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CSU will decide independently, but work with city when solving construction concerns

If the City of Fort Collins decided to build a sports complex in the city, it would be out of place for CSU to voice concerns that it would interfere with college athletics.

That’s the analogy Fort Collins mayor Karen Weitkanut used as she discussed the city’s role in CSU’s decision making process to build an on-campus stadium.

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“The university has its areas of jurisdiction and what it can and can’t do and so does the city,” Weitkanut said. “I feel very strongly that both the city and university each has its own set of priorities. And where those meet [if stadium construction moves forward] is somewhere down the road. It’s not now.”

Mayor Weitkanut’s comments highlight the fact that the university enjoys complete autonomy when deciding which construction projects to pursue on campus.

The city cannot tell CSU whether or not to build an on-campus stadium, because the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over CSU campus.

This is nothing new.

An agreement reached  in the mid 1960s between CSU and the city of Fort Collins exempts the university from city zoning regulations and gives CSU broad latitude when making decisions about construction on campus.

This was done in recognition that the university needed to be able to function independently since it belongs to the entire state.

However, should the proposed on-campus stadium move forward, the city and the university would be working closely together doing neighborhood outreach processes to see what the concerns of homeowners would be and looking at solutions for traffic and parking issues as well.

Fred Haberecht, assistant director of landscape and planning with CSU’s facilities management, said the three biggest concerns if the stadium project moves forward would be parking, traffic and the impact on nearby neighborhoods.

He added these are problems any university runs into if it’s undergoing expansion.

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“Those are all traditionally hot-button issues,” Haberecht said. “The stadium brings all of them to the front in one fell swoop.”

Other concerns –– like receiving water, sewage and electrical services –– would be negotiated with city departments, said city of Fort Collins chief planner Ted Shepard.

Because CSU is a state entity, the city’s authority to regulate the university is extremely limited, said Deputy City Manager Diane Jones.

CSU is not alone with this level of freedom in deciding construction projects on campus.

The CU-Boulder process is similar to CSU, according to CU-Boulder director of media relations spokesman Bronson Hilliard. The university takes input from the public, coordinates with the city, but ultimately has final say-so on what gets built.

“If the city expresses concerns with us about a particular project we try to engage with their planning department to see what kind of things get worked out. We do that as a way to maintain good town/university relations,” Hilliard said. ” We don’t do it because of any specific rules or requirements.

Just because CSU can make building and construction decisions independent of the city doesn’t mean the two entities don’t often collaborate on or share plans about future projects.

“We sit down with city staff regularly. We ask them, ‘what are the potential issues you see with this project’,” Haberecht said. “We try to get out early for anything we think may have an impact on the city and fully disclose what we’re planning.”

An example can be found in the 5-mile, $88 million Mason corridor Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, a city project that involves a two mile stretch of property on campus. Haberecht said the city and university worked together, from the staff level up to the city manager and university president, for almost 10 years.

Figuring out what neighborhood impacts would be, who pays for what and pedestrian improvements are a few of the problems the two entities looked at together.

Haberecht said even though there’s no city oversight at CSU construction sites, the university still has rigorous state oversight on all building projects within its jurisdiction.

He described this as a combination of oversight from the state architect’s office, a lengthy series of both peer and internal reviews and master plan final approval from both the CSU Board of Governors and the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Shepard said the city would generally have no concerns about projects on the core of campus.

“If CSU wanted to do more improvements at the Lory Student Center, or to put brick on Corbett Hall, we’re not really going to care about that,” Shepard said.

Where the city starts to become interested in CSU construction projects is when they are adjacent to city streets or property and might have an impact outside of campus. He used the parking garage on Prospect Street and Center Street as an example.

“We had concerns about pedestrian visibility, would cars get backed up on the public right of way, how it would affect traffic,” Shepard said.

The city asked CSU to do an additional study to see if an extra traffic lane was needed on Center Street. The study found that no extra lane was needed.

“If the study did show we needed that extra lane, we would have built one,” Haberecht said. “That’s typically included in the cost of development.”

On those sort of interface issues, the city and university work closely together. The city has the power to mandate improvements or upgrades if need be.

Haberecht is confident that university and city officials will be able to work together to get on the same page with any problems that arise should stadium construction move forward.

“It certainly has never been an issue of staff working with staff because we work with the city transportation manager, planning manager, all the way through,” Haberecht said. “I believe we have a really healthy working relationship with city staff.”

Senior Reporter Austin Briggs can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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