Government & Politics  August 13, 2010

Bringing together something old, new

FORT COLLINS – Steve Mack admits he doesn’t have an easy answer to the question of what should or should not be allowed when redeveloping property in the core east- and westside neighborhoods of Fort Collins.

“There are those who want to go ahead and see some changes and some protection of Old Town,´ said Mack, a homeowner in the westside core area. “Others want to protect their property rights and values. It’s an interesting question.”

And it’s a question the city council will be taking up at an Aug. 24 work session on what – if anything – should be done to change existing rules, policies and guidelines for the Old Town areas, which include houses built before the beginning of the 20th century.

Megan Bolin, the planner heading the latest look at possible design standards, said the city has been getting calls from neighborhood residents complaining about new homes and additions to existing homes that residents don’t feel are in synch with the neighborhood.

“We are concerned that some expansions and new houses are not compatible with the existing neighborhood character,” Bolin said. “The character (in the areas) is something that is unique and not found elsewhere in Fort Collins, and we’ve been trying to maintain that.”

Bolin said the city is also concerned that some potentially historically significant houses have been or may be demolished as the areas are redeveloped.

The city hosted a second open house on the Eastside and Westside Neighborhoods Design Standards Study on July 29, which was attended by 73 people on a weekday afternoon, Bolin said. About 100 attended the first open house in April, she said.

The neighborhoods have no homeowner groups to set rules for redevelopment and residents rely on the city to set policy. Currently, the city mostly has only guidelines that property owners can decide whether or not to follow.

Special challenge

The areas present a special challenge, as they have developed and redeveloped over the last century or so. There is a wide variety of housing styles on just about every street, and most residents like it that way.

But many of the older structures are starting to crumble, making them unsafe, energy-inefficient and a drain on nearby property values.

The property value argument goes both ways, however, as those living in homes of 1,000 square feet or less see big new homes go up beside them, increasing their property taxes.

“A lot of people who live there could be priced out of the neighborhood,” according to Mack. “Developers are pushing up the price of lots.”

Such complaints and ongoing issues have brought the neighborhoods to the attention of the city council before, with varying results. In the late 1990s, the city developed Neighborhood Character Design Guidelines – not regulations – for both areas, and in 2004 the city created standards for how much square footage can be added in a backyard.

Bolin said the main issue now seems to revolve around house size, with some redeveloped homes taking up the entire lot right to the sidewalk in front and the alley in the rear.

“Really, the biggest problem is people feel the houses are just too big,” she said. “When you hear people talk about the issue, they talk about shading of my house, the loss of solar, windows looking down into my home – they’re all a function of size in one way or another.”

Jennifer Carpenter, a real estate agent and city planning and zoning board member who is on the Citizen Advisory Committee working on the issue, said she doesn’t see much of a problem.

“Really, what we have in place is pretty good, but we need to fix a few loopholes in the code,´ said Carpenter, who owns property in the area. “There are some blocks that the houses really weren’t built to last as long as they have. We need to allow for compatible, sensitive redevelopment in those areas.”

 

Common sense needed

Gina Janett, a former city council member and resident of the westside core neighborhood, said she’d like to see the city put some restrictions on redevelopment.

“For me, it makes great sense to put in some common-sense regulations to protect the neighborhood,” she said. “I wouldn’t say we don’t want new houses or nothing should be torn down, but we really do have an issue over scale.”

Janett said there have been several homes built in recent years that have taken full advantage of the bigger lots available on many blocks. “They used up the entire lot – there’s zero lot,” she said.

As a former council member, Janett said she’d like to see the current council actually set some standards.

“My advice would be to add more predictability by enacting standards that people know right up front what they can and cannot do as far as setbacks, scale, lot coverage and solar access,” she said. “People are really torqued on that (solar) one.”

Randy Shortridge, an architect and east side homeowner, said he’s for keeping the code pretty much as it is with a “few small tweaks” to make it better. Shortridge said he understands those who want to keep things as they have been.

“I understand the intent of that, but the truth is cities and neighborhoods need to be dynamic and part of that energy is to allow houses to be redeveloped,” he said.

“There are certain homes in certain neighborhoods that should be preserved in one way or another,” he added. “But we can’t freeze things in time, like (Colonial) Williamsburg.”

Shortridge said he would like to see the city let the areas generally evolve as they will.

“One thing that’s great about the old neighborhoods is they’re messy and they’re vital and that’s what makes cities interesting,” he said.

FORT COLLINS – Steve Mack admits he doesn’t have an easy answer to the question of what should or should not be allowed when redeveloping property in the core east- and westside neighborhoods of Fort Collins.

“There are those who want to go ahead and see some changes and some protection of Old Town,´ said Mack, a homeowner in the westside core area. “Others want to protect their property rights and values. It’s an interesting question.”

And it’s a question the city council will be taking up at an Aug. 24 work session on what – if anything –…

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