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CSU Plans To Develop Hughes Property Despite Fort Collins Vote

The plot of land in southwest Fort Collins where CSU's Hughes Stadium used to stand. Last month, Fort Collins voters passed a ballot measure aiming to preserve the site as open space.
Matt Bloom
The plot of land in southwest Fort Collins where CSU's Hughes Stadium used to stand. Last month, Fort Collins voters passed a ballot measure aiming to preserve the site as open space.

Updated on Friday, May 7 at 5:45 p.m.

The CSU Board of Governors on Thursday voted to “reiterate its intent” to move forward with a development application for the Hughes site pending its consideration of an anticipated offer to buy the land from the City of Fort Collins.

The board also stated its opposition to the city’s rezoning of the Hughes property as open space - a requirement of the city’s passed ballot initiative. The Fort Collins City Council voted to move forward with the rezoning on Tuesday night.

The original story continues below.

The future of the 161-acre Hughes property east of Horsetooth Reservoir remains in limbo almost a month after Fort Collins residents voted to purchase it from its current owner, Colorado State University, and preserve it as open space.

On Tuesday, the city council will meet to consider rezoning the land, a requirement of the passed ballot initiative. Meanwhile, the university is staking its claim on the property and pressing forward with its own plans to develop housing for staff and students.

The dueling visions for the site have added stress to the drawn-out planning process for the vacant plot near the foothills. The site has been the subject of intense community interest due to its proximity to natural areas and historical significance. It’s also seen by some as a prime location to develop new housing supply for the growing city.

Here’s what we know about where the process stands:

The recently-passed ballot initiative requires the city do two things:

  • The council has to immediately rezone the property as a Public Open Lands zone district, a designation meant for parks and other recreation and educational facilities. It’s currently zoned as a transitional space.
  • The city must then buy the property from CSU for the purpose of using it for a public park, recreation center or wildlife rescue and education.

City council is moving forward with the first requirement. It will first consider a rezoning ordinance on May 4, with a second reading scheduled on May 18. The designation will go into effect 10 days later, according to a memo from the city’s manager, Darin Atteberry.

The purchasing process is more complicated. It will be the second time the city has tried to buy the land from CSU. Last year, it offered $7 million to the university. The school’s Board of Governors declined.

Following the election, a new staff team formed “to develop the information needed to evaluate fair market value and potential approaches for negotiating,” Atteberry wrote. The process is expected to take “some time to complete,” he added.

The city also elected a new mayor and several new councilmembers who will carry out the ballot initiative. In an emailed statement to KUNC, Mayor Jeni Arndt said the “property clearly holds a special place for many in our community.”

“Council will be honoring the will of the voters and discussing next steps on Tuesday,” she said. “I look forward to the conversation.”

At the same time, CSU has outlined its (very different) vision for the site:

Last November, the university submitted an application to build new housing. The plan calls for 632 residential units, which would include a mix of single family homes, townhomes and apartment buildings.

CSU also hopes to build a childcare facility, transit center, health care center, commercial space and a new park. About 70 acres of the site would remain open space, according to the university’s plans.

An illustration of the proposed development, which CSU hopes to build on the piece of land east of Horsetooth Reservoir.
Courtesy Colorado State University
An illustration of the proposed development, which CSU hopes to build on the piece of land east of Horsetooth Reservoir.

Following the city’s April 6 election, the university released a statement saying, “The CSU System respects the voting process and the direction Fort Collins voters have provided to the City. And as we have discussed all along with City leadership, this ballot measure does not bind the state to sell the Hughes property—that decision and authority rests with the Board of Governors of the CSU System. We look forward to future conversations with the City to determine if there is a path forward.”

Since then, the university has doubled down on plans to move forward with developing the land. It’s in the process of ending a proposed sale to a home developer, and will instead try to build housing itself, according to an April 8 letter from the Colorado Attorney General’s office, which represents the university.

The letter outlined how the city could legally go through the city’s SPAR development review process, which makes cities more of an advisor than a final decision maker in state-owned pieces of land. Discussions are still ongoing about what development path the university will take, according to publicly available documents.

It’s unclear what - if any - legal conflicts could arise if the university tries to build on a piece of land zoned for open space. CSU has made it clear it wants to make progress on its vision after spending years caught in the planning stages.

In a statement to KUNC, a CSU System spokeswoman said the university hadn’t yet submitted a formal development application to the city. An official decision to move forward rests with the CSU Board of Governors, which meets later this week.

If CSU moves forward with a SPAR development review for the project, a neighborhood meeting will be scheduled and advertised on the city’s website.

Fort Collins Councilmember Emily Gorgol told KUNC she hopes the university will honor the intent of the voters as it considers moving forward with development plans.

“I really hope the city and CSU can work together on what the vision of the property will be,” Gorgol said. “I think it’s really stressed relationships in the city between residents and institutions and we need to think about what the best outcome is for the next 100 years of Fort Collins.”

Note: This story has been updated with a comment from a CSU spokeswoman.

I cover a wide range of issues within Colorado’s dynamic economy including energy, labor, housing, beer, marijuana, elections and other general assignment stories.
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