The Coloradoan sent a 20-item questionnaire to all Fort Collins City Council candidates, seeking their viewpoints and policy ideas about a range of city issues.
The Fort Collins municipal election is April 6, and the City Clerk’s Office will send ballots in the mail by March 19. Check your voter registration here to make sure you get a ballot. Council members are elected by district, and the mayor is elected city-wide. Check which council district you live in here.
Nick Armstrong is running to represent District 1, which covers northeast Fort Collins. The other District 1 candidate is incumbent Susan Gutowsky. These are Armstrong’s submitted answers to our questionnaire.
Learn more about Armstrong at nickforfoco.com.
1. What should the city do to address the social and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic? Is there anything you’d like council to do differently in this space?
The pandemic amplified the symptoms of pre-existing systemic equity gaps that we can no longer afford to ignore. Only through the creativity and dedication of our community’s best did we stem off truly terrible outcomes. There’s hope in that — we saw what could come to pass and did our best to rise up.
Public health and quality of life are products of good infrastructure, and all along District 1 and beyond, we must act to reconnect disconnected neighborhoods, eliminate book, food, park, and service deserts, address high child care costs for working parents, work to provide affordable housing, create cohesive support structures for our resident homeless population, and curb the dire effect of COVID on our creatives and businesses as well as our individual social and mental health. The road map to recovery is clear: we must pragmatically and durably fix these systemic gaps.
2. What should the city do to address the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic? Is there anything you’d like council to do differently in this space?
Fort Collins is at an economic pivot point — we have a flourishing gig economy serving as a life-raft for many of our community’s best artists, but through collaborative, visionary action, we could have a resilient gig-speed economy focused on research, new energy and infrastructure excellence.
Look for the helpers, as Mister Rogers said. These are the sparks that light our way toward a more prosperous, healthy, and resourceful local economy capable of comprehensively supporting neighbors whether their job is skills-based, information-based, or creative.
I look to collaborative efforts like the Fort Collins Marketplace’s free e-commerce solutions for our community’s artists and creatives, Pivot Larimer County through CSU providing resiliency training, NoCoInspire — a skilled-work-based-learning collaboration between local businesses, FRCC, CSU, Poudre School District, and Larimer County Economic and Workforce Development.
Our local venues, creatives, parentpreneurs, small businesses, and freelancers still need help, but the future I see is collaborative and hopeful.
3. The Homeward 2020 initiative recently wrapped up, with organizers recommending that Fort Collins or Larimer County create a dedicated revenue stream to address homelessness. On a related note, a recent city effort to explore a centralized campus for a homeless shelter and services resulted in no concrete action. What do you think of these two approaches, and do you have any other specific suggestions for addressing homelessness in Fort Collins?
As we saw with the Library Park neighborhood, the fallout to neighbors from well-intentioned but incomplete solutions can be devastating.
A true 360-degree support structure complete with cohesive case tracking, addiction treatment, mental and medical health support, short-term and work-to-own housing options, bike and bus-friendly transportation infrastructure, job training and placement programs, social services, and community and neighborhood outreach to mitigate externalities quickly and well — these aren’t things that are just “nice to have” — they are requirements.
Duct tape solutions are both ineffective and extremely expensive, doing long-term harm to our most vulnerable neighbors. The City can’t bear that burden alone and must creatively collaborate with the county, regional service providers, neighbors, and local businesses to durably solve this problem.
Fort Collins, through visionary partnerships, can be a model in this space — but few cities have effectively addressed this issue and we can’t do it without collaboration, pragmatism, and creativity.
4. How should the city respond to recent and projected population growth?
We are, collectively, experiencing the negative impacts to our quality of life, economy, environment, and equity from kicking the infrastructure can down the road. The city should respond by investing and partnering tirelessly to make our neighborhoods more connected, walkable, and usable and to reduce book, food, park, and service deserts.
Most neighbors in District 1 cannot safely get their kids to school without a car or a bus. In fact, to commute to the places where we work, play, study, and shop, cars are a pre-requisite for most neighbors. A simple trip to the grocery store requires a car; traffic and train delays are frequent. Traffic implications extend far into the city with horrendous impacts on our environment, economy, and every neighbor’s quality of life.
Neighborhoods must be made more walkable, more connected, and more useful; it’s the single-most urgent priority for equity, environmental stewardship and our economy.
5. The city’s Housing Strategic Plan lays out a vision for strategies to increase the volume of affordable and attainable housing in Fort Collins. Which of these strategies are most appealing to you, and how would you work to make housing costs more affordable in Fort Collins?
When neighborhoods are not walkable, cost of living increases exponentially, and our most vulnerable neighbors bear the brunt. Land banks, open space planning and density mapping, and code changes are important, but smart planning and coordination between the city, businesses, community builders, and neighbors is required. We can’t demand that community builders or landlords fix the problem for us and NIMBY isn’t sustainable — that mindset results in sprawl and passing the buck for decades. Not only do we have to work to make sure our solutions are durable and equitable, but we also have to examine the larger issue: jobs, talent retention, living wages, infrastructure, and culture. Neighbors of District 1 know firsthand that when we don’t act to eliminate book, food, park, and service deserts while improving connectivity, walkability and pedestrian safety, and usability of our neighborhoods, our collective quality of life diminishes with each new neighbor.
6. Council recently directed staff to draft regulations on oil and gas activity that would serve as a de facto ban on oil and gas activity in city limits. Do you agree with this approach? Why or why not?
Nobody wants to live next to an active well pad. We also can’t ignore that much of Fort Collins’ electricity is generated by coal and natural gas or that many neighbors work in energy-related fields. Even so: we must have an eye to the future and it requires teamwork and mindfulness.
As we witnessed during this latest cold snap (and especially in Texas), the ability to quickly swap from one energy resource to another is something we all take for granted. Building resiliency into our own energy grid is a goal we need to pursue: expanding renewable energy sources, augmenting power storage from renewables, smart interconnectivity, and bolstering efficiency and environmental standards to accommodate more extreme weather.
Whatever approach we take, we have to recognize and address externalities, not just because it’s fair, but because our neighbor’s quality of life in District 1 and beyond matters to us.
7. Many residents in the community struggle to afford the rising costs of child care. How should the city address child care affordability?
When our neighbors must use a car to get kids back and forth to school because we haven’t invested in sidewalks, bike lanes, and trail connections to make alternatives both safe and abundant, when we have book, food, park, and services deserts that aren’t being addressed, when entire swaths of the community have to drive to get to an after-school program, when we have wonderful tools like Connexion but don’t relentlessly pursue installation with high-density property owners, and when we’re slow to create collaborative connections between city, county, nonprofit, and local business resources to incentivize child care programs that are accessible not just for larger employers but also freelancers and solopreneurs, why are we surprised that child care is not affordable? We need actionable partnerships and creative collaboration between the city, county, businesses, nonprofits, and service providers to build additional support programs alongside action by the city to fill in missing infrastructure.
8. If you’re elected, what would be your approach to open space preservation and creation of new parks and trails? How would you prioritize this value in relation to other city priorities, particularly when the city is facing budget constraints?
In District 1, only two neighborhood parks east of Lemay and North of Mulberry serve over 2,000 homes. These homes are not connected to the rest of Fort Collins by way of sidewalks, bike lanes, or trails. Those critical connection points were left to the whims of future development — we can’t afford to operate like this anymore. Metro districts represent important and well-regulated tools to bolster amenities, services, and connectivity while sharing costs across an entire community.
Open spaces, trails, and parks are an important promise of our community that we must mindfully keep; I was part of a large contingent of neighbors working alongside city staff to ensure Crescent Park’s timely completion, including thoughtful additions like raised crosswalks, a police call box (our neighborhood has limited cell service), and shoulder-season water provided by the Maple Hill HOA. The challenges were numerous, but capable staff and creative neighbors succeeded together.
9. The future of the Hughes Stadium site has been a subject of contention for the last few years. Where do you stand on the city’s involvement so far in the rezoning of that property and the ballot measure that would direct the city to rezone the property as 100% open lands and attempt to acquire it from CSU?
I’m curious to learn more; NIMBY is not a sound decision-making framework.
This is a question of externalities: buy the land from CSU at a high cost, leaving a lot less money in the city’s budget, or sacrifice around 90 out of 160 acres of restorable open space for housing, amenities, and infrastructure updates.
If CSU employees move there, commuter traffic entering Fort Collins from neighboring cities would be substantially reduced. On the other hand, I’m curious about restoration costs required and externalities of a wildlife rehab center so close to neighbors.
I remember tailgating at Hughes as a CSU student, the unending stream of cars and traffic jams on game days, competing with my roommates to pick up the most trash from fellow tailgaters, and the organized chaos that affected those neighbors each game day.
We must be mindful of and accountable for the unintended consequences of our actions.
10. Several Colorado cities, including Denver, Aurora, Littleton and Longmont, have recently decided to allow marijuana delivery or are expected to consider it in the coming months. Some marijuana dispensaries in Fort Collins have expressed support for a delivery program here. Would you support the city exploring that possibility?
Yes. Support structures can be put in place to help neighbors make responsible recreation choices. Enabling delivery has the potential to diminish impaired driving and improve accessibility for home-bound medicinal patients.
The bigger issue is this: addiction and sourcing of illicit drugs in our community. While we have a needle exchange and disposal program, we ought to consider providing safety testing of illicit drugs and/or so-called “fix rooms” as part of a comprehensive support service to reduce addiction. Studies from Denmark show these save lives and improve outcomes for the whole community.
Pairing these resources with partnerships at the city, county, and nonprofit levels with comprehensive systems dedicated to case tracking and addiction/recovery and mental health support, along with building pathways for “status change check-ins” (e.g. preventative check-ins when neighbors lose a job, get a divorce, move) can prevent crises before they occur and slow addiction trends brewing in Colorado.
11. Fort Collins is creating a new Equity and Inclusion Office to promote those values at the highest levels of city management. What would you like to see that office focus on, and how would you work to make Fort Collins a more inclusive and equitable community?
It’s not my role as a City Council member to speak for my neighbors. It is my role to provide my neighbors in District 1 and beyond a platform to speak, connect them with resources, and amplify voices that have been ignored for far too long.
That’s the methodology I use to recruit representative and diverse team members for Fort Collins Comic Con and Fort Collins Startup Week. It’s not enough to bring folks to the table who have different backgrounds, skin colors, and languages — you must invest in empowering and elevating the entire team, confidently holding space and purposefully conducting outreach to surround yourself with smart and hard-working partners, allowing ideas and experiments to flourish.
Beyond outreach, we must commit to act on what we hear and learn. As with small business, the best ideas in a community come from purposeful, supported research, creative experimentation, collaboration, and teamwork.
12. Conversations about policing practices came to the forefront this summer after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, inspiring global demonstrations and police reform legislation in Colorado. Here in Fort Collins, Black residents are arrested and cited at higher rates than white residents. Are you satisfied with the level of equity in policing here in Fort Collins, and if not, what would you like to change about it?
The BIPOC community shares their experience time and time again to encounter mostly inertia. Lasting change requires purposeful action and representation. We must commit to act on what we learn, providing platforms for our neighbors to speak (as opposed to speaking on their behalf).
Connection between neighbors is key — studies from Hungary show the more physically disconnected your city, the more disconnected and inequitable your city’s social networks (online and off) become. We’re at an inflection point; purposeful investments and partnerships can offset truly dire outcomes.
Partnering with local resources and nonprofits to reduce the burden on our police to be all things all at once all the time is the first step. Other easy wins exist: communication and collaboration between FCPS, LCSO and neighbors must improve, especially in District 1 where two high-speed chases this year were bravely and competently stopped, however, no outreach to neighbors was made during or after.
13. What is your stance on possible changes to the “U+2” occupancy ordinance? If you support changes, what would like to see specifically and how would you catalyze action?
U+2 is inherently inequitable and unsustainable for our student and low-income neighbors. I believe in the policy of honest intent: if your intentions are honorable and honest, a more relaxed standard can peacefully coexist with the quality of life of long-term neighbors. As mentioned in an earlier answer, we must be mindful of the unintentional consequences we create through our actions.
College students will still be college students, and teaching both civics and the art of neighborliness is a critical component of success when modifying U+2. Partnerships, stewardship education programs, and other volunteerism-type pathways could exist to facilitate a “give-first” mentality and empower neighbors to concurrently agree to relax the U+2 standard to something more viable. All neighbors must be brought to the table to share experiences and prevent poor outcomes.
14. Fort Collins adopted climate action goals to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions by 20% of 2005 levels by 2020, 80% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. The city is projected to miss the 2020 goal by a few percentage points, and big, systemic changes will be needed to reach the 2030 and 2050 goals. Do you support the climate goals, and if so, what should City Council do to ensure they are met?
Yes. Beyond expanding the tree canopy and implementing widespread rooftop renewable energy incentivization programs for homes and businesses alike, improving neighborhood walkability to reduce dependency on car travel is the lowest-hanging fruit in this regard. Connecting sidewalks, bike lanes, trail connections to the rest of Fort Collins — especially across District 1, where this infrastructure does not exist and new communities are already in progress and could be made more walkable — will have an immediate and meaningful impact on our climate action goals.
15. Fort Collins is working toward a goal of zero waste by 2030, but it didn’t meet its 2020 benchmark goal of 75% landfill diversion, and staff considers it unlikely that the city will meet the 2030 goal. The city is now reevaluating the goal. What would you do on council to support meaningful reductions in the volume of waste sent to landfills?
Direct outreach and partnerships between the county, city, nonprofit partners, service providers and neighborhood HOAs (where they exist — and where they don’t, volunteer groups of neighborhood leaders) to directly educate our neighbors on best practices, waste reduction, shopping locally and alternative containers is required. Composting on a neighborhood level, local food production, and expansion of voluntary “habit shifting” incentives programs is required to achieve meaningful progress in this area.
16. Fort Collins has relatively poor air quality compared to other parts of the country, particularly in regard to ozone levels. How would you work to improve community air quality?
It keeps coming back: Making neighborhoods more walkable needs to be the goal in this regard. Reducing dependency on car travel to commute to the places where we work, shop, learn, and play — and actively partnering and investing to reduce book, food, park, and services deserts throughout our city can create immediate and lasting air quality gains, especially if paired with funding mechanisms like a metro district, we can bolster tree canopies, reduce concrete heat pads for parking by providing smart alternatives, and incentivize non-car transit methodologies.
17. The health of the Poudre River degrades considerably as it moves from the canyon mouth to Fort Collins, and the city’s 2017 Poudre River report card awarded an overall grade of “C” for the stretch from Gateway Natural Area to I-25. What would you do on council to improve the health and quality of the Poudre River?
I’m committed to the health and longevity of the Poudre River and learning how to be a good steward in my role as city councilperson. I don’t know enough about the issues around this particular question and would love to learn more about it. This is an area where I’m not an expert and would value the opportunity to learn more from our community experts and scientists.
18. If you’re elected, what would be your top priorities in regard to roads and transportation in Fort Collins?
Pedestrian and bike safety updates and reconnecting all neighborhoods across District 1 (and beyond) to the rest of Fort Collins proper. Sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails are some of the best investments we can make in our communities to make our neighborhoods more walkable and useful. The lack of connectivity imparts severe consequences to our community’s equity, economy and environment.
19. Council and the community have had many discussions in recent years about transparency and Connexion, Fort Collins’ municipal broadband network. Some of the public is craving more information about the buildout and the network’s financial performance. How do you think Connexion should balance the public interest in transparency and accountability with the need to preserve competitiveness?
100% transparency is required.
20. If you’d like, use this space to share your perspective on an issue or issues that are important to you but weren’t mentioned in the Coloradoan’s questionnaire.
Fort Collins desperately needs a convention center to bring tourism and sales tax revenue for creative events that currently end up at The Ranch or Embassy Suites. From first-hand experience: Fort Collins Comic Con could grow right away. Currently we host around 150 local artists and 3,500 attendees per year (who each spend around $100 on taxable local art). We’re limited by the lovely and functional, but small, Northside Aztlan Community Center as the largest venue that can do what we need. Despite that, we’ve raised over $120,000 for the Poudre River Public Library District over the last six years. We — and other events like ours — could grow easily if Fort Collins had a venue for us.