Explosive development code public comment session headlines Tuesday’s city council meeting

Fort+Collins+City+Council+in+session+Sept.+21%2C+2021.+The+City+Council+heard+from+community+members+and+moved+forward+with+a+variety+of+ordinances+impacting+Poudre+School+District%2C+local+marijuana+codes%2C+infrastructure%2C+and+other+aspects+of+the+city.++%28Ryan+Schmidt+%7C+The+Collegian%29

Fort Collins City Council in session Sept. 21, 2021. The City Council heard from community members and moved forward with a variety of ordinances impacting Poudre School District, local marijuana codes, infrastructure, and other aspects of the city. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

Kaden Porter, Staff Reporter

Frustrated citizens came out to the Fort Collins City Council meeting Dec. 6 to share grievances about the recent major changes to the city’s residential land-use code.

A number of citizens attending the meeting organized a protest in which the group held up blank, orange sheets of paper when prompted multiple times during the public comment session. One member of the group shared that the purpose of the demonstration was to show that they felt as if their voices weren’t heard by the city council in regards to the new Land Development Code.

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“This is never going to go away, whether the petition gets enough signatures or not. Many people in this city don’t want a (major) population density increase, and that doesn’t make them bad people. … We have a lot of work to do to restore the development code and the credibility of the city organization.” – Kelly Ohlson, Fort Collins City Council member

“To say that new, multi-unit development wouldn’t change the personality of neighborhoods is absurd,” one concerned citizen said.

The main cause for concern in the new code is the change to some zones that previously allowed only single-unit detached houses to now allow construction of “duplexes and small (up to three units) apartment/townhouse style buildings if at least one unit is set aside as an affordable home.”

“Developers will just buy up old lots and build large buildings,” another citizen said during the public comment session. “Large, multi-unit buildings are our main concern.”

The code was last updated in 1997, and the city’s population and needs have since grown; the council says that the recent changes were made with the purpose of increasing housing capacity in the city and developing affordable and diverse housing choices. The new code was also rewritten and condensed to be understood easier.

As citizens shared their grievances with the new code, many mentioned that the council was “secretive” in the creation process. One claimed that nobody he asked had heard about the changes to the code until after they were passed, and another accused the council of gaslighting citizens.

Some other citizens, however, spoke in favor of the new Land Development Code at the meeting.

Kristin Candella, CEO and executive director of Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity, spoke to the council in support of the new code because she believes it promotes needed affordability and housing diversity in the city. Steve Kuehneman, executive director for affordable housing company CARE Housing, also spoke in favor of the new code.

“(Beyond providing affordable housing), the code also works towards our climate action goals, our transit goals and our overall city goals,” Kuehneman said.

Another citizen supporting the code changes, Joe Rowan, confronted Council member Kelly Ohlson for comments that he made in a previous meeting regarding the code. Ohlson suggested that the revised code had been created with “vested economic interests” in a “rigged system.” 

“When you make statements that suggest the process of developing the code was corrupt, people listen,” Rowan said. “It’s created a very toxic environment. … I think you need to take ownership of that.”

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Responding to the public comment session, Ohlson defended himself, claiming that he had never stated that the council was corrupt.

“I’ve never seen a cleaner public government … but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect,” Ohlson said. “Nobody up here is intentionally trying to do anything bad.”

In total, nine citizens spoke against the new Land Development Code, while five spoke in favor. The opposing citizens urged others to sign a petition that requests the council to reconsider the revisions.

“This is never going to go away, whether the petition gets enough signatures or not,” Ohlson said. “Many people in this city don’t want a (major) population density increase, and that doesn’t make them bad people. … We have a lot of work to do to restore the development code and the credibility of the city organization.”

Reach Kaden Porter at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @kqporter5.