The Fort Collins City Council has given initial approval to the 1,000-acre Montana development in the northeast part of the city. Courtesy City of Fort Collins

Fort Collins City Council gives first approval to Montava development

FORT COLLINS – A divided Fort Collins City Council gave its first green light to the nearly thousand-acre Montava housing development plan in a marathon Tuesday night meeting.

Mayor Wade Troxell and council members Emily Gorgol, Julie Pignataro and Kristen Stephens voted in favor of the planned unit development during the key first vote, while council members Susan Gutowsky and Ross Cunniff were opposed.

City leaders generally require three rounds of votes, also known as “readings,” to pass an ordinance.

The Montava development is a 999-acre, 4,000-house proposal planned near the city’s Anheuser Busch brewery by HF2M Colorado Inc. to be built over the next 25 years. The area is expected to have plots for a library branch, working farm, office buildings, 80 to 100 acres of park space and other neighborhood amenities. Developers also plan to locate a city fire station and health-care facilities in the area.

The project estimates it would need about $325 million to build out utilities across the life of the project, according to city documents.

Six hundred of those units are slated to be affordable-housing units as designated by federal housing law, which requires prices to remain affordable for a family of four making 30 percent to 120 percent of the area’s median income.

But some residents have opposed the development due to the potential spike in traffic in the area, which has been long underserved by the city’s infrastructure upgrade plans. Gutowsky and Cunniff cited those concerns as reasons why they voted no.

HF2M president Max Moss pitched the plan as a way for the city to produce housing that is more in line with the city’s median income. He said the city’s housing market is more expensive when adjusted for area income than Boston and just less expensive than Denver, and that is forcing people working in Fort Collins to live in nearby cities.

“We have an affordable-living problem,” he said. “… Citywide, we are thousands of units short of having a balanced community.”

He also rebuffed arguments that the development will draw in-migration and new traffic, saying people will move into the city regardless, and the traffic moving into the area will cause more air pollution than is necessary.

“They’re already here, or they’re going to move here regardless,” he said, pointing to traffic data showing 38,000 vehicles travel from outside city limits.

Two lines of about 60 people formed immediately after the developer and city staff’s input to give a shared opposition presentation. They posited that Country Club Road, the main throughway to Montava’s urban core, was never designed to handle the traffic it sees today and will become a serious public safety and health issue with more people using it.

Resident Bruce Smith said the construction and future residential road demand is going to snarl the area in traffic and said the city hasn’t set a solid-enough plan to upgrade the roads around Montava.

“We’re having traffic problems and such now, before the development starts,” he said. “I believe development is fine … but I don’t see how it connects to the city.”

Wendy Nero, another resident, said she can turn left only onto Country Club Drive and the road is already dangerous with the amount of traffic there before construction starts. She supports the urbanistic vision Montava purports, but said the traffic will be a “catastrophic nightmare” for drivers and emergency services.

In a rebuttal, Moss said he has thought about Country Club Road’s traffic worries and other simmering qualms about nearby infrastructure since the beginning of project planning but believes Montava can help the area get the improvements it needs.

“We want to be the catalyst to help fix these things,” he said.

Troxell agreed with that later in the night, saying the project as presented didn’t give the council any reason to deny it.

“We can’t ignore the investment that will enable the streets and other infrastructure to happen,” he said.

Fort Collins staff said the impacts of the development to nearby infrastructure will be spread out over the build time through the next 20 to 25 years.

HF2M hopes to begin its first phase of construction by 2021, depending on if it receives final approval from the city council and building permits from staff this year.

The council will have a second round of votes on Feb. 18.

This story previously stated the cost of the project was $300 million. It has since been corrected to state that the developer estimates the cost to build the utilities for the project at $325 million.