Government & Politics  October 18, 2023

Fort Collins council OKs land-use code rewrite increasing density

FORT COLLINS — Ending a year-long debate that had polarized parts of the city and created some unusual ideological bedfellows, the Fort Collins City Council on Tuesday night voted 5-1 to approve a voluminous rewrite of the city’s land-use code that allows for higher density in a quest for more affordable and attainable housing.

Members of the public who spoke in support of the changes included representatives of both the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and the Democratic Socialists of Colorado. Prefacing their remarks by calling themselves “one voice for housing,” they ranged from providers of affordable housing to members of advocacy group YIMBY Fort Collins. Chamber president Ann Hutchison noted that “every conversation I have with employers starts with ‘What are you doing to increase the supply and access to housing?’” while others praised the idea of a more walkable, environmentally conscious city without urban sprawl.

Opponents — including members of Preserve Fort Collins, many of whom launched a petition drive last year to repeal the council’s first try at a land-use code that they said virtually abolished single-family zoning — pleaded with the council to either reject the changes or let voters decide. When their petition drive was successful, the council in January decided not to refer its newly drawn code to the ballot, instead repealing the changes itself, vowing to better engage citizens in crafting a new one, and sending city staffers back to the drawing board.

Councilmember Susan Gutowsky, the lone vote against the newly drawn code, moved Tuesday night to let voters decide the issue. Her motion did not receive a second, however, because the other firm opponent of the code changes, Councilmember Kelly Ohlson, was home with COVID and pneumonia.

“I’m disappointed that our council does not want to give voters a voice at the ballot,” she said.

Gutowsky echoed opponents’ concerns that the new code contained very few incentives for developers to construct housing that would be obtainable or affordable. “They’ll be eager to build market-rate housing,” she said. “Density does not equal affordability. We’re going to be depending on our nonprofits to build the affordable housing that our home builders should be building.”

However, Councilmember Shirley Peel said she believed extensive outreach had been done to the public, Mayor Pro Tem Emily Francis said she felt it was the responsibility of the council as elected representatives to take on the hundreds of pages of code revision, and Councilmember Julie Canonico said “the city has rolled back many aspects based on what we heard from the community.”

“I believe I’ve worked harder on this than I did raising my four children,” Peel said. “I will vote yes tonight but will continue to come back to this document to get it right.”

When the council gave initial approval to the new code two weeks ago, Peel had asked city staff to delete a provision that would have allowed duplexes to be added in the “RL” low-density residential zone, which makes up nearly a quarter of all the land in Fort Collins. She originally also wanted to delete three other provisions that add density to the two zones in Old Town, but ended up settling for the ban on duplexes in low-density residential.

The only amendment approved Tuesday night set maximum building heights in Old Town Fort Collins at 28 feet instead of 35 feet, although they could be higher if floodplain or stormwater issues required it.

Not changing in the new code are review procedures, non-residential uses, historic preservation, occupancy limits and landscaping rules.

In general, the new code increases housing types and number of units allowed in residential, mixed-use and commercial zones; reduces parking requirements for studio, one-, and two-bedroom units in multi-unit developments and affordable-housing developments with seven or more units; requires parking for ADUs; allows ADUs in all residential and mixed-use zones with some requirements; creates a menu of building types with zone-specific standards; and clarifies language related to homeowners’ associations and private covenants.

Under the new code, HOAs are prohibited from limiting the number and type of units permitted on a property, but could regulate aesthetics and determine whether ADUs are internal or external.

The new code will take effect in January.

Charts provided by Fort Collins city staffers show the requirements for various zones under the previous land-use code, what the land-development code repealed earlier this year would have required, and rules under the newly passed code. Source: city of Fort Collins
Code changes 2
Charts provided by Fort Collins city staffers show the requirements for various zones under the previous land-use code, what the land-development code repealed earlier this year would have required, and rules under the newly passed code. Source: city of Fort Collins

FORT COLLINS — Ending a year-long debate that had polarized parts of the city and created some unusual ideological bedfellows, the Fort Collins City Council on Tuesday night voted 5-1 to approve a voluminous rewrite of the city’s land-use code that allows for higher density in a quest for more affordable and attainable housing.

Members of the public who spoke in support of the changes included representatives of both the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and the Democratic Socialists of Colorado. Prefacing their remarks by calling themselves “one voice for housing,” they ranged from providers of affordable housing to…

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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