6.0 GROWTH AND LAND USE
- Over most of this
century, and especially since 1970, growth in El Paso County
has been subject to cyclical fluctuations. However, the overall
growth trend has been decidedly upward. In the past 25 years,
the County's population has approximately doubled to a 1996 estimated
total of 465,000. Land development, in response to this growth,
has been generally concentrated in a linear north-south direction
east of the Front Range along Interstate 25, with the majority
of the housing, and the employment growth, occurring within the
limits of the City of Colorado Springs.
- Rapid growth in
the unincorporated County continues to play an important role
in land development. In 1995, it was estimated that about 117,000
persons resided in unincorporated areas. Table 6.1 below describes
the distribution of these residents by general land use category.
Except for military installations, these land use categories
are defined for the purpose of this Plan according to a combination
of density and service levels.
OF UNINCORPORATED COUNTY RESIDENTS
- BY LAND USE
- Source: El Paso
County Planning Division 1995 mid-year estimates using the
State Demographer's unincorporated estimate as a control total.
- Overall, the land
development pattern in the unincorporated County is dominated
by residential uses. Although about 25% of the County's population
resides in unincorporated areas, these areas account for only
about 5% of the County's total sales tax base. As would be expected,
on average, residential densities in the unincorporated County
are distinctly lower than in municipalities. The net result is
that the roughly 90,000 combined urban and rural-residential
residents of the County account for more land absorption than
all of the roughly 350,000 municipal residents. Altogether, about
80,000 acres in the unincorporated County have been platted into
subdivisions. This equates to about 10% of the privately-held
property in the County.
- The largest concentration
of urban density uses is the Security/Widefield/Stratmoor areas,
followed by Cimarron Hills with the Woodmoor/Gleneagle area third.
These developments got their start between the mid-1950's and
the early 1970's. A few smaller urban
density developments, namely Colorado Centre and Falcon Hills
(Paint Brush Hills), were not initiated until the mid to late-1980s.
Since the late 1980's, no new and geographically separate urban
density projects have been developed. However, plans are on the
books for several other as-yet-undeveloped urban density projects
located primarily in the eastern County.
is largely unique to unincorporated areas and is a predominant
land use in the north-central part of the County. The development
of lots in this 2.5 to 5.0 acre category began in earnest around
1960, peaked in the 1970s and 1980s and continues at a somewhat
reduced rate today. This rural residential land use pattern appears
to be influenced primarily by the availability of groundwater,
and secondarily by the presence of trees and/or distinctive views.
- Despite significant
absorption of land through urbanized growth and rural-residential
subdivision, the majority of the unincorporated land in the County
remains in the "rural" category, and is used primarily
for grazing. A very significant recent trend in more rural areas
is the division of land into 35 acre tracts. Additionally, there
are a few areas of the County with patterns of use which do not
lend themselves well to the general categories described above.
Among these are historic railroad town sites including Falcon
and Peyton in the eastern County, and "vacation cabin site"
developments such as Cascade and Chipita Park in the Ute Pass
area or Brentwood in Black Forest. These areas include parcels
and roadways which do not meet current County standards.
- Residents of unincorporated
military installations are limited
almost exclusively to base housing and dormitories on Fort Carson
and the Air Force Academy.
- ISSUE 6.1 Effectively Manage
Growth and Land Use Change
- To be effective,
the land use management system in unincorporated El Paso County
must address rapid growth cycles. Additionally, as the population
and employment base of the County gets larger, even the more
moderate projected future growth will have a profound effect
on developing edges.
- As is also noted
in Subsection 6.6, rate of development in the unincorporated
areas is heavily influenced by the fact that approximately 40%
of the combined land within the municipalities of Colorado Springs,
Fountain and Monument is vacant and developable. This situation
often results in a situations where growth occurring in municipalities
is separated, sometimes by several miles, from growth occurring
in association with unincorporated developments.
- Both at municipal
boundaries and within unincorporated areas, there tends to be
an abrupt density change between urban and rural residential
uses where a more gradual transition would be desirable. This
is due to a combination of economic and regulatory conditions.
Key factors that influence development patterns in the County
include a 2.5 acre minimum lot size for individual well and septic
systems, and the fact that providing central water and sewer
service is difficult for lots in the half acre to 2.4 acre range.
- Zoning, when thoughtfully
applied, is one method used to reduce the potential conflicts
which occur as the more densely developed annexed municipal properties
eventually merge with less dense development, characteristic
of the unincorporated County.
- Another major land
use issue involves the challenge of balancing the community's
desire for some certainty in knowing what future land use plans
will be with the desire of property owners and developers to
maximize their options to respond to the market or otherwise
have the opportunity to use their land as they desire.
- It is recognized
that efficiencies often result from allowing property owners
maximum flexibility in options for developing their land in response
to the market. However, in the event these plans are not fully
coordinated or are not entirely successful, this approach can
result in additional public and private costs.
- Issues concerning
the availability, adequacy and cost of facilities and services
are essential to any discussion of growth and land use. As noted
in Sections 7.0 through 9.0, new development ordinarily translates
into an immediate need for facilities and services. However,
taxes and other revenues from these new residences and businesses
are often only realized over time, and there may be a delay before
initial collections occur. Therefore, "concurrency"
in the provision of facilities and services, can be a serious
challenge in higher growth areas.
- Goal 6.1 a Encourage
patterns of growth and development which complement the regions'
unique natural environments and which reinforce community character.
- Goal 6.1.b Support
growth and development in the unincorporated County in a manner
which reasonably limits long term public costs, provides for
the development of supporting infrastructure,
preserves environmental quality, provides economic opportunities,
and otherwise enhance the quality of life.
- Policy 6.1.1
- Allow for a balance of
mutually supporting interdependent land uses, including employment,
housing and services in the more urban and urbanizing areas of
- Policy 6.1.2
- Discourage the location
of small discontiguous land development projects where these
might not develop the critical
land area and density necessary to be effectively provided
with services or remain viable in the face of competing land
- Policy 6.1.3
- Encourage new development
which is contiguous and compatible with previously developed
areas in terms of factors such as density, land use and access.
- Policy 6.1.4
- Encourage the logical
timing and phasing of development to allow for the efficient
and economical provision of facilities and services.
- Policy 6.1.5
- Support the development
of well-planned mixed use
projects which promote all, or most, of the following objectives:
- maximize the economy and
efficiency of land use
- preserve open space or
- integrate employment,
housing, shopping, schools and other use
- accommodate multi-modal
- allow for variations in
design and character
- Policy 6.1.6
- Direct development toward
areas where the necessary urban-level supporting facilities and
services are available or will be developed concurrently.
- Policy 6.1.7
- Encourage infill
development which complements existing uses, is consistent
with Small Area and other adopted plans.
- Policy 6.1.8
- Encourage incorporating
buffers or transitions between areas of varying use or density
- Policy 6.1.9
- Viable residential properties
should be reasonably protected from the adverse impacts of major
roadways and other potentially incompatible land uses.
- Policy 6.1.10
- Ensure that new development
will not create a disproportionately high demand on public services
and facilities by virtue of its location, design or timing.
- Policy 6.1.11
- Plan and implement land
development so that it will be functionally and aesthetically
integrated within the context of adjoining properties and uses.
- Policy 6.1.12
- Encourage advance public
and private land use planning in order to maximize public awareness
of anticipated future land use conditions.
- Policy 6.1.13
- Encourage the use of carefully
planned and implemented clustering concepts in order to promote
efficient land use, conservation of open space and reduction
of infrastructure costs.
- Policy 6.1.14
- Support development which
complements the unique environmental conditions and established
land use character of each sub-area of the County.
- Policy 6.1.15
- Recognize the need for
new development and redevelopment to respond to changes in demographic,
market and technological conditions.
- Policy 6.1.16
- Allow for new and innovative
concepts in land use design and planning if it can be demonstrated
that off-site impacts will not be increased and the health, safety
and welfare of property owners and residents will be protected.
- ISSUE 6.2 Protect
and Enhance Neighborhoods
- Within the boundaries
of Small Area Plans, there is often a diversity of unique existing
and developed neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are recognized to
be important components of land use and political representation;
however, there are two factors which make it difficult to implement
land use policy on the basis of neighborhood units. First boundaries
may not be well defined, and second, local representation may
not be organized.
- Additionally, some factors
traditionally associated with the perception of neighborhoods
often are not present to the same extent in lower-density areas
of the unincorporated County. Larger residential lots located
in the outlying areas contribute to greater distances between
homes, employment, shopping, schools, recreation and other services.
Commuting greater distances between homes and services require
a vehicle for transport and additional time to travel between
destinations which may translate into less time for neighborhood
- Goal 6.2
- Protect and Enhance
Existing and Developing Neighborhoods.
- Policy 6.2.1
- Fully consider the potential
impact of proposed zone changes and development on the integrity
of existing neighborhoods.
- Policy 6.2.2
- Promote the unique identity
of neighborhoods through the use of focal points, parks, trails
and open spaces, preservation of significant natural features,
compatible location and design of mixed
uses, and promotion of pedestrian and other non-motorized
means of travel.
- Policy 6.2.3
- Encourage land use planning
and design approaches which create or reinforce the neighborhood
- Policy 6.2.4
- Encourage use of innovative
techniques to mitigate negative impacts of proposed land uses
that differ from zoning in established neighborhoods.
- Policy 6.2.5
- Encourage the development
of unique and diverse neighborhoods within unincorporated areas.
- Policy 6.2.6
- Recognize the need to
flexibly apply the neighborhood concept to areas of the County
which have diverse environmental characteristics and varying
- Policy 6.2.7
- Utilize the PUD
(Planned Unit Development) zone district approach to allow
for the accommodation of neighborhood-oriented design features.
- Policy 6.2.8
- Clearly defined boundaries
should be established for large institutional, industrial, and
commercial areas and used in order to protect the integrity of
established and developing neighborhoods.
- Policy 6.2.9
- Discourage high volume
traffic through neighborhoods by use of innovative techniques
including traffic calming.
- Policy 6.2.10
- Utilize buffer zones to
provide mutually compatible transitions between neighborhoods
and adjoining development with differing uses or densities.
- Policy 6.2.11
- Encourage compatible
physical character, density and scale in existing neighborhoods.
- Policy 6.2.12
- Ensure that proposed zone
changes and/or use variances in established neighborhoods are
of compatible scale and physical character.
- Policy 6.2.13
- Encourage neighborhood
identification, organization, involvement, and input as important
elements in the land use review process.
- Policy 6.2.14
- Encourage the reasonable
accommodation of mixed uses
within neighborhoods for the purposes of promoting land use efficiency
and providing housing options.
- Policy 6.2.15
- Where feasible, support
the stabilization of viable neighborhoods and the revitalization
of those which are in decline.
- ISSUE 6.3 Accommodate
Sustainable Urban Density Development
- Some Front Range counties
such as Boulder and Adams, actively discourage most additional
urban density development
from locating in unincorporated areas on the basis that these
uses can be best served if located within municipalities with
full urban services such as central water/sewer, police protection
and full-time fire protection. Others, including Jefferson and
Douglas, continue to recognize and allow higher density development
in all designated non-municipal areas. El Paso County has traditionally
allowed unincorporated urban development to "take its chances"
in the development environment. There have been a number of successes
and failures. The net result of this activity is a fairly well-established
pattern of larger County urban-level developments. Any policies
which are intended to address the future of urban
density development within the County need to recognize the
existence of and the obligation to protect the viability of these
- The critical issues concerning
urban-level development in the County include compatibility and
general provision of facilities and services. Land use compatibility
is a complicated issue, but one of the key manifestations is
that people may choose to locate in urban or semi-urban
unincorporated areas as an alternative to the relative high density
and congestion associated with living in municipalities. However,
as unincorporated developments evolve and grow, they often take
on many of the land use and transportation problems of municipalities.
Intervening land uses also begin to fill the spaces which once
distinguished more remote urban developments from the areas around
- Some counties have established
fairly strict urban growth limits as a means of establishing
where and when development will occur with some certainty, preserving
open character in other areas, facilitating the orderly extension
of services to better allow for the calculation and recovery
of infrastructure costs.
- By comparison, El Paso
County has traditionally relied upon a combination of the market
and the Small Area Planning process to dictate when and where
urban density may occur. This method maximizes development options
and allows for land allocations and potential efficiencies to
ultimately be established through the market. However, this approach
also introduces greater uncertainty into the system, raises the
potential for land use incompatibilities, and makes it more difficult
to calculate and assess public infrastructure
needs and costs.
- As is discussed in several
other sections of this Plan, due to a combination of statutory
limits, deliberate choices and practical circumstances, the County
is not fully equipped to directly provide many urban-level services.
Ordinarily, urban and semi-urban
areas must rely on a combination of County functions such
as public works and Sheriff's protection, along with special
financing districts for services such as water, sewer and fire
protection. In many cases, a full municipal service or facility
standard is either not achievable or will be considerably more
expensive to obtain. Often a "critical amount" of urban
development is necessary to construct, maintain and administer
urban infrastructure in
a cost-effective manner. This leads to the "problem of getting
started" which is associated with almost all potential new
exurban developments. The first few residences or commercial
buildings are saddled with major start-up infrastructure
development and operational costs until such time as additional
development comes on line to defray these costs. As noted in
Section 14.0 Public Financing Districts, the combination of lower
development standards and speculative special financing districts
which allowed many previous exurban projects to "get off
the ground" is no longer as available.
- The trip reduction and
other advantages associated with mixed-use
urban density projects are clearly understandable. However, public
preferences and the regulatory system both generally encourage
a fairly distinct segregation of uses, especially with single
family residential uses. Likewise, the orientation of "strip commercial" and
other comparable uses, with multiple access points along major
corridors, is understood to have an adverse impact on the functional
integrity of the regional roadway system. However, it is also
understood that free access and exposure to major corridors is
considered critical to the success of many businesses.
- Goal 6.3 Continue to support existing
and carefully planned future urban
density development in the unincorporated County, provided
the requisite level of urban services is available or will be
available in a timely fashion
- Policy 6.3.1
- Protect and enhance the
viability of established urban
density developments in unincorporated areas.
- Policy 6.3.2
- Rely on the Small Area
Planning process to define the sub-area specific boundaries for
urban density development
(refer to Section 1.0 Small Area Plans).
- Policy 6.3.3
- Encourage major new employment
centers to locate in proximity to potential employees and housing
- Policy 6.3.4
- Commercial, office, industrial
and, residential development should be compatible with surrounding
land uses in terms of scale, intensity and potential impacts.
- Policy 6.3.5
- The potential for effective
integration with multi-modal transportation systems should be
considered in the design and location of major non-residential
- Policy 6.3.6
- Where feasible, when compatible
and service level issues have been addressed; smaller commercial,
office and institutional uses should be allowed to locate within,
or convenient to, the residential neighborhoods they serve or
- Policy 6.3.7
- Commercial and office
uses should be encouraged to incorporate unified site design
and circulation planning, and conversely, strip
commercial and office development should be discouraged.
- Policy 6.3.8
- Recognize the need and
allow for the reasonable accommodation of adequate amounts of
land with sufficient infrastructure
for land uses of a heavy industrial nature and/or considered
to be "locally undesirable" within all subareas of
the County provided that adequate facilities and services will
be available. Consider the environmental, visual and land use
compatibility impacts and incorporate, where possible, buffering
and screening techniques to address compatibility with surrounding
- Policy 6.3.9
- Promote the multiple use
combination of non-residential uses such as shopping, offices,
government and education in a manner which maximizes the use
of available infrastructure
during weekdays, evenings and weekends.
- ISSUE 6.4 Develop Rural
- As noted in the Background
section, rural residential
development is one of the predominant land uses in the unincorporated
County. Often, a rural residential property owner desires the
best of both worlds; i.e. a rural lifestyle with urban services,
employment, educational and shopping, in close proximity. The
quest for such lifestyles often necessitates a trade-off and
generally requires driving great distances between where one
lives, works, shops and recreates. Critical policy issues concerning
rural residential land uses
include the State of Colorado regulations governing water and
septic systems, County zoning, critical
land areas, compatibility with adjacent land uses, the suitability
of certain land use practices, service levels and transportation.
- Compared with higher density
urban land use patterns, rural
residential development allows for a much more dispersed
development pattern, with the potential of preserving more of
the natural environment; however, often in reality, 2.5 and 5
acre land use patterns are considerably more land-consumptive
and tend to break up, rather than preserve open space and the
environment. While "cluster"
development alternatives have long been promoted in rural
residential situations as a means of preserving more of the natural
or rural environment, actual implementation is problematic. The
first difficulty is that the regulatory system (especially as
it pertains to individual sewage disposal systems) provides a
strong disincentive for creating any single lot of less than
2.5 acres. Developers are reluctant to invest in the central
systems necessary to cluster on less than 2.5 acre developments.
Secondly, there is a tendency among prospective purchasers to
want to retain all of their land in individual ownership. And
lastly, County zoning regulations are not sufficient to encourage
- The recently accelerated
trend in the County toward development of 2.5 rather than 5.0
acre lots results from a combination of increased regulation
and higher land prices. One key factor is that inexpensive, near
surface, domestic wells are becoming less available. Wells in
the upper aquifers require augmentation plans to be filed. Alternately,
the costs associated with drilling deeper individual wells make
them less economically feasible. Although 2.5 acre lots have
the advantage of consuming less land than 5 acre lots, the associated
higher densities result in increased localized traffic congestion
and higher water usage, along with the eventual need for more
services and roads. Environmental concerns include the consequences
of locating numerous septic systems that may one-day pollute
the shallow ground water wells, the disintegration of wildlife
habitat into relatively small divided residential lots, and the
lifestyle perception that 2.5 acre density is not rural.
- On balance, many of the
County's larger and more established rural
residential developments appear to have achieved a service
level standard which is acceptable and sustainable for those
residential uses. While a limited number of non-residential land
uses may be both required and desirable in these areas, some
are problematic. One area of concern is how to provide or extend
services for non-residential uses, such as commercial, in areas
where only individual wells and septic systems are available.
Often these non-residential land uses place different and more
complex set of issues on roadways and traffic patterns. And finally,
some residents wish to maintain a rural life style by maintaining
a number of grazing animals (horses) or domestic pets, while
other residents do not. The County experiences many problems
concerning neglect of animals, associated animal smells and noises,
and overgrazing leading to the occurrence of noxious weeds.
- Goal 6.4 Develop and maintain rural residential areas
in a manner which protects their integrity, addresses the carrying
capacity of the natural environment and provides for an adequate
level of non-urban facilities and services.
- Policy 6.4.1
- Protect and sustain established
viable rural residential areas where possible.
- Policy 6.4.2
- Continue to define and
limit the boundaries of rural residential areas primarily through
the Small Area Planning process (refer to Section 1.0 Small Area
- Policy 6.4.3
- Allow rural
residential development in those areas with sufficient "carrying
capacity" including roadway capacity, water supply, septic
suitability, educational facilities and organized structural
- Policy 6.4.4
- Encourage new rural residential
subdivisions to be located within or contiguous with existing
rural residential areas or to be incorporated as a buffer between
higher density and undevelopable areas.
- Policy 6.4.5
- Discourage new or additional
rural residential subdivision in areas where it is likely they
may not develop the "critical
land area" necessary to successfully co-exist with other
potentially competing land uses.
- Policy 6.4.6
- Allow for the accommodation
of necessary supporting commercial uses within or in proximity
to rural residential areas in a manner that preserves the rural
character of these areas.
- Policy 6.4.7
- Accommodate limited very
low impact business and other employment uses in rural
residential developments if these serve to reduce overall
levels of traffic in these areas and do not otherwise detract
from the desired rural residential character, provided the requisite
level of services is or will be available in a timely fashion.
These uses should primarily serve the needs of local residents.
- Policy 6.4.8
- Allow for flexibility
in the application of regulations with regard to the unique variations
between different rural residential
- Policy 6.4.9
- Continue to develop reasonable
and consistent levels of service standards for rural residential
- Policy 6.4.10
- Encourage subdivision
covenants that regulate domestic pets.
- Policy 6.4.11
- Support planning and regulatory
approaches which limit the adverse impacts of grazing on lots
of 5 acres and less.
- ISSUE 6.5 Protect and
Support Rural and Agricultural Areas
- Agricultural land is a
nonrenewable resource. Once public and private decisions are
made that result in the conversion of agricultural land and/or
water to nonagricultural uses, this vital resource is almost
always irretrievably lost. Since 1959, the Front Range has been
converting agricultural lands for other purposes at an average
of 60,000 acres per year. Trends and forces promoting the agricultural
land conversion include the influence of the state subdivision
law known as Senate Bill 35, and the desire of people to move
from more densely populated urban areas to a more rural setting.
- Although much of the entire
County and most of its eastern half still have a rural agricultural
character, there are economic trends which are contributing to
a change in this pattern. One critical factor is that dryland
grazing, which is the predominant agricultural use in El Paso
County, produces very little income on a per-acre basis. Presently,
most rural county residents are not actively engaged in agriculture
as their primary source of income. Instead, they commute to the
metropolitan area for employment opportunities. Newer rural residents
make the choice to live in these areas for a variety of reasons.
These often include a desire for a "rural lifestyle",
with more space, more control of one's surroundings, and in some
cases, the perception of being less constrained by governmental
regulations. The fact that much of the eastern County remains
unzoned provides maximum flexibility in land use opportunities.
- But, this situation also
encourages the concentration of those types of land uses which
generally do not integrate well in more regulated environments.
Because zoning, the basic tool used by the County for protecting
adjacent lands from possibly undesirable uses, is unavailable,
there is little protection to landowners in the unzoned areas.
As more people move into rural areas, there is often an increased
demand for limited available services. In addition to creating
the potential for land use conflicts, less regulated development
and a heightened demand for limited services may also result
in substandard building standards and infrastructure
which may need to be addressed with public funding. In combination,
these trends contribute to some diminishment of the rural character
which attracted residents at the outset.
- Recently, there has been
a distinct trend toward creation of 35-40 acre parcels in rural
areas. Approximately 20,000 additional acres have been divided
into parcels of this size over the past three (3) years. This
trend is largely in response to the general lack of economical
development alternatives, combined with the fact that 35 acres
is the regulatory threshold below which properties need to go
through the subdivision process (also see Section 7.0 Special
and Unique Land Uses). Parcels of this size do not require a
full suite of services and do provide the opportunity to maintain
a degree of openness and agricultural character. However, this
type of land use is extremely land intensive (accommodating only
about 50 persons per square mile) and does not allow for the
continuation of traditional agriculture in most cases.
- Another concern in more
rural areas relates to the difficulty in accommodating various
needed or desired non-residential and non-agricultural uses.
As an example, the need for a small-scale rural shopping center
may be well-recognized, but difficult to develop due to a combination
of limited facilities and a regulatory system which is better
tailored to serve more developed areas. Rural eastern County
residents could benefit from additional local employment opportunities
or transportation improvements as most now commute substantial
distances to jobs located in the metropolitan area. Please also
refer to Sections 15.0- Land Development Regulations and
- 5.0- Economic Development.
- Goal 6.5 Encourage the preservation
of agricultural uses as an important contributor to the economy
and land use character of the County.
- Policy 6.5.1
- Allow for the location
of limited supporting commercial uses at locations convenient
to serve the needs of rural County residents provided that the
requisite level of services are available or will be available
in a timely fashion.
- Policy 6.5.2
- Encourage appropriate
opportunities for employment within rural areas.
- Policy 6.5.3
- Encourage the use of strategies
such as land trusts and conservation easements which result in
the preservation of agricultural or open land use and character.
- Policy 6.5.4
- Support the development
of land use regulations and procedures which are tailored to
meet the specific needs of rural County residents while still
providing for adequate levels of service.
- Policy 6.5.5
- Support statutory changes
which will allow for the development of limited regulations concerning
facility and services provision for parcels of 35 acres or greater.
- Policy 6.5.6
- Encourage the reporting
of 35 acre tract development for the health, welfare and safety
of county residents.