Government & Politics  December 6, 2023

Loveland council rejects Sugar Creek plan

LOVELAND – Developers of a proposal that could bring up to 1,110 varied residential units to 171 acres on the north edge of Loveland are weighing their options Wednesday after a divided Loveland City Council rejected their plea for annexation and an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan.

“We’re trying to figure out our path forward. We’re trying to understand what that looks like now,” said Russell Baker, principal at Fort Collins-based Black Timber Builders LLC, after the council on a 4-4 vote at 12:33 a.m. Wednesday rejected Black Timber’s plan to develop Sugar Creek, a mix of detached single-family, townhome and multifamily residences.

A tie-vote constitutes failure to pass a measure. Mayor Jacki Marsh was absent Tuesday night, and Mayor Pro Tem Jon Mallo ran the meeting.

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“We still really believe in our message, providing diversified housing to Loveland,” Baker told BizWest on Wednesday. “We definitely believe we have a project that has all the elements the city needs and is looking for.”

Spurred by dozens of public comments in opposition to the project and citing their own concerns that Black Timber’s plan wasn’t specific enough about the development’s design, traffic impacts and other issues, council members asked Baker and his team to come back to them with a much more detailed report. Otherwise, said Councilmember Dana Foley, given that the project wouldn’t come before the council again or be subjected to any more public hearings if council members approved it, the city could face a “bait and switch” in which what gets built is different and higher density than the plan it heard.

Baker, citing the amount of investment Black Timber had already put into the Sugar Creek plan, expressed reluctance to comply unless the council at least approved the annexation, “because we could face our own bait and switch” with yet more stipulations by the council at that future meeting.

Foley voted against the project, as did new council members Troy Krenning, Laura Light-Kovacs and Erin Black.

“I’d never seen anything like this,” Baker said Wednesday. “We were presented with an idea outside of the normal process.”

As council members struggled with how their novel demand could work, Councilmember Patrick McFall weighed in remotely, “This is what happens when you change the rules, guys.”

The property on which Black Timber wants to build Sugar Creek is located between East 57th and East 71st streets, east of U.S. 287. About 100 acres of the vacant land, which has been used for agriculture in the past, is owned by the Thompson School District, which had planned to build a high school on the tract but now wants to sell the property. The other 70 acres is owned by David Sitzman, president of Fort Collins-based real-estate developer Sitzman-Mitchell & Co. LLC.

Black Timber, which develops and builds its projects, is “reviewing all of our options, and we’re getting a varying degree of different messages,” Baker said. “We want to get our plan in place after we’re able to digest this a little bit.”

Baker reiterated what he told council members, that although it doesn’t own the land, Black Timber has made “significant investment” in the Sugar Creek project during the past two years, “from surveys, annexation documents, groundwater studies and traffic studies to planning and preliminary engineering expenses. We have time spent on the wetlands and wildlife studies that are all done.

“We have belief in our project,” Baker said. “We have belief that it aligns with Loveland’s unified development code.”

On Tuesday night, the council heard many of the same issues from the public that developers heard in January during a neighborhood meeting attended by nearly 100 people at Crossroads Church. They expressed concerns about the higher density, the potential dangers of extra traffic on County Road 30 and other streets, and changing the city’s comprehensive plan that they assumed would provide some guarantees to protect their investment.

Krenning echoed those concerns, asking what good a comprehensive plan is if it can be changed to fit each proposed development that comes along.

The amendment to the comprehensive plan for Sugar Creek would have classified the development as “medium-density residential” and “regional activity center.”

The property is within the city’s Growth Management Area and has a split Comprehensive Plan designation: Public/Quasi Public and Low Density Residential. Much of the surrounding area remains under Larimer County jurisdiction, some of which has developed with residential uses.

The area also falls within the “Plan for the Region Between Fort Collins and Loveland,” which specifies residential uses with a rural appearance along the street edges.

Even when the Loveland Planning and Zoning Commission approved Black Timber’s plan in June, commission member Sarah McKeen complained that “we’ve had too many changes to the comprehensive plan. This doesn’t feel good” — especially for neighboring homeowners in light of “decisions you made based on what you knew when you bought your property.”

On Tuesday, Baker tried to assure the council that density would be capped and “at no point with any part of this development can we exceed 1,100 units. There’s no possible way this project develops at its max.”

Sugar Creek would average about 6.5 units per acre and would add around 7,000 daily trips to surrounding roads, he said. 

When asked about whether some residences could be “affordable” or “attainable,” Baker said if a single-family home were targeted for 100% of area median income, a household making around $100,000 a year, it could sell for only about $402,000 at current interest rates.

“We can’t deliver that,” he said, “but our attached homes do fit. With close to a third of the development being attached housing, that does give us a chance to hit those price points.”

Baker touted the proposed development’s access to public transportation with existing FLEX and COLT bus stops at 57th, 65th and 71st streets, said the Louden Ditch would be incorporated as a wildlife corridor, and that soft-surface trails would be built around an existing wetland area to allow wildlife habitat to grow there. He said housing areas would have open-rail fences, not privacy fences.

In a nearby 40-acre subdivision called the Estates at Donath Lake, Black Timber is building 13 “passive homes” that are billed to be 90% more efficient than a traditional home.

But for Sugar Creek, it’s back to the drawing board for Black Timber. And Baker said he sees some hope.

Responding to the council’s request for specifics, he said, “our intent is likely to present more information, and I think that’s something we’ll be likely to do.”

LOVELAND – Developers of a proposal that could bring up to 1,110 varied residential units to 171 acres on the north edge of Loveland are weighing their options Wednesday after a divided Loveland City Council rejected their plea for annexation and an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan.

“We’re trying to figure out our path forward. We’re trying to understand what that looks like now,” said Russell Baker, principal at Fort Collins-based Black Timber Builders LLC, after the council on a 4-4 vote at 12:33 a.m. Wednesday rejected Black Timber’s plan to develop Sugar Creek, a mix…

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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