Eagle County readies to launch 18-month effort to rewrite its zoning codes

County's current land use regulations are a patchwork in many places

The golf courses and homes at Cordillera are all part of a planned unit development. It's by far the largest such development in the county.
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By the numbers • 1,692: Eagle County’s area, in square miles • 37.25: Area in square miles of incorporated areas (towns). • 86: Planned Unit Development areas throughout the county. • 7.5: Square miles in the Cordillera Planned Unit Development.

Zoning is one of the least exciting things local government does. But it’s important. That’s why Eagle County is about to launch an 18-month effort to revise the county’s land use regulations.

The county has retained Fairfield and Woods, a Denver law firm, to lead the way on the project. Todd Messenger of Fairfield and Woods on Tuesday joined Deputy County Attorney Beth Oliver to provide an initial briefing to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners.

Messenger said revamping the county’s land use regulations is “an enduring legacy” for this board, although future boards can revise those regulations as needed.

Messenger noted that land use codes, almost by definition, eventually get cumbersome.

“You want something that stays compact,” Messenger said, adding that the goal is to find the ingredients needed to meet community goals, then deliver a product that reflects both official and community priorities and policy preferences.

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Those goals and preferences vary widely in the county, from high-end resorts to ranch land and, of course, a vast amount of public land.

Land zoned for development makes up very little of Eagle County’s 1,692 square miles. About 2.2% of that land is in the county’s towns. In the county, another 2.2% of the land is either built, or buildable according to its zoning.

One of the biggest complications in current land use regulations is the number of planned unit developments. Those projects essentially create a kind of custom zoning to accommodate developers’ plans.

There are currently 86 such developments in the county. Those developments account for about 18,000 acres, more than the other development zones combined.

Messenger noted that all those planned unit developments are essentially subject to unique regulations. Any changes, even minor ones, require amendments that must ultimately be approved by the Commissioners.

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Much of the remaining land is zoned “resource,” which accommodates many other uses, but not housing at more than one unit per 35 acres.

Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney noted that the regulations need to take into account the differences in the county between the Eagle River Valley and Roaring Fork Valley.

Messenger said the team will start with an issue paper outlining the issues. “We’ll probably keep a lot and simplify,” he said.

McQueeney asked Messenger what happens to a property owner’s rights if zoning changes on that land.

“Ideally (those rights will) expand,” he said. “We want to create a scenario where we don’t extinguish rights.”

Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry noted that water protection will be a big topic in future land use regulations. Messenger said the new code can be written to reflect the county’s work with water providers and its existing water rights.

The Commissioners asked Messenger and Oliver to draft some proposed regulations in order to give both elected officials and the public something to react to.

“We need to have something to start from,” Commissioner Matt Scherr said. “It’s dangerous to start with a blank slate with something that big.”

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