The Fort Collins City Council hit a roadblock on Tuesday night in its effort to rezone the former Hughes Stadium site for future residential development.
Council members were split 3-3 on a recommendation from city staff to divide the land in half, encouraging more development on the eastern side while attempting to preserve a buffer between new homes and foothills to the west. Per council rules, the tie means the rezoning plan will be scrapped and city staff will have to develop a new one.
The council reached the stalemate during a mostly in-person meeting at city hall. Councilmembers sat 6 feet apart while members of the public lined up outdoors wearing masks and called in over the phone to provide comment.
Councilwoman Susan Gutowsky, who voted against the rezoning, said she made her decision based on comments she received from residents against the plan.
"What they don't want is dense and sprawling housing at the base of our foothills," she said.
Councilwoman Julie Pignataro, who attended remotely, said she was frustrated the council was even meeting in-person to consider the proposal amid the pandemic.
"That's why I'm voting no," she said.
The approximately 165 acres of undeveloped land near Horsetooth Reservoir has attracted attention over the past year due to its historical significance and proximity to pristine natural areas to the west. Colorado State University, which owns the land, is in the process of selling it to a national home developer, Lennar Corporation.
The Miami-based company wants to build roughly 600 new homes on the property. The city's zoning decision is needed to help Lennar decide if its proposed project is feasible and if the sale should go forward, a CSU spokesman said.
The spokesman did not provide a timeline for the sale, and it's unclear what the city's delay in rezoning will mean for the deal.
The council initially approved the Hughes site's zoning plan last fall. But the final reading was delayed for several months due to several ethics complaints lodged against Mayor Wade Troxell and Mayor Pro Tem Kristen Stephens.
The complaints, which have since been cleared by an independent board, claimed both have personal and financial interests in seeing the site developed. Troxell and Stephens are employees of CSU.
This week, residents filed another ethics complaint against Stephens, who recused herself from Tuesday's vote. Stephens said the complaints were not valid.
"In all of my decision making I have tried to do what was best for the city," Stephens said.
Troxell voted in favor of the rezoning plan. He said the year-long process had been hampered by wrongful ethics complaints lodged against him. He also blamed community members for spreading misinformation around the rezoning process.
"I think it's a fair expectation for any applicant that they have their predictable development process to get through," Troxell said. "I believe I'm representing the citizens of Fort Collins in my vote and I stand by that."
Councilwoman Emily Gorgol, who also voted in favor of the rezoning, said the council should support more efforts to build housing on the site. The land is one of the city's last undeveloped parcels of its size, making it valuable.
"We'll have more housing options which is something we need," Gorgol said
Hundreds of residents have spoken out against the rezoning plans over the past year, calling for the site to be preserved as open space or a wildlife rehabilitation center. At Tuesday's meeting many urged the council to scrap the rezoning plan.
Mary Grant, a resident who lives near the Hughes site, said the city needs to keep the area a "jewel" instead of allowing a developer to build more homes.
"The plan the city is proposing will change the foothills forever," Grant said.
Lupe Sandoval, another resident against the rezoning plan, said the coronavirus pandemic has magnified the need to preserve recreational space for the community.
"If we've learned anything from this whole pandemic it's that we are in need of space," Sandoval said. "That beautiful open space is the only thing that's saved me."