Opponents of development at the former Hughes Stadium in west Fort Collins have filed an ethics complaint against Mayor Wade Troxell and City Council member Kristin Stephens, both employees of Colorado State University, who voted recently to rezone the 165-acre site.
The complaint filed Thursday by Nicholas Frey and Mary Satterfield Grant, alleges Troxell and Stephens, as CSU employees, have a vested interest in the university’s $10 million sale of the land and should have recused themselves from council’s Nov. 5 vote.
The two were part of the 4-3 majority that voted on first reading to split the site into two zones: one with higher density that will allow more homes and one that will allow fewer. Without their votes, the rezoning would have failed 3-2.
Council will vote again Tuesday during the second reading of the rezoning petition.
Opponents argued the land should remain open space but if it has to be developed, they asked for the lowest possible density.
Troxell, Stephens, Ken Summers and Emily Gorgol argued that lowering the density drives up development costs per unit and can result in bigger, more expensive homes on larger lots, the antithesis of Colorado State University’s goal in January when it agreed to sell the site to Lennar Homes for $10 million.
Council members Susan Gutowsky, Ross Cunniff and Julie Pignataro said the site on Overland Trail was a special place that should be protected.
If council approves the rezoning on final reading, the likely density would be between 302 and 478 units — 82 on the west side and between 220 and 396 on the east side, based on land needed for streets and stormwater detention, according to a memo to council from city Long Range Planning Manager Cameron Gloss.
Theoretically, Gloss wrote, the site could accommodate 1,069 units if all housing was certified as “affordable.”
Realistically, however, “the site can’t physically accommodate that number,” he said.
The city allows higher density for homes that fall within certain federal guidelines for affordability. Lennar Homes has not committed to building “affordable” homes for people earning less than the city’s area median income of $59,600.
A maximum density of 478 units is well below the 600 to 700 homes Lennar desires in its purchase contract. Lennar, which can pull out of the contract if it can’t get the density it wants, has not indicated whether the project will go forward.
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Answering the complaint
Meanwhile, Troxell has said he stands by his decision not to recuse himself from the council discussion and vote.
He and Stephens both said at the start of the council meeting they did not see their employment as a conflict of interest.
Stephens was not immediately available for comment.
The complaint was filed to the Ethics Review Board, made up of council members Pignataro, Summers and Stephens, with Troxell listed as an alternate.
The complaint argues that as graduate coordinator in CSU’s Department of Statistics in its graduate school, Stephens’ job performance, security and compensation is “strongly tied to CSU’s financial ability to attract and retain the highest level of graduate students.”
It makes the same argument for Troxell, a professor and researcher. “Troxell has a history of using CSU as an incubator to help identify and support new technologies,” the complaint reads.
If Lennar doesn’t buy the Hughes site for $10 million or more, CSU’s research budget could suffer, the complaint argues. “Research funding is the first to get cut when revenue drops.”
Earlier this year, however, CSU boasted $398.5 million in research activities for fiscal 2019, a 6.3% increase from 2018. About 70% of that total came from federal grants, according to a CSU news release.
Troxell said his research funding does not come from CSU and he has no direct or indirect link to the Hughes property, which is owned by the Colorado State University System.
He chalked up the complaint to “folks who didn’t like my view and my decision, and they’re trying to create something.”
The Hughes sale “is of no financial benefit or detriment to me,” he said. Troxell does not plan to recuse himself from Tuesday’s upcoming vote.
City Council took the unusual step of rezoning the property in July instead of leaving it up to a potential developer.
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado.
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