Developer takes next step toward mixed-use project that includes CSU workforce housing


The vision for 185 acres at the northeast corner of Horsetooth and Ziegler roads in Fort Collins.

A proposed development at the heart of a three-way deal to sell Hughes Stadium to the city of Fort Collins will get its first public scrutiny next week.

Cottonwood Land and Farms, owner of 185 acres northeast of Ziegler and Horsetooth roads, has proposed a roughly 1,140-unit mixed-use project on undeveloped land that is currently used for mining and gravel operations.

The Fossil Creek Reservoir Inlet Ditch runs along and through the property, known as Strauss Lakes, generally on the west side, and the site is west of Rigden Reservoir, the Poudre River and the planned East Community Park.  

About 24 acres on the northwest corner of the property is intended to be sold to Colorado State University for workforce housing. 

The Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on a pre-application planned unit development on Thursday. No formal plans have been filed, and no decisions will be made at Thursday’s hearing.

Developer Bill McDowell said he intends to file formal plans about 60 days after the public hearing.

A planned unit development overlay is basically a roadmap that sets the direction for the entire 185 acres but gives the developer increased flexibility in site design, density and uses. In return, the developer must provide “significant public benefits” that aren’t available through traditional development procedures.

In this case, the developer says it will provide a diverse array of housing, including affordable and attainable homes, recreation and open space, and neighborhood services such as restaurants, day care and professional offices.

McDowell will approach project development on two fronts: annexing 168 acres into city limits and pursuing development approval concurrently. Only 17 acres of the site are currently within city limits.

The potential Strauss Lakes development at the northeast corner of Horsetooth and Ziegler roads in Fort Collins.

So here’s where CSU and the city get involved in the land deal: 

In August, CSU, Fort Collins and Cottonwood Lands and Farms signed a memorandum of understanding that would result in the city buying the Hughes land from CSU. At that time, the deal was contingent on the city approving Cottonwood’s zoning and development plans, at which time CSU would buy about 24 acres for $1 million. 

In November, however, City Council announced it was moving forward with an accelerated purchase with CSU while Cottonwood continued working on the planned affordable housing site with the university.

In December, CSU’s Board of Governors formally approved the sale of the former Hughes Stadium in west Fort Collins to the city for $12.5 million. It was the next step in the memorandum of understanding, or MOU, and moved the university closer to the sale. 

CSU System spokesperson Tiana Kennedy said the Hughes sale to the city is expected to close in April or May. The city and CSU are continuing to discuss the sale of the Hughes property, and that sale is no longer contingent on Cottonwood receiving approval of its development project, she said.  

If the collaboration between Cottonwood and CSU goes forward, the project “could have outsized and generational impacts” on the city, the pre-application states.

Kennedy previously told the Coloradoan that while the Hughes land was 165 acres, the 24 acres CSU plans to buy is comparable to the portion of Hughes that CSU had designated for housing.

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CSU will build on only about 15 of the 24 acres, McDowell told the Coloradoan Thursday.

According to the MOU, all approvals must be in place by Dec. 31, 2022, or any party can terminate the deal.

McDowell said he intends to continue working with CSU beyond Dec. 31, even if he doesn’t have development approval. “A lot of this (development review) is out of our hands,” he said. “It’s a complex deal …we consider this a win for the city and community as a whole. We have a remarkable affordable housing partner.” 

The proposal supports a diverse array of business and commercial uses intentionally built to complement the surrounding homes. Plans for condominiums, townhomes, and paired homes include “entry-level priced products to allow more people that work and want to live in the community the opportunity to own their own home,” McDowell said. 

Cottonwood has been working with city staff to connect local and regional trails including up to CSU’s Environmental Learning Center north of the site.  It intends to “double down” on its commitment to trail connections by creating direct connections between the East Community Park and Strauss Lakes. 

With more collaboration with the city, it could also include making a segment of the property into an alternative transportation hub for residents with bus access to and from parks and CSU, and nearby medical facilities, according to the pre-application. 

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That frees CSU from having to provide a transit station and health care clinic, as it had planned for the much larger Hughes site. It is still expected to house a child care facility and affordable apartments for rent, Kennedy previously told the Coloradoan. 

Strauss Lakes is the largest development proposed since Montava, the 4,000-home development in northeast Fort Collins that won initial approval of its overall plan last year and is beginning the development review process for the first two phases this year. 


The Fort Collins Planning & Zoning Commission will hold the planned unit development pre-approval public hearing at 6 p.m. Jan. 20 at City Hall, 300 Laporte Ave., or virtually. Information on the virtual meeting will be posted at 48 hours prior to the meeting. 

Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.