Condo project near CSU sets land-use trend

FORT COLLINS – A Denver real estate developer is poised to launch a “trailblazer” project on the southwestern edge of Colorado State University’s campus, one that could spur a broader urban redevelopment of a declining neighborhood.

Jeffrey Evans, owner of Observatory Park Realty in Denver, is in the midst of marketing loft-style apartments in the Observatory Park Condominiums, a four-story, 58-unit project on West Prospect Road.

The proposed project is about 400 feet from the CSU campus, on a 1.67-acre assemblage of three lots where three decaying ranch homes, built in the 1950s and 1960s, will be scraped away to make room for the new development.

A little-known provision of the city’s land-use code might eventually allow most of an entire neighborhood to be similarly dismantled in favor of high-rise, high-density mixed commercial and residential buildings.

Fort Collins planner Ted Shepard said Evans’ project, if the market is sufficient to launch it, could be the model for that process.

“This is going to be the first project out of the chute,” Shepard said. “It’s going to be a trailblazer in a larger process that’s going to really change the landscape.”

The stage was set for the overhaul with the city’s approval of the West-Central Neighborhood Plan, a zoning framework that bestows a special designation for the area as “high-density mixed-use neighborhood district” – the only such designation in Larimer County.

Evans said he is prepared to broaden his scope, once the condominium project that replaces the homes at 800, 808 and 814 W. Prospect Road is complete. In July he bought an adjacent property – a century-old, two-story house built on an acre of land at 730 W. Prospect – that he also intends to redevelop into a high-density, high-rise residential and commercial project.

Sky eye

That plan includes a small astronomical observatory, similar to the one that serves as a draw to the Observatory Village subdivision in southeast Fort Collins, set in a park-like setting near the old, gabled craftsman-style home.

“I’ve had a conceptual design for that project approved, but that’s going to stay on the back burner while I’m working on the first one,” Evans said. “I see that going forward a year from now, or two.”

First, Evans must complete the $2.6 million purchase of the property where Observatory Park will take shape. Evans intends to buy the ground from Frazier & Co. Ventures LLC, the Fort Collins investment firm that steered the project through the city’s review process.

Then, assuming sufficient presales, he’ll face another $7.5 million in development and construction costs.

The market for the Observatory Park Condominiums will include the campus community, but it will not be similar to the student-rental beehives that stretch westward from CSU.

Prices for the 58 units range from $198,100 for a 677-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment on the second floor to $344,300 for a two-bedroom, corner apartment on the top floor.

Quick math shows a price per square foot of $297, not exactly equivalent to what an undergraduate student with a work-study job would pay in rent. But the price is well in line with what some of the new mid-market loft projects in downtown Fort Collins are selling for.

Evans said the thinks his project is a logical choice for young professionals, and for the parents of CSU students who might see an opportunity to sit on a real estate investment for the four years their children are attending. Retired CSU faculty and staff members, wishing to maintain their ties to the campus, would also find it appealing, Evans said.

“This is not student housing,” he said. “We’re looking at a much broader market than that.”

‘Smart, green’

A component that adds to the construction costs is a geothermal heating and cooling system, based on a network of plastic pipes buried 12 feet beneath the project. The system preheats water for winter heating and allows for the dumping of heat during summer months.

Project architect Bob Mechels of Vaught-Frye Architects Inc. of Fort Collins said the system, common in other parts of the country, is a rarity in projects in this region.

“It was significantly more expensive to go that route,” Mechels said. “It’s a smart, green building system, and I applaud Kevin (Frazier) for having the gumption to explore that.”

Frazier said a $250,000 addition to building costs to pay for the geothermal ingredient would be partially offset with about $150,000 in city energy-reduction incentives.

The setting for the approved condominium project and for its proposed successor – Evans’ planned five-story mixed commercial-residential complex next door – is a neighborhood that has reverted from home ownership to rental use, with property conditions deteriorating.

Shepard said the plan adopted for the neighborhood would allow urbanization of the southern campus edge while preserving traditional neighborhoods further south.

“The West-Central Neighborhood Plan was visionary,” Shepard said. “It made a bold statement that Prospect Road was a dividing line. North would become more urban, and south would remain a traditional neighborhood. I like the plan, and respect how it was adopted, and the vision that it arrived at.”