Land Use Best Practices


The Strong Communities Program has developed a list of land use best practices to help communities create more opportunities for attainable and affordable housing options by adopting sustainable growth and development patterns.

Strategies address compact development, affordable and diverse housing, growth management, the use of districts and subdivisions, mobility, and resource conservation. The list of best practices in land use policy is intended as a guide as every community has different needs. Suggestions for rural areas are noted, but any policy can be adapted for an individual community.

Educational Webinars

Strong Communities provided a series of webinars to address the benefits of adopting land use policies that support compact development centered around urban cores and town centers, as well as ways to support affordable housing development.

Suggested Best Practices

The following list is designated as best practices in land use policy and is intended as a guide as every community has different needs. Videos provide a short overview (2 - 3 minutes each) for each category of the land use best practices, and case studies show how they have been implemented in Colorado communities.

Compact Development

Compact development encourages sustainable growth by using existing utility and transportation infrastructure and concentrating development in smaller, more accessible areas. Compact development can help revitalize communities and improve amenities, housing options, and economic opportunities while protecting exurban uses such as wilderness, agricultural land, and open spaces.

Best Practices

  • Higher density mixed use development in core areas
    Establish higher minimum density mixed use development (by-right) in downtown areas, workforce centers, and around multimodal transportation nodes (or other walkable areas).

    Rural Adaptation Higher density near service areas
    Establish higher densities in areas close to jobs and services that are served by public water and sewer. In areas served by well and/or septic systems, reduce allowed densities.

  • Density bonus program
    Establish a density bonus program to increase construction of units that meet affordable housing needs within the local community.
  • Minimum lot size requirements
    Reduce or eliminate minimum lot size requirements and permit development of small residential unit sizes (e.g., 500–1000 square feet of living space) to increase options for affordable housing development.

    Rural Adaptation Minimum lot size
    Increase minimum lot size to avoid and mitigate impacts from development in prime agricultural lands, critical habitat corridors or spaces, and hazard areas in counties (e.g. 70 or 120 acres).

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing development is a cornerstone of Strong Communities. As the state’s population continues to grow, there is not enough supply of affordable housing units to meet the demand, which further drives up prices and excludes large segments of the population from the housing market. The State Demographer's office projects that nearly 500,000 units are needed between 2022 and 2030 to return the housing market to a healthy level.

Best Practices

  • Use by right affordable housing
    Classify affordable housing developments as a use by right in all residential zones to speed up review and approval procedures.
  • Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZ)
    IZ programs vary in structure; they can be mandatory or voluntary and have different set- aside requirements, affordability levels, and control periods. Most offer developers incentives such as density bonuses, expedited approval, and fee waivers to offset some of the costs with providing the affordable units. Many programs also include developer opt-outs or alternatives, such as allowing developers to pay fees or donate land in lieu of building affordable units. (C.R.S. 29-20-104(1))
  • Land donation, acquisition, banking program, or land trust program
    Create a land donation, land acquisition, land banking or land trust program for developing affordable housing or create incentives (e.g., reduced property tax) to support such programs.
    Rural Adaptation—Affordable housing subsidies and/or incentives Create subsidy and/or incentive tools to support affordable housing development (served by public water and sewer) near jobs and services (e.g., fee waivers or reductions, funding source to buy down costs, use of vacant publicly owned land, reduced parking, etc.).
  • Reduced affordable housing development fees
    Codify development policies to reduce or remove local development fee/deposit schedules, including but not limited to, building permit fees, planning fees, and water/sewer tap fees for affordable housing developments.

Housing Diversity

Modifying zoning processes to increase the supply of affordable and missing middle housing types is a foundation of Strong Communities. Allowing duplexes, triplexes, and ADUs as a use-by-right can reduce development risks associated with neighborhood opposition, increase the housing stock in high-opportunity neighborhoods, can lower costs for homeowners and renters, and stimulate residential density and walkability. Allowing alternative options such as modular, manufactured, and prefabricated housing can provide naturally occurring housing designed to match local housing market conditions and community preferences.

Best Practices

  • Multi-family housing options.
    Permit duplexes, triplexes, or other appropriate multi-family housing options as a use by right in single-family residential zoning districts.
  • Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)
    Permit ADUs as a use by right in all residential zoning districts.
  • Alternative building options.
    Remove barriers and/or update zoning to permit alternative housing options, including but not limited to, modular, manufactured, and prefabricated homes.

Growth Management

Growth management policies can help communities control and balance development on the edges of their communities and implement the goals of their comprehensive plans. Amending these policies and agreements can help to advance the community's vision and planning goals, while ensuring the public costs of development (infrastructure capital, public services, etc.) are balanced with potential tax and income revenue. 

Best Practices

  • Annexation policies
    Update annexation policies to require or incentivize mixed use development that includes affordable housing and ensures connectivity with roads, transit, trails, parks and schools.
  • Rural Adaptation—Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs)
    Use IGAs with municipalities that designate tiers/growth areas where urban and suburban-level growth will be built only if annexed by the municipality and low level 3 density will occur only in the unincorporated county. These IGAs may require development in areas of municipal interest (i.e., likely to be annexed in the future) to develop to the municipality’s infrastructure standards in order to reduce future costs.
  • Urban Growth Areas & Boundaries
    Establish Urban Growth area/boundary agreements between neighboring municipalities and/or counties to coordinate future development by directing development toward existing communities. Jurisdictions determine together where it is cost effective to grow, guiding growth where most needed (e.g., infill areas) and away from areas where it can create problems (e.g., high hazard areas, wildlife habitat, prime agricultural land).
  • Rural Adaptation Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) and Purchase of Development Rights (PDRs)
    Use TDRs and PDRs to incentivize housing development in municipalities while allowing some cost recapture/return on investment for agricultural or other large lot land owners.

Districts & Subdivisions

Strategic zoning and subdivisions policies can encourage development of affordable housing and prioritize compact, infill development. These practices discourage sprawling  development and instead encourage more sustainable land use patterns by focusing density and growth inside existing towns and cities. This can lead to a decrease in infrastructure development and maintenance costs, a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, and allows for a variety of housing types. In rural regions, restricting greenfield development can protect natural and agricultural lands.

Best Practices

  • Planned Unit Developments (PUDs)
    Require PUDs to include and/or increase the percentage of integrated affordable housing units.
  • Infill incentive districts
    Designate an infill incentive district or districts that allow a mix of uses and prioritize inclusion of affordable housing units in infill locations, including the possible use of property tax abatement, development fee reductions, or other incentives.
  • Rural Adaptation Mixed-use zoning districts
    Establish flexible, by-right, mixed-use zone districts adjacent to towns and in town influence/growth areas to accommodate large developments that are in accord with town and/or county comprehensive plans.
  • Rural Adaptation Cluster & Conservation subdivisions
    Require cluster subdivisions at a community’s edge to transition to rural areas. Require conservation subdivisions in rural areas (residential subdivision that devotes at least half of its potentially buildable land area to undivided, permanently protected open space).


Minimum parking standards address the issue of unneeded and/or underutilized parking. Many current parking standards raise the infrastructure cost of serving spread-out homes and businesses, create runoff and flooding problems and may make communities less walkable by requiring walkers to traverse large parking lots. Multimodal road standards comprise the planning, construction, and operations of streets that enable safe access for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and transit riders. Similar to the Complete Streets concept, this encompasses access for users of all ages and abilities and promotes transportation efficiency including reduced vehicle miles traveled.

Best Practices

  • Minimum Parking Standards
    Reduce minimum parking requirements and/or create parking maximums, principally focused near active transportation nodes and areas in, or adjacent to, job centers and services.
  • Multi-modal road standards
    Adopt pedestrian and multi-modal road standards that allow for minimum width roads/streets to reduce construction and maintenance costs, increasing connectivity, 4 multi-modality and walkability (e.g., complete streets, ADA access, bike lanes, sidewalks, etc.).

Resource Conservation

Resource conservation strategies reduce residential energy and water use, saving residents money on utility bills and conserving natural resources. Strategies that limit development in high risk and environmentally sensitive areas reduce the risk of impacts from natural disasters and conserve natural ecosystems.

Best Practices

  • Water conservation
    Adopt water conservation standards, such as permitting recycled water irrigation systems or providing stormwater management credits to protect agricultural land and greenspaces.
  • Water rate structure reduction
    Codify water rate structures with cost percentage reductions for affordable and denser housing.
  • Energy efficiency codes.
    Adopt energy efficient building codes and design standards that substantially exceed the standards required by HB 22-1362 to ensure lower household utility costs long term.
  • High risk and environmentally sensitive areas
    Restrict development in high risk, hazard, and environmentally sensitive areas (e.g., floodplains, wildfire, protected wildlife habitat areas, etc.), using overlays and other tools that require mitigation measures.

Program Contacts

Lisa Loranger
Program Manager

Moira Blake
Program Assistant


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