Fort Collins mulls occupancy ordinance changes

FORT COLLINS – The Fort Collins city council would be open to considering some changes to the decades-old “three-unrelated” occupancy ordinance that has produced an abundance of emotion and debate since full-scale enforcement began in 2007.

At the Oct. 27 work session, council members said they were not interested in making any sweeping changes to the ordinance, and wanted only to reconsider certain aspects of it.

“Nobody here is saying to not continue the ordinance,´ said Wade Troxell, who represents District 4. “I just think there are some issues with its enforcement.”

Council members requested city staff provide more information on possibly creating a rental registration or licensing system to help address problems with the enforcement of the ordinance.

“Licensure would be a plus because it would allow inspections of homes to see if there were things like proper basement windows for people to get out in case of a fire,´ said Pete Seel, a professor at Colorado State University and a homeowner in the Rolland Moore West neighborhood in southwest Fort Collins, after the council met. “It is clearly a health and safety issue.”

Possible zoning changes to allow extra-occupancy rental houses in certain zones, including the Neighborhood Conservation Medium Density zone surrounding the CSU campus, were also considered by the council.

However, some members were not inclined to look at zoning changes. “I am not at a point in the history of the ordinance to tinker with it,´ said David Roy of District 6. “I am not ready to try to figure why it is not a good thing to be pursuing.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Ohlson also disagreed with changing the zoning outright. “People bought into their neighborhood as single-family-zoned areas,” he said. “You don’t change the rules on them in the middle of the game when they thought they bought into a low-density, single-family neighborhood. I am interested in pursuing very tactical exceptions. We should consider them, but it does not say we are going to change them.”

Seel was also concerned that investors seeking rental properties would price young families out of neighborhoods and school enrollments at elementary and middle schools would drop as result. “There would be no young people left in the neighborhoods, and schools like Bennett Elementary (just west of the CSU campus) would have to close,” he said.

Wanda Kaspar, a former resident of the Westlawn addition just north of campus, became concerned about the number of rentals popping up throughout the neighborhood and eventually moved in 1988.

“I loved my house and my neighborhood but that’s why I never wanted to come back,” she said. “The noise and congestion, and quality of life was going down.”

Kaspar rented her home to families and to students on occasion before selling it in 2006.

Mary Ann Kuster, a resident of the Mantz addition northwest of campus, said she is concerned about any possible changes that would allow more than three renters to a property. She cites issues with students who are renting homes, including less parking space, parties and unkempt properties.

“Three seems to be a good number to limit them,” Kuster said. “I love students and understand that they want to have fun, but I have lived here 35 years and I don’t want to have to move. I like being in the center of town.”

Stepped-up enforcement

The occupancy ordinance was created in 1964 as part of the city’s first off-street parking ordinance, according to Peter Barnes, zoning administrator for the city. However, enforcement was difficult, and it was rarely enforced for four decades.

By the beginning of this decade, however, the city was hearing increasing citizens’ complaints about occupancy-related issues. From 2003 to 2005 the council also focused on other neighborhood concerns, such as enforcement of the public nuisance ordinance and adopting the 2006 International Property Maintenance Code.

In 2005 information was gathered by Corona Research to determine the economic and market impacts of enforcement of the three-unrelated ordinance. Based on 2000 U.S. census data and a public phone survey, the study estimated there were 1,070 homes in violation. Changes to the occupancy ordinance were adopted in 2005 and enforcement went into effect Jan. 1, 2007.

After two years of full-scale enforcement, another Corona Research study using similar methods of census data and surveys of single family homes was conducted in 2009. It found that violator households had decreased by 46 percent to an estimated 579 households, and there were improvements in neighborhood conditions.

“We are only starting to see the ordinance meet its intended goals,” Ohlson said. “It is beginning to have a positive difference in our neighborhoods.”

Local organizations are standing behind the ordinance, such as the Fort Collins Board of Realtors. “The status quo is the best thing moving forward without being over-reaching, and to continue on the path we are before any changes are being made,´ said Executive Vice President Clint Skutchan.

No significant changes to the ordinance look likely until staff provides the council with more information regarding the possible options.