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Measure Aiming To Preserve Hughes Property Headed To Fort Collins Voters

Mountain bikers take a break along a trail in the Maxwell Natural Area just west of the Hughes property in Fort Collins.
Matt Bloom
Mountain bikers take a break along a trail in the Maxwell Natural Area just west of the Hughes property in Fort Collins.

Fort Collins city leaders have cemented language for a citizen-led ballot initiative seeking to preserve the former location of Colorado State University’s Hughes Stadium as open space, even as the school presses forward with its own redevelopment plans.

City council voted unanimously on Tuesday to send the measure to residents in its upcoming April 6 municipal election. If passed, it would force the city to zone the land as open space and attempt to purchase it from the university.

The vote drew familiar musings from city leaders on the long drawn-out project, which has gained attention due to its historic significance and proximity to natural areas.

Even as he voted to refer the initiative to the ballot, Mayor Wade Troxell expressed doubt the city could follow through on the idea due to cost barriers and legal complexities.

“I think it’s important that our voters know that the language is written more as a fool’s errand than as a responsible ballot measure that the city can follow up on,” Troxell said, adding that he believes it’s a good idea to let the site be developed because the city needs more housing.

Other members were more in favor of preserving the Hughes property as open space.

“I think we could pool resources,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ross Cunniff, who indicated he would vote in favor of the measure on Election Day. “I think voters need to use their own judgement, consider what they want in their city and vote accordingly.”

The future of the land east of Horsetooth Reservoir has been in limbo for years.

CSU demolished Hughes Stadium in 2018. Shortly after, the roughly 160-acre property was annexed into the city.

The university attempted to sell the land to a home developera deal conditional on the school’s ability to get the site rezoned for housing. Its plan, which called for a major development on the vacant lot, drew fierce criticism from some residents.

The city’s initial effort to rezone the site for housing ultimately collapsed in May 2020 after the council deadlocked on the rezoning plan.

The university then attempted to rezone the property for a second time. According to CSU, the city countered by trying to buy a portion of the land last fall. The school rejected the offer “based on a $7M loss to the taxpayers of Colorado and inability to pursue affordable housing for CSU employees.”

In October, CSU’s Board of Governors approved a final vision for the site. It includes 242 single family homes, 112 single family attached homes, 108 townhomes, an apartment complex, childcare facility, transit center and roughly 70 acres of open space, among other amenities.

Meanwhile, a group of citizens launched a grassroots campaign aimed at preserving the entire site as open space through a citywide referendum. The group, Planning Action to Transform Hughes Sustainably (PATHS), gathered the required number of signatures to place the measure on the local ballot.

Speaking during Tuesday’s meeting, Mary Alice Grant, a member of PATHS, said the city and its residents should do everything in its power to preserve the land.

“I understand this is a difficult issue, but the citizens have been very clear about what they’re looking for and it needs to go to the citizens,” Grant said.

It’s unclear what legal options the city has if voters approve the measure on April 6, but the university refuses to sell the land. CSU has stated it intends to move forward with its vision for the property regardless of the local election’s outcome.

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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