A map showing the area for the proposed Hughes Stadium housing development in relation to nearby Fort Collins roads and landmarks. The Stadium and parking lot were demolished in 2018. Courtesy City of Fort Collins

Final vote for Fort Collins’ Hughes Stadium rezoning fails on tie Last-second recusal from ethics complaint draws away tiebreaker vote

FORT COLLINS — After months of delays caused by three separate ethics complaints and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fort Collins City Council voted against the rezoning for the Hughes Stadium property for residential development in an often-heated meeting Tuesday night and leaving the future of the property in limbo.

The Council voted 3-3, with council members Julie Pignataro, Susan Gutowsky and Ross Cunniff in opposition. Mayor Pro Tem Kristin Stephens recused herself from the vote.

The council later failed to advance a motion directing staff to draw up plans to rezone the entire site to “residential foothills” designation, which would allow for low-density home construction. The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission previously voted in favor of that instead of the mixture of “residential foothills” and a higher-density zoning as backed by city staff.

Miami-based home developer Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN) originally proposed building 600 to 700 homes on the property of the 165-acre site that used to house Colorado State’s football stadium nestled in the foothills near Horsetooth Reservoir.  City leaders instead zoned the property with higher density to the east and lower density toward the foothills in a 4-3 vote in November, restricting the number of homes within the lots to 550.

City planner Cameron Gloss said CSU and Lennar remain willing to continue the sale of the property despite the widespread economic havoc spread across the world caused by the coronavirus.

Several Fort Collins residents in that area have fiercely opposed the development, arguing that it would trade away open space, wildlife habitats and unobstructed views of the foothills for houses they believe wouldn’t help the city’s home-pricing woes and cause undue traffic.

Before the discussion began, a third ethics complaint against council members was revealed to have been filed last night by resident Nick Frey, and several commenters said the board needed to delay the vote again to address the new complaint. Mayor Wade Troxell and Mayor Pro Tem Kristin Stephens, both employees at CSU in non-administrative roles, were accused of having a financial interest in the deal because the university is selling the property for $10 million.

Troxell did not recuse himself, saying the complaint was similar to the allegations he has been cleared of before, while Stephens did. Another resident demanded that councilwoman Emily Gorgol recuse herself because Stephens donated to her campaign.

At least two different citizens filed ethics complaints in previous months, which temporarily derailed the process. The first ethics complaint was in November against Troxell and Stephens. They were cleared of wrongdoing by their fellow councilmembers.

Three months later, another city resident filed a broader complaint against Troxell, Stephens and Summers, the latter being accused of being an active lobbyist while holding office. Summers was later cleared of wrongdoing in early March, days before Gov. Jared Polis ordered residents to stay at home as much as possible to slow the spread of the coronavirus. That forced city leaders to delay the final vote for months as they figured out how to allow public comment during meetings.

Several residents also said the city was forcing them to put themselves at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus by standing in line to speak. City officials required in-person commenters to stand in line with marked distances of six feet apart.

Rory Heath, the resident who filed the second ethics complaint, wondered Tuesday why the council would bring up a controversial piece of legislation when opponents will line up in person outside of the council’s chambers to argue against it.

“We can’t wait a couple more months until this gets better?” he said at the dias. “We’re risking our lives for this? Unreal.”

Several others asked the council to keep the space open, but to build a wildlife rehabilitation center on the land. Others said open spaces are the only way people are maintaining their sanity after months of COVID-related physical distancing have kept them from normal social life.

“How is selling the land to a developer, not even a local developer, benefitting our well-being?” resident Addy Draper asked.

Jonathan Bertram, an ecology researcher at CSU, said increasing density near wildlife areas is partially what led to COVID-19 developing from a solely animal-based virus into the contagion that has upended human life. He argued that bringing more people together puts the city at greater risk of spread during a future pandemic.

“By increasing the city density, we are increasing the risk to our citizens. That is the new reality,” he said.

The rest of the council disagreed on larger philosophical points on how to lower housing prices overall within the city.

Gorgol said she kept her vote because the homes proposed by Lennar will cost around $250,000 to $300,000 per unit, which aren’t considered affordable under the city’s guidelines, but it would increase the overall housing supply. She also expressed disappointment at “disinformation” she believes was put out to make the council appear corrupt or against the protection of local wildlife.

“We’re not voting for Lennar, we’re voting for a rezoning,” she said.

Summers agreed, saying there’s still time in the future to debate the development plan for the area. He argued that the city council could be subject to a lawsuit by the Colorado Attorney General’s office if they devalue the market value of the property.

“The property is a low-density neighborhood, the rest is (open space),” he said. “There’s still the opportunity for a lot of open space.”

Gutowsky voted no, saying there were too many negatives to the local parcels of nature, and the deluge of opposition from citizens made it clear they don’t want it.

“We have to get past the notion that we can build ourselves into affordability,” she said.

Cunniff argued that building any kind of housing doesn’t help people of low socioeconomic status because they don’t have the financial reach to live in high-priced homes. He said the homes would benefit high-income workers who can work from home and not workers in low-wage jobs deemed essential, such as meatpackers, grocery-store workers and public transit operators.

“That (economic inequality) is a parallel to housing prices in Fort Collins, and Boulder, and in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and Manhattan and Brooklyn,” he said. 

FORT COLLINS — After months of delays caused by three separate ethics complaints and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fort Collins City Council voted against the rezoning for the Hughes Stadium property for residential development in an often-heated meeting Tuesday night and leaving the future of the property in limbo.

The Council voted 3-3, with council members Julie Pignataro, Susan Gutowsky and Ross Cunniff in opposition. Mayor Pro Tem Kristin Stephens recused herself from the vote.

The council later failed to advance a motion directing staff to draw up plans to rezone the entire site to “residential foothills” designation, which would allow for low-density home construction. The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission previously voted in favor of that instead of the mixture of “residential foothills” and a higher-density zoning as backed by city staff.

Miami-based home developer Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN) originally proposed building 600 to 700 homes on the property of the 165-acre site that used to house Colorado State’s football stadium nestled in the foothills near Horsetooth Reservoir.  City leaders instead zoned the property with higher density to the east and lower density toward the foothills in a 4-3 vote in November, restricting the number of homes within the lots to 550.

City planner Cameron Gloss said CSU and Lennar remain willing to continue the sale of the property despite the widespread economic havoc spread across the world caused by the coronavirus.

Several Fort Collins residents in that area have fiercely opposed the development, arguing that it would trade away open…