County Offices, Courts and Landfill will be closed on Monday, July 4 for the Independence Day Holiday. Critical services at Larimer County are not disrupted by closures.
2.1 Existing Land Use and Development Trends
The heart of the new Master Plan for the Partnership Land Use System (PLUS) is a growth management process designed to ensure that the County operates within its resources, protects the environment and enhances the lives of its residents. For this system to be successful, it will require close cooperation with the cities, towns, special districts and State and Federal agencies that are involved in land use and environmental protection within the County. This chapter provides an overview of the system and the roles and responsibilities that the County and others will assume for implementing it.
The growth management process established in this Plan will shape urban and rural development patterns in the unincorporated areas of the County and guide what happens in the foothills, mountains and agricultural areas, as well as in the community separator areas. More specifically, the growth management strategy in this Plan is intended to reflect six factors that will guide decision-making:
|Table 2.1 Existing Predominant Land Use - Front Range Study Area|
|Commercial and Industrial||4,663||1.4%|
|Home Owners Association||583|
|Cities and Towns||45,408||45,408||14.1%|
|Incomplete Data, Lakes, or Road ROW||25,372||25,372||7.9%|
|Source: Larimer County Planning Division, March 1996.|
Table 2.1 describes the existing land uses in the Front Range Study Area. The recently approved residential projects show a trend toward relatively large lots. In the urban growth areas (UGA's) residential densities are averaging about one unit per acre. This is a significantly lower density than the commonly accepted urban density of two to six units per acre. Lots outside the UGA but within the Front Range Study Area are averaging about 3.3 acres.
The average lot size for minor residential developments (MRDs) is significantly higher, almost 15 acres per lot. While these minor residential developments make up 10 percent of the new acreage, they create only three percent of the new lots. Outside the Front Range Study Area lots tend to be much larger on average because many parcels are being divided into 35 acre lots.
This trend toward large lots will have two effects. It will lead to scattered development, which increases the cost of services, and it will require that more agricultural land be taken out of production to accommodate residential development.
The Larimer County growth management approach builds on, and refines, the themes that have been identified to guide the County in its planning and implementation efforts. This approach has four key dimensions:
Consistency: The implementation documents, particularly the Land Use Code that will include zoning and subdivision regulations, performance standards and incentive programs, will be consistent with Master Plan principles and policies.
Concurrency: Adequate public facilities and services are provided concurrent with new development and they must either be in place, or adequate funding mechanisms established, prior to completion of any project, so new residents are not left without required facilities and services. Level of service standards will be established for urban areas and rural areas consistent with the County's capital improvement program and fees collected to offset the costs of growth.
Cooperation: An intergovernmental growth management approach is more effective than having individual jurisdictions act independently on growth management policies. The County will continue to work with cities and towns to plan for future urban areas adjacent to communities and help the municipalities implement community separators. The County will also continue to coordinate with the State and Federal land management agencies that have planning and management responsibilities in the County.
Compatibility: New development needs to be compatible with existing uses and with the environment. The idea is to be a good neighbor and a good steward of the land. Compatibility will be enhanced through neighborhood meetings, buffering requirements, performance standards and environmental review.
These four key dimensions are addressed throughout the Master Plan and
in the Land Use Code.
The growth management system includes strong commitments to environmental resource protection and provision of adequate public facilities. The system uses level of service standards and performance standards to protect resources, while at the same time offering creative options for site planning. The performance-oriented approach allows more flexibility than traditional zoning and it will allow development to reflect the rural character of disparate parts of the county.
This growth management system affects the timing, location and quality of new development with the overall objective of enhancing livability within the County for existing and future residents. Because this will be a major new step, it will be important to monitor progress of Plan implementation and the effects of these measures on existing resources. The County will identify those resources and indicators to be used to monitor the impacts of new development and identify where potential problems may be occurring so remedial measures or mitigation can be put in place to avoid adverse effects.
One of the major growth management challenges in Larimer County is to ensure that development does not cause a deterioration in the level of service provided to existing residents. The County's growth management system does not include any attempt to control the rate of growth through building permit caps, limits on lots created or similar mechanisms. Instead, it relies on a combination of regulatory and financial mechanisms - adequate public facility regulations, capital expansion fees and capital improvements planning - to ensure that facilities are in place to serve new development as it occurs.
The County's growth management approach emphasizes a regional, multi-jurisdictional approach to ensuring adequate public facilities. A regional approach is necessary because the systems of facilities and services required to serve new development cross jurisdictional boundaries. On the one hand, many of the public facilities that serve development in unincorporated areas, including water, wastewater and fire protection, are provided by municipalities or special districts. On the other hand, many of the facilities and services provided by the County, including detention facilities, open space and County roads that function as regional transportation corridors, benefit residents of both incorporated and unincorporated areas.
Recognizing the need for multi-jurisdictional solutions, the County's growth management system includes adequate public facility standards that are coordinated with municipal and special district service providers and regional capital expansion fees that may be assessed on new development in both cities and unincorporated areas, where appropriate. Implementing such a regional approach will require close cooperation between the County, municipalities and special districts.
Adequate Public Facility (APF) regulations are most defensible in the context of a long-range plan for providing major public facilities. They are not designed to be a means of preventing growth or of requiring developers to construct major system facilities having community-wide benefit. In the event that a developer offers to construct or contribute a portion of the cost of such a facility in order to have it in place earlier than would be possible with existing funding sources, reimbursement agreements, pro rata agreements or other mechanisms will be encouraged to ensure that the developer is not forced to contribute a disproportionate share of the cost.
The County's approach to ensuring adequate public facilities is based on quantifiable standards that can be measured, mapped and monitored. In many cases, these standards are different for urban and rural areas, in recognition of the different levels of service that are appropriate in very different environments. For example, the traffic threshold triggering the need for dust mitigation or paving of gravel roads is more stringent in urban areas due to the higher population densities that characterize urban areas.
In some cases, it is appropriate to establish different standards within urban or rural areas. For example, water storage requirements for fire fighting purposes are higher in wildfire hazard areas. Similarly, different standards may be appropriate when the affected facility is an existing facility that is more difficult to upgrade (e.g., an existing road with narrow right-of-way) than a brand new facility.
In order to implement its principle of growth paying its own way, the County will continue to use the capital expansion fees which are specifically authorized, proceed cautiously on an expanded capital expansion fee program and work with other jurisdictions to clarify the role of capital expansion fees in growth management systems, through the legislative and judicial processes.
Capital expansion fees must be clearly tied to the impacts of development on public facilities, and must be used to provide or improve facilities that benefit the development in question. In order to meet these legal requirements, the County must perform a careful analysis of existing conditions and the public facility needs which are attributable to new development. The County will begin with a study of the County road system, to determine the feasibility of using capital expansion fees to finance improvements made necessary by growth and development. The County will also review other fees, dedications and fees-in-lieu to ensure that the methodologies for calculating land and fee requirements are consistent with current case law and are fair.
Wherever possible, the County will seek to establish partnerships with other entities providing similar public services, i.e. transportation, to share capital expansion fee revenues and coordinate improvement projects.
While capital expansion fees can be used to finance some growth-related improvements, the County also has a number of existing capital needs, such as obsolete bridges, that cannot be attributed to future growth. Consequently, the County's capital needs will be addressed through a long-range capital improvements plan that is funded with a variety of revenue sources in addition to fees. This two-pronged financing approach will result in an equitable sharing of the capital costs attributable to growth and pre-existing capital deficiencies.
In the mid-1970's Larimer County joined with the Cities of Loveland and Fort Collins to establish future urban service areas in a coordinated manner. This effort ultimately resulted in the adoption of Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) between the jurisdictions and designation of Urban Growth Area (UGA) overlay zoning districts around the two cities. These Agreements and UGA boundaries have been amended several times but the basic purpose and structure have remained the same.
In 1994-95, Larimer and Weld Counties, and many of the municipalities within these Counties, with assistance from the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs, funded a regional planning study. This study made numerous recommendations pertaining to the desired form and pattern of the region and identified opportunities for coordination and collaboration on land use issues. One set of recommendations suggested the criteria upon which urban growth boundaries should be based and another suggested that there be some degree of consistency among the various Intergovernmental Agreements in the region. In later meetings held to work on implementation of the above recommendations, it was thought that additional geographical boundaries should be considered for the purpose of long-term planning and coordination among jurisdictions. Also, it was noted that at least one municipality did not care for the use of the word "growth" in the term "urban growth boundaries."
Accordingly, the Master Plan uses the term "Growth Management Area"(GMA) to refer to what current IGAs with the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland refer to as Urban Growth Areas. In addition, the Master Plan calls for the establishment of two additional geographical boundaries that could be established beyond a municipality's growth management area: the "Cooperative Planning Area" (CPA) and the "Community Influence Area" (CIA).
Map 2.1 (not included in the Web version of this document) shows existing adopted Intergovernmental Agreement areas. The map is intended to be dynamic and flexible and inform users of the Plan of the current status of City/ County IGAs. The three principal terms - GMA, CPA and CIA - are intended to provide a consistent framework for this Plan and future City/ County IGAs. These terms are defined below.
Growth Management Area (GMA) boundaries should be based on a plan for providing urban-level services to the area within a 20-year time frame. The area does not necessarily need to be served exclusively by the municipality for all services, but the designated area should be serviceable by an existing urban service provider. For example, the GMA may include areas currently served by a water or sanitation district, with which the municipality has established a service area agreement. The municipality should, however, intend to annex the Growth Management Area within the 20-year time frame, and to provide the GMA with a full range of urban services in the future.
Within Growth Management Areas, the County would agree to approve only urban-level development according to the city's adopted plan, and the cities would agree to annex all properties when they become eligible. Policies and regulations in the Intergovernmental Agreements should specify required facilities, design standards and phasing criteria for new development. The County would agree that urban development will not be approved outside the GMAs except in specifically named areas and according to the adopted County Plan.
The intent of the County is to reinforce Growth Management Areas as the only location of future urban-level development in the County (except for the unincorporated community of LaPorte). The County will work with each of the cities and towns in Larimer County to reach mutually-beneficial Intergovernmental Agreements which address the principles of the Master Plan and the growth management concerns of each jurisdiction.
The various municipalities in Larimer County have differing definitions
of "urban development" and "urban services." To provide a policy basis
for working with municipalities to define and establish GMA boundaries,
the County will define these terms to mean an average density of at least
2 housing units per acre and existing or planned availability of public
water and public sewer.
The County will also work with jurisdictions on approaches for areas which are not planned for urban development and/or urban services within the city plan's time frame (i.e., 20 years) but where development may have an impact on present and future city growth patterns. These areas are termed Cooperative Planning Areas (CPAs). The CPA is a cooperative strategic planning area for the residents and landowners, the municipality , and the County. It may include areas that could eventually be annexed and provided urban services based on topography or other service provision factors. It may also include areas that because of existing development patterns, service-delivery constraints or other factors, are not planned for urban development or services (as defined above).
Municipalities that could someday "grow together" could jointly identify their respective cooperative planning areas so they do not overlap, and therefore avoid having future disputed annexation areas. This arrangement could be used to avoid future "annexation wars," and to plan for community buffers or separators.
Community Influence Areas (CIAs) will also be addressed in Intergovernmental Agreements. Development applications within these areas will be referred to the adjacent jurisdiction(s) for close coordination during the development review process. Community Influence Areas may overlap those of other municipalities.
The schematic above illustrates the conceptual relationship of Growth Management Areas, Cooperative Planning Areas and Community Influence Areas.
The second phase of the Estes Valley Planning Project includes appointment of a Joint Town-County Planning Commission and development of a single zoning and land use code for the Plan area, which will apply both inside and outside Town limits. This approach is unique to the Estes Valley and required special State legislation to authorize the Joint Planning Commission. The Estes Valley Comprehensive Plan is referred to in the County Master Plan for information and clarity, but it is a "stand-alone" document which will be implemented through a separate set of land use regulations and procedures.
Early in the PLUS process, the County Commissioners and Planning Commission members decided that an incentive and performance-based approach to land use development was preferable to a traditional rezoning approach. Besides being more acceptable to many landowners, the performance-based approach allows more flexibility in addressing the disparate parts of the County. Three new growth management tools addressing resource protection through incentives and performance standards are proposed to be included in the Land Use Code:
Left is a subdivision typical in Larimer County. Right is a clustered plan with the same number of lots and preserved open space.
TDR programs have been used in several areas of the country, and in Colorado, as an incentive-based method of protecting important resource areas and other lands that public policy would like to remain undeveloped. For several years, Larimer County has been exploring the possibility of using this type of approach, but the details of an appropriate program have not yet been developed.
The Plan for the Region between Fort Collins and Loveland (see
Section 3.3) recommends TDRs as a possible
implementation tool for that area to protect important resources between
the two cities.
A transfer of development rights program has the potential to assist in the protection of critical resource areas using a tool that appears to be attractive to many landowners. Implementation of a TDR program will probably require close coordination with one or more of the municipalities in the County to enable the areas of increased density to be located where appropriate services are available. Many details of this approach remain to be worked out and the County will continue to pursue its options.
The Board of County Commissioners appointed an Agricultural Task Force in 1996 to propose principles and strategies to protect the future of agriculture in Larimer County. The Task Force returned a report to the Commissioners in January 1997, which includes a wide range of principles and strategies, some of which extend beyond the purpose of a County Master Plan. The concepts which relate most closely to the physical development of the County have been incorporated here and in the following chapter (see Section 3.2).
The major growth management strategy proposed which pertains to agriculture
is the creation of a voluntary Agricultural District. An agricultural district
is envisioned as working with a package of incentives (for example, tax
incentives, priority lands for transferring or purchasing development rights,
limited development options, etc.) to producers who volunteer to participate.
In turn, for example, producers might agree to withhold their land from
development for a specified period of time and to offer first right of
refusal to area land and water banks should they later decide to develop.
Four other programs are recommended by the Task Force which will require additional work to more fully develop and implement. These programs are included in the Action Plan (Section 7.3). These future programs include:
The OEDP Committee continued to meet and recommend economic development strategies to the County Commissioners and other government entities until early in 1996. At that time, the Committee completed drafting an Economic Development Policy for Larimer County, which was adopted by the County Commissioners. In mid-1996, the County Commissioners appointed an Economic Development Advisory Board, including some former OEDP Committee members. The charge of the Economic Development Advisory Board is to advise the Commissioners regarding economic development issues and assist the County Commissioners in developing an economic development plan for Larimer County.
The Larimer County Department of Community Services has been active in housing programs for many years. Programs have included a very successful Weatherization Program which provides home improvements to promote energy efficiency to low income households. The Department coordinates a Housing Rehabilitation program and Housing Vouchers and Certificates, which qualified renters can use to buy-down housing costs. The Department also developed the Affordable Housing Information System (AHIS), which examines and reports on current and projected housing demand, housing stock, and development patterns. A report, Affordable Housing Demand in Larimer County 1996 - 2000, which was derived from the information system, is available from the Department of Community Services.
The County is a participant in the Larimer County Affordable Housing Task Force, a consortium of public, not-for-profit and private agencies and individuals whose mission is to educate and encourage development of affordable housing throughout the County. Larimer County is also a member of Funding Partners, which seeks to provide funding sources for affordable housing. The primary role of the County is to support municipal and private efforts to create affordable housing.
Beyond the policies and programs which provide or encourage affordable housing as defined above, there is great concern with the impact of planning policies and regulations on the cost, or affordability, of housing in general. Rapid and sustained growth has pushed housing costs to new highs throughout the region. The drafters of the PLUS Master Plan believe that its principles and strategies are generally neutral on the issue of housing affordability. The primary reason for this belief is that residential densities will not change under this Plan; that is, downzoning to larger residential lot sizes will not be required. In some cases, however, requirements for Adequate Public Facilities will increase development costs which will be passed on to new home buyers. This strategy is viewed as preferable to the alternatives of having taxpayers subsidize public facilities made necessary by new development, or allowing service levels to deteriorate.
The dual issues of affordable housing and housing affordability will remain priorities. The Action Plan (Section 7.3.1) recommends an on-going work program to develop strategies for affordable housing, including possible provisions in the Land Use Code and Building Code to eliminate barriers to private sector affordable housing.
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 AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
GM-1 Larimer County shall plan for long-term growth and physical expansion based on environmental, land use, community design and infrastructure considerations.
GM-1-s1 The Land Use Code shall be designed to implement the principles of the Master Plan and shall include provisions for environmental review and protection, consideration of compatibility issues and site design, and adequate public facilities.
GM-2 Service demands of new development shall not exceed the capacities of existing roads and streets, utilities or public services.
GM-2-s1 The Land Use Code shall define level of service standards and require that all new development meet or exceed the adopted standards. Level of service standards shall be geared to the needs of urban areas and rural areas and the County's financial resources.
GM-3 Larimer County will use transfer of development rights as a tool to protect important County resources, where appropriate.
GM-3-s1 Larimer County shall continue to develop a transfer of development rights program in cooperation with the municipalities of the County.
GM-3-s2 The transfer of development rights program shall include a means to identify or define areas where transfer of development rights will be used to protect important resources, called "sending areas."
GM-3-s3 "Receiving areas" shall be consistent with growth management and land use principles of the Master Plan and shall have adequate public services and facilities.
GM-4 Larimer County shall continue to allow for urban development within cities and designated urban areas.
GM-4-s1 Urban development areas will be designated only where public water and sewer are available or planned, and where projected densities are at least 2 units per acre.
GM-4-s2 Intergovernmental Agreements shall clearly define an annexation policy that is consistent with city and County growth management principles. In development not eligible for immediate annexation, the County will require applicants to meet city criteria, standards and fee structures adopted by the County, so that the areas may eventually be annexed as they become eligible without extensive capital improvements or costs. The County also will encourage annexation of land that is to be developed with urban uses or at urban densities so provision of urban level services by Larimer County is minimized. Binding annexation agreements also will continue to be required.
GM-5 Larimer County, in cooperation with municipalities and after consultation with residents, landowners and other affected interests, shall establish Cooperative Planning Areas (CPAs) and Community Influence Areas (CIAs) adjacent to Growth Management Areas (GMAs), where appropriate, to provide for protection of future City or Town interests.
GM-5-s1 Strategies for growth management in Cooperative Planning Areas will be detailed in planning studies and included in Intergovernmental Agreements.
GM-5-s2 Larimer County shall send referrals to all municipalities within their respective Community Influence Area.
GM-6 Larimer County shall cooperate with municipalities to maintain distinct and separate urban areas.
GM-6-s1 Responsibility for defining and providing buffers between communities shall be shared between the adjacent municipalities and the County and shall be defined in Intergovernmental Agreements.
GM-6-s2 Cities and the County may jointly pursue acquisition strategies including transfer of development rights programs to implement protection of community buffers.
GM-7 To protect rural character, the County shall maintain current zoning and provide new standards and performance requirements for Adequate Public Facilities, Rural Conservation (cluster) Development, neighborhood compatibility, protection of environmental resources and restrictions in hazardous areas.
GM-7-s1 Existing zoning uses and minimum lot sizes will be the basis for new development in rural areas. Purpose statements will be established for all zoning districts to clarify how they will be applied. Additional site development standards, buffering requirements and performance standards also will be incorporated into the Land Use Code to implement this principle.
GM-7-s2 New rural development will be clustered, using new requirements for Rural Conservation Development. The character of rural development will vary, based on the natural characteristics of the site, distance from public facilities and accessibility. (See the cluster development description in section 3.2).
GM-7-s3 The Rural Land Use Process will be encouraged in rural areas as an alternative to 35 acre rural development.
GM-8 Agriculture shall be recognized as an important economic, cultural and environmental resource value-provider for the County.
GM-8-s1 The Land Use Code may provide a mechanism for creating a voluntary agricultural district. An agricultural district is envisioned as working with a package of incentives (for example, tax incentives, priority lands for transferring or purchasing development rights, limited development options, etc.) to producers who volunteer to participate. In turn, for example, producers might agree to withhold their land from development for a specified period of time and to offer first right of refusal to area land and water banks should they later decide to develop.
GM-9 Permanent and on-going communication between agriculture and the County is essential.
GM-9-s1 The County shall establish a permanent Agricultural Advisory Board made up primarily of full-time farmers to keep it informed on agricultural issues and to assist in keeping agriculture important and viable in Larimer County.
GM-10 The protection of agricultural land and water in Larimer County shall be based on a combination of incentives, voluntary participation and measures to strengthen the viability of agriculture.
GM-10-s1 The Agricultural Advisory Board shall develop implementation strategies to protect agricultural land and water in Larimer County.
GM-11 To retain agriculture and the resulting open space, environmental quality, wildlife habitat, etc., afforded by it, it is necessary to adopt programs that will help agriculture be economically viable and reasonably competitive with other potential uses of agricultural land.
GM-11-s1 Larimer County shall continue to study and implement programs which assist the business of agriculture. Agricultural Enterprise Zones and creation of a regional land and water bank shall be considered and a Right-to-Farm Resolution shall be adopted.
GM-11-s2 Regulation of farm improvement projects and routine agricultural operations shall be required only to the extent to protect health, safety and welfare.
GM-12 Respect for private property is essential to the maintenance of agriculture.
GM-12-s1 Agricultural landowners must be able to exclude public access in order to protect crops, livestock and conservation practices and to limit liability, littering, pollution, disruption of agricultural activities and other problems.
GM-13 Larimer County supports the development of a local economy which is increasingly self-reliant and that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.
GM-13-s1 County-sponsored economic development activities shall be supportive of existing businesses and retain existing employment, as well as fostering new employment opportunities which create a positive impact on the County.
GM-14 The role of Larimer County government in economic development is to support and facilitate other public and private economic development efforts which are consistent with the adopted Economic Development Policy for the County.
GM-14-s1 The Economic Development Advisory Board shall continue to coordinate with other economic development agencies in the region and provide recommendations to the County regarding requests for County support of economic development activities and projects.
GM-14-s2 Larimer County shall consider incentives and/or otherwise support economic development projects and programs which are consistent with growth management, land use and other principles and strategies of the Master Plan.
GM-15 Larimer County government shall encourage the development of affordable housing as needed through support and incentives to other public, nonprofit and private sector developers, rather than developing, owning and operating housing units.
GM-15-s1 Larimer County will continue to work with affordable housing advocates to propose modifications to the Land Use Code and Building Code that will encourage development of affordable housing without compromising principles of the Master Plan or building safety.
GM-15-s2 The County shall adopt a uniform definition of "affordable housing" to provide clarity and uniformity when considering issues and requests related to affordable housing.
GM-16 Affordable housing in Larimer County shall include efforts to provide an appropriate mix of housing types and opportunities to meet the needs of all persons in need of housing.
GM-17 As much as possible, new affordable housing development shall be located close to relevant services.
GM-17-s1 Development of affordable housing is seen as a regional issue and the County will partner with other government entities to address the problem.