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Land Use Ordinance Protects Buildings in Estes Park

ESTES PARK, CO – A land use ordinance protected several Estes Park buildings during the September 2013 flooding.

The Big Thompson River rose above the predicted base flood level and caused surface inundation of low-lying areas throughout the town. Damages included high-velocity scouring along Fish Creek and embankment failure along portions of the Fall and Big Thompson rivers and Black Canyon Creek.

Many roads were closed, particularly those located along the Big Thompson River. During the flood and afterwards Estes Park had only one road entrance open, Devil’s Gulch, and even that eventually collapsed, making Estes Park an island.

Floodwaters inundated the business district, but thanks to the land use ordinance, residential properties had only minor flooding in basements and crawl spaces.

The ordinance requires structures to be set back from river and streams to preserve and enhance hydrologic, biological, ecological, aesthetic, recreational and educational functions.

To preserve these corridors, vegetative land known as buffers are created close to these critical areas. Land use regulations have required buffers around wetlands and streams for many years. It’s important to note, however, that they serve different functions depending on the type of critical area they are intended to protect.

In the downtown area, buildings and accessory structures in the community development district have to be set back at least 20 feet from the river corridor annual high-water mark. Where a principal building in the district provides public access, the setback may be reduced to 10 feet.

“For new construction, we have an ordinance which states that all buildings and accessory structures shall be set back at least 30 feet from the annual high-water mark of stream corridors, or if not readily discernible, from the defined bank of the stream,” said Will Birchfield, local floodplain administrator. “With regards to rivers, all buildings must be set back at least 50 feet from the annual high-water mark of river corridors.”

For additional information, visit: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/TownofEstesPark/CBON/1251596047038

Last updated Jun 3, 2020