Fort Collins offers new guidelines for river district

FORT COLLINS – An increase in new building and redevelopment projects within Fort Collins’ Downtown River District has prompted the city to rework its design standards and guidelines to help developers understand how the city would like to preserve the area’s historic heritage.

The 61-acre district on the south side of the Poudre River is steeped in history and has developed a distinct character. The city wants to encourage developers to preserve the area’s eclectic flavor.

Ted Shepard, chief planner for Fort Collins, said the city embraces the style of all the old buildings, which contribute to the district’s personality, but it is time to lend more clarity to the guidelines.

“The last time we updated the standards was 1997, a time when there was zero activity in the area,” Shepard said. “As the area has become more active with redevelopment and new projects, we wanted to make sure the distinctiveness of the area is not diluted.”

Adjustments to the River Downtown Redevelopment Zone Design Guidelines were approved by the city council June 3. At the same meeting, some of the new guidelines were incorporated into a land-use code update that also was approved.

The three main adjustments to the development guidelines remove “vagueness” in the guidelines, Shepard said. They address neighborhood foot traffic, parking and entrances to businesses, and materials used to construct or rebuild structures.

The district is a home to old industrial buildings, commercial businesses, retail shops, restaurants and neighborhoods. Ranch-Way Feeds, which claims to be the oldest continuously running business in Fort Collins, epitomizes the district’s agricultural heritage. Some businesses are housed in historic buildings, and others such as Black Glass and Diamond Vogel Paint are housed in large Quonset hut buildings along Jefferson Street.

“Those buildings (Quonsets) are nearing “historic age,” Shepard said. “And we embrace that.”

In neighborhoods, Shepard said the city is encouraging developers to create off-street connectors.

“Mid-block private pathways, walkways and alleys can create a sub-network of connectors that will make it more fun for pedestrians to explore the district,” he said.

The city wants to see commercial buildings have well-defined entrances that are easy to find with parking on side lots or in the back of the businesses. “We’d like to see options for courtyards and patios on business properties,” Shepard added.

Bricks and native stones are the city’s exterior material of choice, but the guidelines are not limited to just those. Shepard said the use of “timeless durable materials” are urged, but there are some materials he’d rather not see.

“We want to stay away from excessive glass and steel, eliminating the shiny, reflectiveness of those materials,” Shepard said.

With recent high-running rivers damaging some structures and threatening others in Northern Colorado, the land-use code has been amended to stipulate that parking garages, structures and lots, and retaining walls are prohibited along the river.

Mayor Karen Weitkunat said the new guidelines are welcome because they define a sense of the standards and are there simply to add information to better understand the standards.

Councilman Ross Cunniff said the guidelines will be beneficial because they give pictures in context and encourage ways to develop the area that won’t be so restrictive that they create a “cookie-cutter” city.

Two new projects already are under way in the district.

Brinkman Partners is building a new headquarters for Encompass Technologies at 418 Linden St. on the south bank of the Poudre River. Called Block One, the $9 million, four-story, terraced building structure includes offices for Encompass Technologies, a restaurant, 12 apartment units and a parking structure.

Jon Prouty is redeveloping the Northern Colorado Feeders Supply property that includes a feed store built in 1911. He is working with Doug and Connie Dohn, and Alex Schumann to incorporate the historic building into an area that will have a 54-unit apartment complex and commercial buildings. On May 31, Northern Colorado Feeders Supply completed its move to 300 Hickory St. in Fort Collins.

Doug Storum can be reached at 303-630-1959, 970-416-7369 or dstorum@bizwestmedia.com.

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