Economy & Economic Development  December 17, 2010

Plan Fort Collins targets city’s future self

FORT COLLINS – Fort Collins is wrapping up a year-long, $850,000 update of its City Plan and Transportation Master Plan and combining the two into Plan Fort Collins, a vision of the city’s future.

City officials say the 226-page plan is needed to guide Fort Collins to its next level as the city grows and times change.

“It’s essentially the vision of the city for the next 25 years,´ said Joe Frank, advance planning director. “It’ll set the stage for capital improvements and for funding those projects.”

But critics of the plan say it is long on generalities and short on specifics.

“Our initial reaction is it’s a planner’s utopia but very thin on economic reality,´ said David May, president of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jeff Schneider, owner of Armstead Construction, said the plan is too ambitious in saying it will guide the city over the next two and a half decades.

“I wish I knew what was going to happen in the next five years, let alone the next 25,” he said. “There’s still a lot of issues with the details.”

Plan Fort Collins ties together virtually all of the city’s major planning documents over the last 15 years into one. Frank said the plan emphasizes sustainability with a “triple bottom line” that addresses economic, environmental and human factors when city officials make decisions.

The plan focuses on seven areas: economic health; environmental resources; community and neighborhood livability; safety and wellness; culture, parks and recreation; transportation; and maintaining a high-performing community.

It also calls for continuous improvement through constant monitoring, evaluation and adjustment over time.

“It’s been a real exciting process,” Frank said of the year-long development of the plan. “I remember when we started it was like a 250-car train that had never been hooked together before. It’s involved almost every department in the city and nearly every group in the city.”

Monitoring but not involved

Some groups have been less involved than others. The Northern Colorado Homebuilders Association, based in Windsor but with many Fort Collins members, has been monitoring the plan’s progress but has not been closely involved with its development, according to Dotti Weber, HBA executive officer.

“We haven’t been very involved with Plan Fort Collins,´ said Weber in an e-mail. “It isn’t that we aren’t concerned, but have been following code changes with volunteers instead of staff and that limits our ability to really delve into them.”

Schneider said he has been tracking the plan on behalf of the HBA but not that closely recently because “nothing’s going to happen in the next year or two.”

Still, Schneider said he is concerned about changes in the city’s building code under Plan Fort Collins designed to make it more “green,” emphasizing energy-efficient appliances and building materials, for example.

“I guess the issue I have is it’s more of a social code that really shouldn’t be mandated and the property owner should have the right to decide if they want to do something or not,” he said. “A lot of these things should be recommendations and suggestions instead of built into the code.”

But John Phelan, the city’s energy services manager, said the city’s Green Building Program – a priority identified by city council during the 2010-11 budget process – is aimed at benefiting the entire community through reduced carbon emissions and less energy and water use.

“It’s the first piece of a much bigger puzzle if our goal is to better align our built environment,” Phelan said. “We have builders who do this in standard practice, and these are some reasonable next steps to ask everybody to do. It has both individual residential benefits and community benefits through reduced need for new infrastructure and the costs that go with that.”

Transportation planning changes

Kathleen Bracke, the city’s transportation and special projects director who’s leading the update of the city’s Transportation Master Plan, said Plan Fort Collins contains several transportation-related items of interest to business.

“There’s a lot of aspects in the Transportation Master Plan that support our local economy,” she said. “That’s one of its main purposes: moving people, goods and services across the region.”

Bracke said one example of a change in the new plan is in how the city updates its master street plan. “Typically, we’ve sized street classifications predominantly on street uses,” she said. “As part of the new update, we’re saying, ‘What are the economic, environmental and human or social implications of those designations?’

“It’s a fundamental difference in how we’ve gone about the planning process.”

Bracke said that when it’s finalized by city council in early 2011, Plan Fort Collins is expected to highlight “enhanced travel corridors” in the city that include East Harmony Road, Timberline Avenue and Mountain Vista from Anheuser-Busch to Mulberry Street.

Two new corridors receiving attention in the update of the transportation plan, Bracke noted, are the Prospect Road corridor from Interstate 25 to CSU and from CSU west to its Foothills Campus.

The transportation plan is also giving more attention than ever before to bicycle, bus and pedestrian travel in the city, she said.

“The idea is to give people as many choices as possible to travel for different purposes,” she said.

Economic health emphasized?

Plan Fort Collins contains a five-page chapter on “Economic Health” that outlines strategies the city intends to follow to support job growth and a strong local economy. The chapter says the city intends to maintain its role as a regional economic center with continuing collaboration with Colorado State University, Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp., the Rocky Mountain Innovation Initiative, Downtown Development Authority, Larimer County Workforce Center and the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.

While Plan Fort Collins specifically focuses the city’s job-creation efforts on established Targeted Industry Clusters – clean energy, water, bioscience and technology and those businesses that are “uniquely Fort Collins” – Frank said it also aims to support all local business.

“There’s nothing in this plan about making doing business here more difficult,” he said. “When I talk to new people coming to town with a business, they’re very pleased by the planning. What we’ve done on Harmony Road and downtown, especially, is what they’re looking for.”

Frank said the city’s future growth, through Plan Fort Collins, will focus on infill development and redevelopment over the next couple of decades because the city now has few places to grow outward.

He said the old arguments over growth-or-no-growth are mostly gone.

“Now our borders are pretty much fixed, so that has something to do with it,” he said. “I think people today are more concerned about protecting our quality of life and being the central city in the region for culture and the economy and jobs.”

But chamber president May said Plan Fort Collins gives little more than lip service to the issue. He said supporting Targeted Industry Clusters is “no different from what they’re doing today. The city needs to elevate its game when it comes to generating primary employment.”

May said focusing on infill and redevelopment is not good for local developers because it’s “five times harder to do than traditional development.”

Overall, May said Plan Fort Collins – as currently drafted – is not the vision the city needs to guide it into the future.

“It’s not a thumbs-down on the plan,” he said. “But it’s a statement that says it’s light on the economy and heavy on dreams that we don’t know how we’ll pay for.”

FORT COLLINS – Fort Collins is wrapping up a year-long, $850,000 update of its City Plan and Transportation Master Plan and combining the two into Plan Fort Collins, a vision of the city’s future.

City officials say the 226-page plan is needed to guide Fort Collins to its next level as the city grows and times change.

“It’s essentially the vision of the city for the next 25 years,´ said Joe Frank, advance planning director. “It’ll set the stage for capital improvements and for funding those projects.”

But critics of the plan say it is long on generalities and…

Related Content