Colorado State University leaders have laid out new plans for the 161-acre former Hughes Stadium site in west Fort Collins, asserting themselves into a process in which they’ve been relatively silent for two years.
The university now plans to oversee and develop the property itself instead of immediately selling to Lennar Colorado LLC. The preliminary plan includes 671 dwelling units — 462 single-family homes, duplexes and townhomes and up to 200 apartments — day-care, urgent care and transit centers and 70 acres of open space.
CSU is “100% committed” to making all apartments affordable for people making up to 80% of the city’s area median income, said Brett Anderson, special assistant to CSU Chancellor Tony Frank. The city’s AMI is currently $59,600 for a single person or $85,100 for a family of four.
Anderson said CSU is also committed to making the single-family units attainably priced and available for much of its workforce, primarily classified staff and administrative/professional staff, who have long cited affordable housing as their No. 1 challenge.
The Hughes property, which sits at the base of the foothills off Overland Trail in west Fort Collins near subdivisions Bella Vira and The Ponds, was annexed into city limits in 2018. As such, it is one of the largest redevelopment tracts in a city that is desperate for developable building lots.
The land’s future has long been a controversial topic, particularly because of a longstanding citizen campaign to turn it into 100% open space. CSU said it can satisfy community demands with 70 acres of open space and a buffer next to the foothills while satisfying its own priorities for affordable workforce housing and sustainability.
But CSU’s plans for the Hughes land have little common ground with the citizen-initiated ballot measure that the community will vote on April 6. The ballot measure, as proposed by Planning Action to Transform Hughes Sustainably (PATHS), would ask voters if the Hughes land should be zoned as 100% open space and if the city should attempt to buy the land at fair market value.
It’s not yet clear whether the ballot measure will include the latter directive for the city to purchase the land. City Council sent the ballot measure to a district court judge for a declaratory judgment after city attorney Carrie Daggett said she was concerned that the purchasing directive could be considered an “administrative” action that is legally inadmissible in a ballot measure.
The matter is now playing out in court, with PATHS attempting to block city changes to a ballot measure that received more than 8,000 citizen signatures. Daggett didn’t provide an update on the ballot measure issue or city review of CSU’s plans before the Coloradoan’s deadline.
PATHS representatives said in a statement that “we were surprised the city took this action after declining to work with PATHS and our attorney when we were drafting the initiative language” and added that it took the city almost a month after signatures were verified to seek changes to the contents of the ballot measure.
“Clearly they are concerned about how the vote will turn out,” the PATHS statement added.
The CSU System won’t lobby for or against the ballot measure but will instead focus on getting its message out to community business, health care and housing leaders, as well as CSU employees, Anderson said.
“I do believe there’s a fairly large segment of the community that doesn’t have an understanding of what our plan is,” he said.
He added the CSU System is keeping an eye on the court proceedings over the ballot measure. A measure directing rezoning of the property without a mandated attempt to purchase it would set “problematic” precedent for the state, he said.
“We’re waiting to see what … is going to be on the ballot exactly, but our commitment right now is to the project that we’ve laid out,” he said. “We think that the benefit to our employees, to the community, is so significant. That’s our end game.”
A CSU System flyer describing plans for the property notes that a ballot measure can’t force an entity to sell its property. PATHS representatives conceded that point.
“While the City can’t force CSU to do the right thing and sell the property to the City and citizens of Fort Collins, the City Council and the citizens of Fort Collins, via citizens initiative, do have the legislative right to zone the property per our City Charter in a way that best serves the Community and aligns best with surrounding land uses,” they wrote in a statement shared with the Coloradoan. “Finally, unelected bureaucrats, like the CSU Board of Governors and the Chancellor, shouldn’t decide the future of Fort Collins: Its residents should.”
Spreading its message
CSU is now trying to win support by spreading the word about what it believes to be the benefits of its plan: addressing the city’s attainable and affordable housing problem; its need for affordable child care and health care; and reducing carbon emissions by adding a transit center.
A transit center will eliminate 1.5 million commuting miles every year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 430 metric tons annually, Anderson said.
“We hope people will understand the merits” of the project rather than the narrative that has portrayed CSU as needing the money to help pay for Canvas Stadium, which replaced Hughes, he said.
“That’s the furthest thing from the truth,” he said. “The stadium is faring very well.”
CSU acknowledges it has to regain the trust of residents who have had little communication from the university or Lennar for two years. “When they see us follow through and execute (on the plan) we can get their trust back,” Anderson said.
Once it is safe to engage the public, Anderson said CSU will host neighborhood meetings and will likely file its formal development plans sometime after the April 6 municipal election.
Anderson said CSU will eventually sell some of the site to Lennar Colorado LLC in what could amount to a $14 million deal.
“CSU will take the entire project through the development review process as a single project … and CSU will have involvement from the beginning to end,” Anderson said. “CSU and Lennar will be working together throughout, with CSU taking the primary role on the community benefits (urgent care, child care, etc) … and Lennar will be lead on the home sales.”
Lennar had tried and failed for nearly two years to win support amid a strong public outcry. In an effort to control the size of the development, City Council took the unusual step of trying to rezone the property itself. That effort failed when council deadlocked on the rezoning.
Faced with a crumbling deal that hinged on Lennar getting development approval, CSU changed its strategy. As a private developer, Lennar needs city approval to develop the land. As a governmental entity, CSU believes it can use the Site Plan Advisory Review (SPAR) process in which the city’s role would be strictly advisor.
The city disputes CSU’s assertion, Anderson said.
“We believe the SPAR process is 100% within our rights,” Anderson said. “Our original attempt was to go through the normal process … we couldn’t make the original process work. We tried it for two years.”
Even if it utilizes the SPAR process, Anderson said CSU intends to adhere to all city processes, including neighborhood meetings.
By the numbers:
165: Number of acres in the site
$10 million: Price Lennar Homes will pay for the site, per a pending purchase agreement
242: Single-family detached homes
112: Single-family attached homes
170-200: Apartments housed in several buildings
100: Percent of apartments that will qualify as affordable housing under HUD guidelines
70: Acres of open space
18: Number of holes in the existing disc golf course
1: Child-care facility
1: Urgent care center
1: Transit center
45,000: square feet of commercial space
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.