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LovelandPolitics
Loveland's Independent News Source
Loveland - April 7, 2013

A letter from the City of Loveland to Larimer County is posturing for a likely battle between the Loveland City
Council and County Commissioners over a farmer's right to keep his property farming near the Weld County line
for another generation.

Loveland officials have in the past claimed they were acting “defensively”, i.e. to protect the City’s boundaries
and/or its “gateway”, when expanding the city’s actual or planned boundaries closer to Johnstown.  Protecting
the city’s gateway against Johnstown’s expansion was a reason given for the City’s highly unpopular purchase of
the 98 acres of rural property at the intersection of I-25 and the 402 south of Loveland (now annexed into the
city).

However, a March 15, 2012 protest letter by Loveland Planner Karl Barton to Larimer County opposing a
potential conservation easement application by a rural land owner indicates Loveland now is fighting against
rural land owners who want to preserve their family farm for the next generation.  In the letter, Barton
acknowledges "Development of these lands would likely occur beyond 15-20 years...." indicating the city wants
to control rural private property that may become part of the city in 2033.

Loveland’s letter to the county fighting the conservation easement is claimed to “protect” Loveland’s ability to
annex and develop the property maybe 20 years from now.  In other words, Loveland is seeking to limit the
rural land owner’s property rights for the next 20 years on the outside chance Loveland may want to annex it 20
years from now.  The property is situated just north of C.R. 60 thus miles from any current Loveland
development or city boundaries.

The Larimer County Board of Commissioners, which historically defended the rights of rural land owners to
farm, will likely fight Loveland’s protest.  However, it is highly ironic the Loveland City Council, made up of a
majority of Democrats, opposes the use of conservation easements to preserve a family's right to farm and are
instead fighting to preserve a future right of a hypothetical owner (McWhinney?) to develop the land some 20
years from now.

According to the farmer's application;

“The current zoning for the property is Larimer County FA-Farming.  No specific change in zoning is being
pursued through this Conservation Development (CD) application.  The subject property currently includes
(2) residences and accompanying support buildings, and maintains a significant agricultural farming
operation.  The agricultural areas are irrigated or could be irrigated.  The current and proposed use of the
subject property is and would be compatible with the adjacent properties and land uses.”

The City of Loveland’s correspondence to Larimer County not only opposes a subdivision application by the
rural landowner that would, in fact protect half of that property from future development and allow his family
to continue farming, but also opposes an open space that might provide a buffer from encroachment by
Johnstown.  Off-the-record, one source from the City of Loveland staff told LovelandPolitics,

"we are just trying to protect the rights of a future owner of that land to develop it according to our
expectations; the conservation easement means some property will be perpetually used for farming instead
being optimized for city tax revenue maybe 20 years from now."

The proposal in question is for a subdivision of a lot of 46+ acres that is currently zoned as "Farming" in Larimer
County.  Under state law, property owners can subdivide land down to a minimum size of any number of 35-
acre lots without county approval.   If smaller lots are desired, however, the owner has to go through the
county's subdivision application and review process to get approval.

As an alternative to its normal review process, Larimer County also offers would-be developers the option of
using the County’s “Rural Land Use Process” (RLUP),  which provides expedited approval and other incentives in
return for meeting goals that include maximizing the conservation of agricultural land or other open space.  The
actual terms are negotiated between the RLUP staff and the landowner.   In the present case, the applicant
would place a conservation easement on a little more than half of the property, and develop a few large-lot
residences on the rest.    

While some have complained that the RLUP has often compromised too much in allowing still-inappropriate
development in rural areas, or worried that approvals haven’t done enough to slow Larimer County’s steady
loss of agricultural capacity, most of the approved developments have represented a big improvement over the
County’s former, almost laissez-fair land development policies.

As for the subdivision application in question, both Loveland and Johnstown have both weighed in with
opposition to the proposal.   While much closer to Johnstown, the property in question is in both Johnstown’s
Comprehensive Planning Area and the City of Loveland's Growth Management Area as defined in its 2005
Comprehensive Plan.  In the latter, its designated use is "Development Reserve" - a term used for any currently
undeveloped land that the City covets for future urban development.  

Inclusion of the property in comprehensive plans of two municipalities hints at the continuation of conflict from
the expansionist stances of both cities.  Johnstown objects to the proposed conservation development because
Johnstown's plan targets the area for non-residential urban development.   Loveland raises similar objections in
its memorandum. Both worry that the semi-rural, pastoral setting that the development's residents might come
to enjoy will conflict with the future urban-level development both envision for the area. Each is concerned in
particular that the (likely wealthier) residents of the development will then object to any future urban-scale
development proposals, making approval of such proposals more politically difficult.

In their comments, Loveland Planning Staff also pointed to the high growth that "is projected" by a regional
transportation model for this area, given its proximity to I-25 and major County roads. That model calls for
2,200 (new) households in the area in question.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy?

The irony is that cities and towns often defend their planned expansions by claiming that they're only
responding to growth "projections", the latter, such as the North Front Range MPO’s model, are usually
themselves derived from municipalities' comprehensive land use and transportation plans.  And it's in building
out new roads (such as the Boyd Lake Ave. extension), and in expanding still others that new development is
directly stimulated.

In fact, Loveland officials acknowledged this, as one of their points to Larimer County is that a preferred route
for Loveland’s planned southward extension of Boyd Lake Ave to C.R. 60, is close to the property's western
boundary.  The planner states that the extension of that road will likely “create demand for urban level
development”.  

According to the same memorandum from Loveland, the city is already “heavily involved” with rural land
owners in the vicinity of C.R. 60 to coordinate the eventual alignment of Boyd Lake Ave. once it travels south and
west of Johnstown city limits.

LovelandPolitics is unaware of any public discussion, process or review of the city’s current ambition to spread
the city boundaries south of Johnstown west of I-25.  While most resident are likely not against such expansion,
the bigger question is what residents are willing to pay from current resources to compete with Johnstown to
force such an expansion; especially after the city’s unpopular decision to acquire land along the 402 to stimulate
growth that didn’t occur and has stranded millions in city funds.

Thus far, the C.R. 60 acquisition proposal hasn't been publicly disclosed. This lack of public notice may give local
officials a leg up in trying to kill it, to keep intact their visions of continuous urban expansion, increasingly fueled
by development incentives while funded by higher fees, utility rates and taxes on the very public whose own
visions for Loveland subsidizing more growth may be very different.
Loveland Challenges Property Rights
of Rural County Land Owners
The City of Loveland is fighting rural farmers who want to preserve their way
of life for the next generation - who live far from city limits.