How to Become an Urban Planner in Colorado

Colorado MapColorado’s legislature is currently considering a bill that would better align local land use planning laws and regulations with water conservation, as water is the most critical resource in the state. This House Bill states that if a municipality identifies that it needs more water in order to be able to grow, it should also include conservation regulations for its existing supply of water within its plan. It is a way that Colorado’s municipalities can plan for the future, not just for land use but also for water use.

Under the Colorado Water Plan, passed in 2015, a goal was set that by 2025, 75 percent of Coloradans would live in communities that are considering water saving activities along with their land use planning. As of February 2020, 24 Colorado communities have completed a Growing Smart Water Training, a program by the Sonoran Institute that helps communities mesh their land planning regulations with water conservation activities.

There are many issues to take into account regarding land planning and usage in Colorado. In order to be sure that the state plans for the future population increases, proper management of land and water is critical at this time. If you would like to discover how to become an urban planner in Colorado and deal with some of these issues, read on.

How Much Can I Expect to Earn as a Colorado Urban Planner?

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that urban planners employed in Colorado in May 2019 were making an annual median wage of $74,830. Working as an urban planner in Colorado’s cities could net you more or less than this average, as noted below:

  • Aurora $79,450
  • Boulder $72,570
  • Colorado Springs $69,380
  • Denver $79,450
  • Fort Collins $74,600
  • Greeley $64,160
  • Lakewood $79,450

What are Regulations and Laws for Land Use and Planning in Colorado?

There is no statewide land use plan in the state of Colorado. Rather, land use planning regulations occur at the local level. Local governments have the authority to establish regulations including (but not limited to) zoning, sign codes and building codes.

What Is the Difference Between Home Rule and Statutory Rule in Colorado?

In Colorado, home rule governments have the power to create their own ordinances, charter, and laws (including subdivision and zoning). It may supersede state law where a matter is of local concern; follow its own procedures and standards; and are bound by state statutes until they adopt their own ordinances or charters.

Statutory governments are given all powers through state statute only. If a power has not been given to that government by the state, it cannot perform that activity.

Colorado has 271 incorporated municipalities, 98 of which are home rule; 12 of which are statutory cities; 160 of which are statutory towns, and one which is a territorial charter city. It is also home to 64 counties, 60 of which are statutory. Pitkin and Weld Counties are home rule counties. Denver and Broomfield Counties are constitutional home rule counties.

What are Activities and Areas of State Interest in Colorado?

Each local government in Colorado may identify, designate and regulate activities and areas of state interest within its jurisdiction. This is called “1041 powers” (after the House Bill creating these powers). Local governments can retain and increase control over projects that have an impact to the entire state, dealing with:

  • Areas:
    • Natural hazard areas
    • Mineral resource areas
    • Areas around key facilities (like airports, public utilities, mass transit facilities, and areas of interchanges with arterial highways)
    • Areas that have a big impact on archaeological, natural or historical resources important to the state
  • Activities:
    • Site selection/development of solid waste disposal sites
    • Site selection/construction of new/expanded sewage and water treatment systems
    • Site selection of airports
    • Conduct of nuclear detonations
    • Site selection of mass/rapid transit facilities, stations, terminals and fixed guideways
    • Site selection of interchanges, arterial highways and collector highways
    • Site selection/development of new communities
    • Site selection/construction of major facilities of a public utility
    • Use of geothermal resources for commercial production of electricity
    • Efficient use of industrial and municipal water projects

What Environmental Protection Issues Surround Land Use and Planning Law in Colorado?

Climate Action Plan

The Climate Action Plan in Colorado addresses statewide goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and counteract global warming. It identifies the land use and transportation sector as one of the major sources of Colorado’s emissions. In the plan, it states that in 2005, the land use and transportation sector accounted for 24 percent of the total number of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado.

Several cities in Colorado are addressing climate change directly. Climate Action Plans were adopted in Aspen, Boulder and Denver, designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in those states

Control of Water Pollution

The Colorado Water Quality Control Act protects state waters and aims to prevent water pollution. It establishes a Water Quality Control Commission to classify state waters, set forth water quality standards, establish regulations and issue permits. It also directs local planning agencies to develop regional wastewater management plans.

Water Runoff and Supply

Two types of water exist in Colorado: underground water and tributary water. Underground water is not visible on the ground’s surface and is not renewable. Tributary water flows in natural surface streams and is the property of the public. Water rights are given by local jurisdictions for both types of water. The Colorado Constitution states that the right to divert water for a beneficial usage will never be denied. Anyone who owns a water right is entitled to right-of-way through the lands lying between the point of diversion and the point of use.

How Can I Find the Right Education to Become a Colorado Urban Planner?

Where Should I Pursue an Undergraduate Urban Planning Degree in Colorado?

Although you will ultimately need a graduate degree in urban planning to land a job in Colorado, you must begin by obtaining an undergraduate degree. If at all possible, choose one that is accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB)  of the American Planning Association. Colorado has no PAB-accredited undergraduate programs, however. Alternatives recommended by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning include:

  • Bachelor of Environmental Design – University of Colorado Denver and University of Colorado Boulder
  • Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering – University of Colorado Boulder

Where Should I Get My Urban Planning Graduate Degree in Colorado?

There is one graduate program in Colorado accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB):

  • University of Colorado Denver- Master of Urban and Regional Planning

College of Architecture and Planning, Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Campus Box 126, P.O. Box 173364

Denver, CO 80217-3364

Accreditation through December 31, 2023

Austin Troy, Chairperson


Can I Become a Professionally Certified Urban Planner in Colorado?

American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)

You should pursue professional certification after you have graduate degree in hand and have worked in the urban planning field for at least two years. This is achieved through passing an examination given by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). Take the test at the following Prometric test centers in Colorado:

  • Colorado Springs – 2790 N. Academy Blvd.
  • Greenwood Village – 5660 Greenwood Plaza Blvd.
  • Longmont – 700 Ken Pratt Blvd.

The American Planning Association – Colorado Chapter offers online study materials and exam prep groups to help prepare you to pass the exam.

AICP Certification Maintenance in Colorado

The AICP’s Certification Maintenance program is designed to help you complete the requirement of 32 credits every two years that you must achieve to maintain your AICP certification. Appropriate events are posted online at the APA-Colorado Chapter’s website.

Do Other Planning Certifications Exist in Colorado?

There are certifications offered by other professional urban planning organizations, like:

What Type of Work Can I Expect to Find as a Colorado Urban Planner?

Samples of Urban Planning Projects in Colorado

Noteworthy urban planning projects in Colorado have included:

  • Revitalization Around Mile-High Stadium (Sun Valley area)
  • Slot houses in Denver
  • Pueblo West Metropolitan District Planning
  • Gold Hill Mesa, Colorado Springs

Examples of Urban Planning Internships in Colorado

If you do not have the opportunity to complete an internship in your college urban planning program, you might be able to pursue one on your own, such as:

  • Intern- Park Planning– South Suburban Parks & Recreation, Centennial
  • Intern- Monigle Associates, Denver
  • Intern Associate – KTGY Group, Denver
  • Environmental Intern – Terracon, Wheat Ridge
  • Intern, Development Review Planning- City of Boulder

Public Sector Urban Planning Positions in Colorado

The public sector in Colorado involves working at the federal, state and local levels of government, and might include:

  • Senior Planner- City of Colorado Springs
  • Planner II – Larimer County Community Development
  • Community Development Director/Town Planner- Town of Eagle
  • GIS/Engineering Technician – City of Salida
  • Neighborhood Engagement Specialist – City of Wheat Ridge

Private Sector Urban Planning Positions in Colorado

The private sector in Colorado includes a wide variety of urban planning companies, such as:

  • Early Career Sustainability Professional – Brendle Group, Denver and Fort Collins
  • Senior Planner/Urban Designer – McCool Development Solutions, Denver
  • Entry Level Urban Planner- Ayres Associates, Fort Collins
  • Level 2 Planner – Alta Planning, Denver
  • Planner 1 – HDR, Colorado Springs

What is the Outlook for Urban Planners and Real Estate in Colorado?

Per Colorado State Demographer, the population of Colorado is currently at its highest. In 2020, it is projected to reach 5.8 million, adding 1.5 million people since 2000. This growth rate is faster than most other states in the nation. Interestingly, the fastest growing age group in Colorado’s population is those over age 65. By 2050, the population of Colorado is expected to be 8.7 million. Also by that time, it is estimated that one in five residents of Colorado will be over age 65.

Accordingly, health care jobs have grown rapidly in the state, to keep up with the aging population. Another sector that has grown, however, is the life, physical and social sciences sector, of which urban planners are a part. Between 2018 to 2028, jobs within this sector are expected to increase by 21 percent. This is good news for those wanting to start a career as an urban planner in Colorado.

Housing prices in Colorado have continued to climb, with smaller houses in demand as Coloradans age. Construction costs have also risen in the state. A need to build more housing that is accessible for all ages is present in Colorado. This style is called universal design, and has become the preferred style of housing in the state. This is also a good sign that there will be plenty of work available for Colorado planners in years to come.

What are Some Additional Resources I Might Want to Check Out?