intimate, pedestrian scale.

Development in the Stanley Historic District will continue to be regulated by the Stanley Historic District Master Plan and Development Agreements.

Next chapter - Chapter 7 - Action Plan

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