Board of Governors pushes Hughes site development forward

Samantha Ye

After over a year of setbacks, Colorado State University will still be pursuing its home development plans for the Hughes Stadium lot.

The CSU Board of Governors voted unanimously to invoke its status as a state governing entity and enter the Site Plan Advisory Review process for Hughes, wherein the BOG will make the final decision on the property plan. Unlike before, the City of Fort Collins will now serve only to advise and comment.

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In their vote, the board turned down a recent purchase offer from the City and reiterated its main objective of providing attainable housing for lower-income University employees.

“We have always wanted what’s best for the University and for Fort Collins,” said Dean Singleton, board member and secretary. “And I think, while we’re having to go this different direction, I think what we’re proposing here is still very, very positive, not only for the University and the citizens of Colorado but for the City of Fort Collins as well.”

“This project is good for the University’s bottom line, which means it’s good for employment in the City of Fort Collins.”-Nate Easley, board member

It is the latest swerve in the Hughes redevelopment saga ever since CSU sold the land to Lennar Corporation for $10 million in early 2019.

The SPAR process is now proceeding alongside a citizen ballot initiative to try to have the City purchase the land for full price, according to The Coloradoan.

What happened to the City’s process?

CSU prefers to invoke SPAR sparingly, and thus had previously chosen to cooperate with the City’s development process on Hughes, said Tony Frank, CSU System chancellor. This included annexing the property into Fort Collins and awaiting a City zoning designation.

Zoning would have determined the types of housing and density that could be built on the quarter-square mile lot. City staff had recommended a that CSU found agreeable to their original 600-700 home plans, Frank said. 

However, after City Council’s attempts to rezone the property were delayed due to repeated ethics complaints filed against voting members and eventually ended in a deadlocked vote, CSU figured it should change tactics. 

“We believe that the affordable housing, environmental aspects of this project, the student training opportunities, the community benefits, are really very compelling,” Frank said. “And we thought that we had probably not been effective at getting that point across.”

CSU planned to present its plans at a Council work session during the summer, but that meeting was axed when City staff were directed to negotiate a purchase of Hughes instead, Frank said. 

The City declined CSU’s offer to sell them half the land “at a substantial discount,” Frank said. That offer would have still let Lennar develop the other half with 350 single family homes, 10 acres of affordable housing apartments for CSU employees, a primary care medical clinic, an early childhood learning center and a Transfort station.

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The City’s counteroffer was to buy all but .016 square miles, or 10 acres, of the land, leaving no room for “attainable” single family homes, Frank said. 

According to The Coloradoan, the City offered around $7.2 million for the land. But the revenue gap compared to Lennar’s contract is about $7 million, Frank said, and so he could not recommend the BOG take the City’s offer. 

The BOG, citing their fiduciary responsibility and tight economic conditions imposed by the pandemic, voted unanimously to pursue their original site plan. 

“This project is good for the University’s bottom line, which means it’s good for employment in the City of Fort Collins,” said Nate Easley, board member.

What are CSU’s plans for Hughes?

Frank’s BOG presentation provided one of the more detailed looks at CSU’s plans for the site. It includes:

  • Over 600 homes varying from single family homes, paired homes and townhomes. Apartment units will have rent subsidized by CSU to serve as affordable housing for their lower-income employees.
  • An integrated Transfort station.
  • About 50% open or green space with a buffer against the foothills.
  • A primary care medical clinic.
  • A child care center.

The housing aspect is key to plan. When CSU surveyed its employees around housing concerns before the pandemic, the top concern was rent in Fort Collins, followed by the purchase price of a home. 96% of those surveyed recommended CSU subsidize some employee housing, Frank wrote in a letter to City Manager Darin Atteberry.

“These problems are especially acute for the approximately 1,600 CSU employees who, while they now make a living wage, are still at or below 80% of the average mean income for our community — nearly one-third of our workforce,” Frank wrote.

In addition to the subsidized apartments, Frank said CSU would work with the developer to make a “substantial portion” of the single family homes within the “attainable” price range, defined as “below the community’s median home price.”

As a major funder of Transfort, CSU is also invested in increasing ridership through the Transfort line. The other elements of the proposed development — the child care facility and medical center — would likely have learning opportunities for CSU students, Frank said. Their services would be open to the public.

What about resident objections?

A vocal population of City residents have spoken out against the development of the Hughes land for the last few years. 

Members of the community group Planning Action to Transform Hughes Sustainably, or PATHS, have been a consistent presence at public meetings to express their preference for leaving the area as open space or very low density development.

They are now gathering signatures for a proposed ballot measure to have the City “purchase the Hughes site at fair market value and zone it entirely as open space,” according to The Coloradoan. If they reach their 3,280 signature goal, it would make the ballot in the spring local election.

Councilmembers said they did not feel it was appropriate to comment on the ballot initiative at this time. 

But with CSU moving forward using the SPAR process, several residents came to Council Oct. 20 to ask what their recourse is for continuing to express their concerns.

“CSU did not negotiate with us in good faith,” said Mary Grant, PATHS member. “They basically had a goal. They set their goal, and they followed their goal. … What options (does) the community have?”

Mayor Wade Troxell said citizens can find recourse in the ballot initiative but also the CSU System and BOG, which have plenary jurisdiction over the land. It is no longer in the City’s hands. 

“We are very appreciative of our long and valued partnership with CSU, and we too are disappointed that we could not arrive at an agreement, as this was a very legitimate offer that would have supported our City priorities of providing affordable housing and preserving open space,” Atteberry wrote in a statement to The Collegian.

Councilmember Ross Cunniff said he did not regret the City’s negotiations with CSU, though they may have done better if they’d thought of a City purchase sooner.

“We might have had more fruitful discussions if we had been pursuing this for a longer time period,” Cunniff said. “But again, it takes two to tango, and CSU decided that it was not in their interest, as they defined it, to continue negotiations.”

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.