ARCHIVED  June 1, 1997

Weld captures increasing share of new-home market

Is the home-building frenzy shifting from Larimer into Weld County?

And if so, is it a result – at least in part – of Fort Collins’ new City Structure Plan and Land-Use Codes?

“To say there is a shift implies a loss, and I’m not sure that Larimer has had a loss,´ said Monica Daniels-Mika, director of Weld County Department of Planning Services.

Tom Vosburg, policy analyst for Community Planning and Environmental Services for the city of Fort Collins, concurs.

“People tell us the market is softening, but we issued a record number of building permits last year, and it’s been strong this year,” he said. “We’re swamped, in terms of processing applications.”

He concedes that there are some Larimer County builders actively pursuing development projects in Weld County, but “we were seeing (Larimer) builders in Weld before the City Plan was anywhere near complete.”

Fort Collins’ City Structure Plan was adopted in February and the Principals and Policies for Land Use in March. Both employ many elements of what has been termed “New Urbanism,” which includes higher-density houses, less-visible garages and proximity to transit systems and commercial districts.

Vosburg calls the comprehensive plan “futuristic” and says it represents Fort Collins’ philosophy and commitment to a compact urban form. The City Plan relies heavily on mixed use – residential, commercial and transit laid out in such a way as to provide diversity in housing choices while conserving resources.

Density, however, is one of the more controversial points of the plan and one that has some observers wondering if it will encourage even more Larimer builders to cross over into Weld County, where large lots are still commonplace.

Fort Collins’ new codes call for five units per acre – the previous plan called for three. The Home Builders Association of Northern Colorado, however, would prefer no more than four.

Another building code specifies how much of the garage can be positioned in front of a house. Vosburg noted that alleys, which had been prohibited in the previous plan, are now allowable to enable access to rear-entry garages. He also noted that the city will have architectural drawings available to builders to show how the new codes can be implemented.

Vosburg said Larimer builders who are looking for opportunities in Weld County are doing so because building opportunities for small builders are becoming difficult to find in Larimer County.

“The big thing is, we’re running out of small infill parcels. The large parcels on the edge (of the city) are already under control. We’re already hearing from builders that there are not a lot of opportunities that are easy to develop for the small-time guy. The large tracts really are best-developed by the builder who can do a big master plan. Those folks are not phased by five units per acre.

“Some large parcels are under contract with the specific contingency that it’s only good if the plan is adopted and in effect; otherwise, the deal is off,” Vosburg said.

He does concede, however, that “there is a small vocal group in this area upset with the land-use plan.”

That group is the Home Builders Association.

“We have been talking to them about the code and identifying their concerns,” Vosburg said.

The group has a list of 10 concerns they would like addressed, said Dotti Weber, executive officer of the Home Builders Association. “We are working with them to give them solutions to the problems.”

In addition to density and garage frontage, the home builders do not like the contiguity requirement, which means a new development must be adjacent to an area already developed.

“Some areas are difficult to tie into something else,” she said.

In Northern Colorado, she added, “We don’t have a lot of the large corporate builders. We have builders who live, work and play where they build their houses. They’re going to do everything they can to make Fort Collins’ City Plan work, because this is where they work. Quite frankly, most builders are family-owned companies.”

Weber noted that Fort Collins’ plan is not unique.

“There is a lot of that type of designing coming out across the country. Whether it’s market-driven and people will fall in love with it? We have to build what the market will buy.”

She added, “One of my builders told me, ‘We builders are very resilient. We will build what people want to buy.'”

Looking at Weld County, Weber says the area’s sense of “back to basics” is one of the big drawing cards.

“We want to live in a small town and have the small-town atmosphere,” she said.

And until just a few short years ago, most small towns in Weld County did not have annexed land or developed lots.

“And now they do. You can live in Johnstown and drive to Loveland in 20 minutes and get to look at the mountains while you do. And there’s always the affordability factor.”

Daniels-Mika attributes Weld County’s increase in home building to the state’s robust economy and the changing American dream.

“In the 1950s, we saw an exodus from the cities to suburbs,” she said. “In the ’60s through the ’80s, we saw growth in the suburbs. And now in the ’90s, we’ve started seeing growth in the county area.”

Historically, Weld County has been a market for larger-lot subdivisions, she said, defining “larger lot” as two and a half or more acres.

But there is one maxim that determines where in Weld County the growth will be: water.

“Water is a real essential element, especially for ag production,” she said. “Looking at it from the county standpoint, prime ag land is prime because it has water. Municipalities also are interested in acquiring water for subdivisions. Water, however, is a finite source.

“When you have five or more homes clustered together, you’re looking at a public water source. Either you’re going to be on a municipal water source or one of the district water sources. Certain portions of Weld County are not able to be served by potable water as opposed to irrigation water.”

This is why most of the home-building activity has been happening in western Weld County and not in the county’s eastern drylands.

Sherry Albertson-Clark, Dacono city planner, says development along the I-25 corridor is spurring home-building activity in eastern Weld County as well. The proposed Great Mall of Colorado at Colorado Highway 7 and another outlet mall in Dacono at Weld County Road 8 are among two of the larger proposed developments that could have a tremendous impact on building activity in Weld.

Also, she noted, it’s only been in the last few years that the I-25 corridor has been considered prime real estate.

“A lot more annexations have occurred that put them (small towns) out far enough to annex part of the highway frontage,” she said.

Rebecca Safarik, community-development director for the city of Greeley, said that whatever Larimer-based builders are in the area are offset by the number of Greeley builders in Fort Collins. Out-of-town builders in Greeley do not come exclusively from Larimer, Safarik said, pointing to Elk Lakes, which is now being handled by Buell & Co. out of Denver.

Safarik said out-of-town builders and developers are not a bad thing. Instead, they help add to the mix, bring new products and more choices for consumers.

Is the home-building frenzy shifting from Larimer into Weld County?

And if so, is it a result – at least in part – of Fort Collins’ new City Structure Plan and Land-Use Codes?

“To say there is a shift implies a loss, and I’m not sure that Larimer has had a loss,´ said Monica Daniels-Mika, director of Weld County Department of Planning Services.

Tom Vosburg, policy analyst for Community Planning and Environmental Services for the city of Fort Collins, concurs.

“People tell us the market is softening, but we issued a record number of building permits last year, and it’s been strong this year,”…

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