Hughes open lands initiative to appear on City’s 2021 ballot

Samantha Ye

Development sign
As Fort Collins continues to grow, so does the demand for housing, which is leading to more and more open spaces being proposed for development, Nov 10. (Addie Kuettner | The Collegian)

Next April, the residents of Fort Collins will have a definitive opportunity to voice their desires on the future of the old Hughes Stadium property.

City Council submitted a proposed measure requiring the City to make good faith efforts to purchase the 165-acre land parcel at fair market value and reserve it for open space uses to appear on the ballot for the 2021 City election. 


I’m just really tired of public servants and elected officials using their power to forward their agendas.” -Melodie Nicholas, resident

This was the mandated result of a successful citizen-initiated petition led by the community organization Planning Action to Transform Hughes Sustainably.

PATHS has been a key voice in opposing the redevelopment of the Hughes parcel into housing, particularly during the City’s contentious attempt at a higher density rezoning

After the council failed to rezone the property this spring, PATHS petitioned for a ballot measure to make the City purchase and zone the land for open space

According to The Coloradoan, the organization needed to obtain signatures from registered voters in City limits equal to 10% of ballots cast in the last regular municipal election.

A day before their deadline, they submitted over 8,200 signatures, according to City Clerk Delynn Coldiron. The City did not verify beyond the required 3,280 signatures.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, PATHS members pointed to their success and the positive feedback they received as evidence of the community’s support for keeping Hughes open space.

“No longer can we be called paper tigers or simply just a vocal minority,” said Melissa Rosas, PATHS member. “If this citizens’ petition shows you anything, it’s that Fort Collins voters value open space; they want Hughes to be conserved as such, and they want (the City Council) to step up now and represent them.”

Audience holding up green signs during city council
Audience members held up green signs during City Council to show their support for PATHS, a committee dedicated to the sustainable redevelopment of Hughes. (Samantha Ye | The Collegian)

The adoption comes less than a month after Colorado State University, the current owner of the Hughes parcel, switched over to the Site Plan Advisory Review process in order to pursue its plans for home development.

The plan includes over 600 homes on the land, including affordable apartments and attainable housing for low-earning CSU employees. It would also contain an integrated Transfort station, roughly 50% open and green space with a foothills buffer, a primary care medical clinic and a child care center.

The SPAR process relegates the City of Fort Collins to an advisory role on this development, while the CSU Board of Governors is responsible for giving the final approval. 


I think we kind of need to finish the democratic process and take it to the ballot. I think we need to hear from everyone.” -Emily Gorgol, City Council member

CSU will have its first conceptual review of the plan with City staff  10:15 a.m., Nov. 19. It is open to public viewing over Zoom. 

Multiple residents voiced ire at the University for taking the SPAR path in a move they regarded as circumventing the public will.

“It just really hits a raw nerve with me,” resident Melodie Nicholas said of SPAR. “I’m just really tired of public servants and elected officials using their power to forward their agendas.”

CSU representatives had no comments to add about the petition or ongoing plans. It is unclear how the ballot issue will figure into the University’s process. 

Last month, CSU already considered and turned down a City offer to buy all but 10 acres of the land for $7.2 million, according to The Coloradoan. They are currently contracted to sell the land to Lennar Corporation for $10 million, with potential for bonuses.

“If we don’t have a willing seller, what’s the price?” Mayor Wade Troxell said. 

Although some residents suggested the City had “low-balled” CSU on the attempted purchase, City Manager Darin Atteberry said he stands by the City’s offer.

“We feel that it was justifiable given the conditions of the property,” Atteberry said. “(The staff) have always had an expectation from City Council that we make market value offers, and that’s exactly what we did.”

In addition to the acquisition, it would probably take several million dollars to restore the property on issues such as soil restoration, Atteberry said. 

City staff have previously said they do not consider the Hughes parcel a worthwhile addition to the City’s natural areas collection, typically meant for biological preservation and different from an open space area.

The ordinance that the council sent to the ballot requires that the City “use best efforts in good faith” to purchase the Hughes lot “at its fair market value for the purpose of using it for parks, recreation and open lands, natural areas and wildlife rescue and education.” It lists several possible sources of funding from which the City can pull to purchase the Hughes lot within two years of the ordinance passing.

Even if a ballot measure does not prove to be the correct legal way to carry out the purchase, Councilmember Ross Cunniff said the council should pass a resolution that, if the measure passes, promises to take the necessary administrative actions to satisfy the intent of the petitioners and the voters.

The council also had the option to adopt the proposed ordinance outright during Tuesday’s meeting, but the motion to do so failed on a 3-3 vote with Mayor Pro Tempore Kristin Stephens recusing. 

Although most of the 29 residents who spoke at public comment were supportive of immediate adoption, the opposing councilmembers — Troxell, Emily Gorgol and Ken Summers — said they wished to hear from the entire City on this issue.

“I think we kind of need to finish the democratic process and take it to the ballot,” Gorgol said. “I think we need to hear from everyone.”

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