The Planning Process

The Comprehensive Plan rewrite started in mid-2018 and was completed in July 2020.  The rewrite process had two major phases:

  • Phase I: (completed December 2018) Comprehensive Plan Visioning Process – In this phase, the community was involved in identifying the core values, vision, and goals for Thornton’s future.
  • Phase II: (completed July 2020) Comprehensive Plan Technical Document Update – The rewrite of Thornton’s Comprehensive Plan document was the focus of Phase II. This phase incorporated the outcomes of the visioning process as well as ongoing engagement with the community.

Through the visioning process and subsequent community meetings and open houses, several key themes emerged that form the building blocks for the 2020 Comprehensive Plan. These building blocks are reflected in the Plan’s updated land use categories and Future Land Use Map (FLUM). The FLUM designates geographic areas within the city for certain uses with each color corresponding to a different type of land use, ranging from residential areas for single-family homes, to neighborhoods that combine multiple types of housing with commercial retail, to dedicated employment areas. The tool below shows how each building block directly corresponds to the land use designation on the FLUM in order to help achieve the community’s vision. The final interactive map highlights changes made to the FLUM between the existing 2012 Comprehensive Plan and the Draft 2020 Comprehensive Plan. The interactive map is now being updated to reflect the final adopted FLUM.

*Note: The Future Land Use Map displayed here is in the process of being updated to the July 2020 version.

After reviewing all of the community feedback, meeting with stakeholders, and collaborating with other City Departments such as Economic Development and Parks, Recreation, and Community Programs, the Comprehensive Plan and FLUM were changed and refined through multiple drafts, all of which are available in the Documents Library section of this website.  At the public hearing, City Council adopted the Comprehensive Plan on July 15, 2020 with final amendments to the FLUM. The adopted Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map are available in the Documents Library.

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

Above all, a comprehensive plan is about envisioning the future for a community. In Thornton, this vision is evaluated approximately every 10 years and results in a new document that guides decision-making for the city. The Comprehensive Plan provides the overall vision and direction for all other planning efforts in the city, such as the more detailed plans and implementation programs. For example, the Thornton Comprehensive Plan provides the overall policy direction that guides the focus of the Parks and Open Space Master Plan, Housing Master Plan, Station Area Master Plans for the future N Line Stations, Area Plans for specific locations in the city, and many other strategic plans.

Elements of the Plan

The 2020 Comprehensive Plan highlights the outcomes of the Visioning Process, identifies frameworks for city-wide policies and future growth and development, and identifies strategies for implementation of the vision themes and goals identified in the plan.

The Comprehensive Plan growth framework includes two significant components:

  • Future Land Use Map (FLUM). This is a map of desired future land uses for property within the current city limits and the future growth area. The Plan also provides descriptions of each of these land use categories. Future Land Use designations indicate how the city expects a specific area to develop in the future, such as for residential or commercial purposes, or in some cases, a mix of both!
  • Placemaking Guidelines. The other significant part of the growth framework section illustrates ways in which the city can establish a sense of identity through the creation and enhancement of destination areas and activity centers. Community Destinations are recreational or cultural amenities within the city of Thornton. This section describes each amenity and identifies any future plans or upcoming changes to the area. The activity centers provide more in depth guidance and vision for some of the mixed use land use designations found on the FLUM. Many of the activity centers provide a blend of “Live/Work/Play” environments and are separated into 3 major categories: Shopping, Dining, and Entertainment Centers, Employment Centers, and Regional Activity Centers.

The Comprehensive Plan sets the vision for the land uses that the city desires to see in the future. This sets the expectation for vacant land within city limits as well as land within Thornton’s future growth area that may be annexed into the city in the future. Additionally, in some instances existing land uses may not be feasible or desirable in the long-run. In this case, the FLUM can guide how that land should redevelop.

Comprehensive Plan vs. Zoning

One component of the new Comprehensive Plan is an update to the Future Land Use Map (FLUM). This is often confused with zoning, however a property’s Future Land Use designation and zoning designation are two different things. Approval of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan does not change the zoning of any property.

  • Future Land Use Map (FLUM). One of the ways that the Comprehensive Plan provides guidance on the types of land uses envisioned for the city’s future is through the FLUM. The FLUM provides a Future Land Use designation for every property currently within the city as well as properties within Thornton’s future growth boundaries. The FLUM designation represents a projection of the most appropriate types of land uses needed in the future to adjust to changing social and demographic needs, commercial and housing trends, economic and market conditions, and redevelopment.
  • Zoning / Zone Map. Separate from the Comprehensive Plan FLUM, zoning regulates specific uses currently permitted on a property. The city regulates the current use of land and buildings as well as the location, height, bulk and size of buildings and structures through Zone Districts that are described in the Thornton City Code and identified on the official Zoning Map. As opposed to the FLUM, zoning is regulatory and only applies to land currently within city boundaries. In order to change the zoning of any property, the land owner must submit an application and receive City Council approval to rezone the property. Approval of the Comprehensive Plan and the FLUM is not a rezoning of any property.

Generally, the zoning and FLUM designations are compatible for land within city boundaries. However, in certain locations where the city has determined that future needs would be better met by a different use, the two maps may differ. In this case, the Comprehensive Plan’s overall goals and the FLUM should act as a guide for any decisions regarding rezoning requests.