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Eastern County Zoning Plan
A Brief Introduction to Zoning
prepared by El Paso County Planning Division 11/23/98


Very basically, zoning involves the separation of land into districts which allow different uses. Examples of these districts include various types of agricultural, residential, commercial and industrial zones for which uses, densities and other criteria are specified. The authority to zone is designated to local governments by the State of Colorado through "enabling legislation." Its overall purpose is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community by limiting incompatible, unsafe and inappropriate uses within the same zone.

Other Zone Requirements

Conventional zone districts also include requirements related to the density and bulk of the uses which are allowed within the zone. These other requirements include minimum lot area, maximum building and structural lot area coverage, minimum distance from property lines for buildings and structures and maximum allowable building and structural height. Property owners who wish to seek relief from these requirements may petition for relief through an entity known as the Board of Adjustment (BOA). The decisions of the BOA are not taken on to the Board of County Commissioners. For example, if a property owner desired to build a new structure within twenty-five (25) feet of their property line in an A-35 (Agricultural) zone, this request would need to be taken to the BOA for consideration at a public hearing.

Principally Permitted, Accessory Uses, Special Uses, and Variances

Conventional zone districts ordinarily list those uses which are "principally permitted" within that district. This is the case for the zones which are being recommended for the unzoned eastern area. An individual can establish a principally permitted use without having to go through an formal land use approval process so long as the use meets all of the zone district's development requirements (height, setbacks etc.). Ordinarily, only one principally permitted use is allowed on a single property. However, a use listed as principally permitted is considered to be accessory to another permitted use in some cases. For example, a single family house or a mobile home is considered accessory to the operation of a dairy farm, and therefore the property has only one principal use. Additionally, in the A-35 zone an additional dwelling unit is allowed for either employees or immediate family members of the property owner or tenant. By comparison, if the additional new dwelling units do not meet the criteria outlined above, they would be considered to be separate permitted uses, and therefore only be allowable in the event a specific Variance of Use is approved for the property.

As alluded to above, accessory uses or buildings are generally defined as those which are "customary and subordinate" to those uses which are allowed as principally permitted uses. These are allowed as appropriate along with the principal buildings and/or use. Relevant examples for the districts recommended in this plan would include many types of agricultural buildings, residential garages, fences, decks and swimming pools. A "home occupation" such as operating an office (with no outside employees) out of one's house is also considered an accessory use.

Unlike principally permitted uses, a use listed as a Use Subject to Special Review (Special Use) is only allowable if it is approved by the Board of County Commissioners through a public hearing process. The Board's decision on special uses needs to be based upon written standards included in the County Land Development Code. The philosophy behind special uses is that they should be allowable in the zone district for which they are listed providing they meet the compatibility standards outlined in the Code.

If a proposed use of a property is not allowed at all within the overlying zone district, it is possible to obtain a variance of use from the Board of County Commissioners to allow that use. However, the standard applied in this case is much more stringent than that for a special use. The burden is upon the applicant to demonstrate that compliance with the zoning would cause an exceptional hardship.

Nonconforming Uses

Normally, any otherwise legal use which was in existence before the imposition of zoning (or a change in zoning) is considered legally nonconforming. In laymen's terms this means that it is "grandfathered" and can continue to exist even if it would no longer be legal in the overlying zone district. The principle behind nonconforming status is that an individual should not be deprived of the value of his or her property through subsequent zoning actions. However, the nonconforming principle goes on to presume that the property should also eventually be brought into conformance. For this reason nonconforming uses can not be substantially enlarged or extended. For the same reason, a nonconforming use may not be resumed if it is discontinued for a prescribed period unless the property is brought into conformance. Nonconforming status runs with the property and not with the landowner. Therefore, a nonconforming use may continue on a property, even if it is sold.

For example, a pre-existing restaurant would be allowed as a legally nonconforming use in an RR-3 (Rural Residential) zone. However, if it were closed for more than a year, in could not be reopened without a variance of use or a change in zoning.


Once an area is zoned the property owner has the option of petitioning the Board of County Commissioners to rezone the property to another classification. The applicant must submit a Letter of Intent to the Planning Division along with documentation and a submittal fee. The applicant must notify all adjoining property owners of the request. The Planning Division must post a notice on the property. The request is then heard by the County Planning Commission which may recommend approval or disapproval. In either case, unless withdrawn by the applicant, the request is forwarded to the Board of County Commissioner for final consideration. By law the Board must base their decision to rezone on one or more of the following reasons:

    1)   the change furthers an adopted master plan.
    2)   there has been a material change in circumstance.
    3)   to correct an error made in the original zoning. 4) the change will affect the health, safety and welfare of residents.

Zoning and Building Permits

Since 1973, the County has required building permits in all zoned areas. Building permits are not required for agricultural structures as defined by State statute. As noted in the currently proposed zoning plan, provisions may be made to both extend the effective date of compliance in all cases and significantly limit the requirement for such permits in the case of the A-35 (Agricultural) Zone District. A separate summary of the building permit process is available.


We welcome your suggestions/ input/ questions sent to
El Paso County Planning Division
27 East Vermijo
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80903
or to

Operational Director
Mike Hrebenar

Engineering Division Manager
Paul Danley

Current Planning Manager
  Elaine Kleckner

2880 International Circle Colorado Springs, CO 80910



7:30AM - 4:30PM
Monday - Thursday
(except holidays)

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El Paso County, CO


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