The new City Council will soon set its priorities for the next two years. Having walked over 250 miles to connect with as many neighbors in District 1 as possible, I heard many, many shared priorities – I’ve listed them below:
1. Demand creative solutions to achieve the best Hughes outcomes, avoid legal fees, and unnecessary expenditures
Hughes did not come up often in conversations with neighbors in District 1, but smart planning/investment by the City DID. The amount of money required to address the Hughes space – either through a purchase agreement, in legal battles, or through creative solutions – will affect every resident of Fort Collins for years to come. Approaching this issue with creativity is key to making sure we meet as many of our goals as possible. The City Council should work to:
- Secure affordable housing with a land-swap: build upward from the College + Drake King Soopers (both old and new). I have heard indirectly that Kroger does not want to become a landlord entity, so the City or CSU could facilitate a developer pairing that would make the most sense along with a joint ownership agreement that would benefit all parties. Instill a car-free lifestyle by providing incentives for those who agree to go car-free for at least 5 years from move-in.
- Partner with CSU to create a Real Estate Management program to manage the new Drake apartments/condos and updated commercial real estate and establish a Wildlife Rehabilitation + Recovery Veterinary school at Hughes. Instead of a one-time funding infusion, this would represent an ongoing income stream AND provide housing for CSU students and staff directly on the Max line.
- Build a regional transit center that connects all local municipalities and CSU from the soon-to-be-annexed Mulberry corridor.
- Invest in the rehabilitation and reinvigoration of trails in the Hughes natural area in partnership with Larimer County and CSU up-front as part of the rezoning rather than punting this down the road “when funding is available”. Insist that Larimer County lean in on the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center costs as it will become a regional support center.
2. Invest in district and/or precinct-level transit, arts, culture, and natural area planning
Infrastructure was something that came up in every neighborhood. Every neighborhood had some quirk or externality that was being offset by a small but highly dedicated band of volunteers. Often, this band of volunteers knew more about the day-to-day than the City staff tasked with servicing those items (understand that this is no slight on our fantastic City Staff, but rather a commentary on how skilled and dedicated these volunteers are!) Volunteerism is great, but ultimately: these volunteers should be backed up by the City in a more systemic way to retain institutional knowledge and offset burnout.
Here are some key points of action:
- Restore the Vibrant Neighborhoods Grant and integrate the Nature in the City grant component, focusing on the key areas of the Sustainable Neighborhoods Program, partnered with Project Managers at the City to ensure good outcomes no matter what the focus of the project.
- Create ongoing monthly apprenticeship programs (a la CityWorks) for each City department that allow interested neighbors to get a highly focused municipal education in their area of interest to actively fight misinformation. Especially true of civics education and how the Clerks office works – even candidates were sometimes learning as we went as to what was going to happen with close races or when a recount was mandatory or not.
- Create a “Neighborhood Natural Areas Expert” certification through the City, allowing neighborhood ambassadors to lead groups of volunteers to maintain natural areas according to best practices.
- Establish ongoing education for neighbors in partnership with HOAs about the importance of natural areas, drainage basins, xeric areas, and how to care for them.
- Expand the City’s departmental ability to respond to areas of the City that are not central – that is: FCPD should not be tasked with street traffic enforcement. Crime, vandalism, and crimes of opportunity are increasing in areas that are underfunded and under-supported in District 1 and around the City. Proactive funding, support, and programming can offset bad outcomes before they require police intervention or become truly dire (the costs of which are disproportionately shouldered by BIPOC neighbors).
- Existing City Programs should be very clear and actively report the degree to which programs do not or cannot benefit ALL areas of the City. Many neighbors of District 1 cannot implement XIP or the SHIFT directives of the Climate Action Plan and some of the suggestions come from a place of privilege which ignores the fact that working families with just one car often have to make difficult choices.
3. Invest to eliminate blighted commercial zones
Every small business owner I talked to espoused the rather dire nature of commercial real estate. Some businesses that would like a storefront cannot obtain one. Meanwhile, we have blighted commercial zones along College (Drake, Cherry, Willox) that have existed for years with no recourse or improvements. These areas don’t add charm, they actively detract from the City and are targets for crime and vandalism. I believe the City Council should work to:
- Disincentivize holding onto commercial real estate for a timeframe of more than 12-18 months without providing any improvements. This needs to be done mindfully so as to not artificially accelerate commercial infill with strip mall-type storefronts, but rather to enable local small businesses to have affordable storefronts that are accessible and highly visible. A model for this already exists in Windsor.
- In the same way the City invests in land banks, the City can and should procure a number of commercial real estate areas in partnership with locally-established business districts (district or precinct-level) to help renovate and update blighted commercial zones.
- Micro-commercial zoning inside or adjacent to neighborhoods will enable small-footprint storefronts in areas of need (e.g. coffee shops, micro-markets, home goods stores) to be hyper-targeted to neighborhoods without requiring huge swaths of single-use parking. (Think The Exchange in Old Town or even smaller – one or two shipping containers max).
- Create dollar-for-dollar matching grants similar to the Vibrant Neighborhoods Grant to enable Business Improvement Districts, HOAs, and Metro Districts to facilitate funding of projects that are identified at the hyper-local level, vetted and supported by City staff, and have a definitive timeline to complete. (Maybe with 2x-3x matches for xeric and rooftop solar retrofits that augment existing city goals).
4. Invest in pedestrian safety throughout the City
This particular wish-list item came up so often that I developed a habit of driving all the major cross-streets in a neighborhood before I’d do my door-to-door campaigning. Pedestrian safety needs take a lot of different forms across the City. Many neighborhoods are seeing traffic patterns change as a result of habit or demographic shifts or larger projects that had externalities.
Here were the key issues I heard about on the campaign trail:
- Neighbors in Library Park and along Prospect road (especially near the schools) asked for enhancements to crosswalk safety signage. Traffic routing studies could be done here to determine safe alternative paths and slowing measures.
- Neighbors along Willox, Turnberry, Pitkin, and Garfield requested traffic slowing measures as these roads became alternate routes for high-traffic times. Crosswalks and speed slowing measures along neighborhood roads should be closely evaluated and monitored as neighborhoods age or as traffic patterns change.
- Neighbors in Library Park requested installation of informative safety signage in areas with cross-traffic flows or where 4-way stop patterns become 2-way stop patterns.
- Conducting audits of transit routes for all local elementary schools should be required every 2 years – are the schools safely accessible with alternate transit? If not, those updates need to be prioritized.
- Neighbors in Indian Hills, University Hills, and other neighborhoods have 2′ sidewalks that become true safety hazards with any degree of snow – as there’s no “hellstrip” to provide a buffer between pedestrians/bikers and traffic often going over 30MPH.
- Neighbors complained about two bridges with no safety margin for bikes – one on Vine and one on North Lemay.
- Cell phone signal strength and reliability throughout District 1 remain a real issue, not just in neighborhoods but including in surprisingly busy intersections (Prospect + Lemay).
5. Pair responsible infrastructure with responsible development
This is the most common complaint I heard during the campaign and in almost every discussion I’ve had with neighbors and fellow HOA board members in my time on the Maple Hill HOA.
Large Sub-Area-Plan-fulfilling projects like Montava need mindful support, not free passes or endless roadblocks.
Demanding that developers pay for and plan for literally every aspect of fulfilling the plan artificially limits growth, eliminates opportunities for affordable housing, and blasts property values through the roof. Developers DO need to pay their fair share, BUT also need to have the City’s support to mindfully accomplish the City’s plan.
This doesn’t mean giving a free pass to developers, but rather: the City should accept accountability for the free passes already given to past developers that we’re now surreptitiously asking modern-day developers to shoulder and do the math with regard to the benefits for City-level goals.
Identifying creative solutions to achieve everybody’s goals without sacrificing open space, the climate action plan, or affordable housing is work worth doing. Pitting any of these big-picture goals against each other is a false dichotomy driven by extremist politics.
For example: neighbors in Maple Hill have a 5-minute commute to their local elementary school (Tavelli). Across the street in Richard’s Lake, neighbors have a 30-minute commute (Cache La Poudre). Neither neighborhood can access their local schools, parks, businesses, or bus system by a connected trail system. This is also true of every neighborhood North East of Mulberry and Lemay.
How do these simple facts affect the neighbors’ quality of life, the City’s service area goals, and the climate action plan? What’s the cost to residents and the City? Can it be quantified?
While a small contingent of neighbors opposed to growth at any cost does exist (mainly in the County), more often I heard from neighbors who are asking very smart questions about why infrastructure did not keep pace with development and why those daily impacts to their quality of life continue to be ignored.
The City cannot continue to ignore areas where the City kicked the infrastructure can down the road (e.g. most of North East District 1 and many edge areas of the City near the growth management area). As I mentioned during the campaign, the status quo for these neighbors is far too expensive. This would immediately become apparent if a cost analysis for infrastructure projects was conducted for neglected neighborhoods. The cost of these infrastructure projects will only increase over time, the City can offset the cost and complexity with smart investments now.
We have sub-area plans for a reason. Stick to them and look for opportunities to organically achieve those goals. Augment the sub-area plans as better information comes along. Don’t snub opportunities to achieve multiple City goals with polarized NIMBYism. District 1 has carried more than its fair share of externalities because development here is notoriously costly (thanks to the special utility districts, oddities of getting water, and utter lack of transit infrastructure). Worse: the County is NOT pulling its own weight with regard to trails or transit.
We have nearby and regional models for excellent transportation and natural area development infrastructure where municipalities have partnered with County governments (Arapahoe and Douglas Counties) where the bike and regional trail system was closely tied with the natural areas programs and areas set aside in advance with development tie-in costs pre-allocated. The solutions exist. Let’s make them happen.
Here’s the low-hanging fruit I see:
- Insist that Larimer County lean in and durably fix Country Club Road in partnership with the City to augment this space with at least one sidewalk, one bike lane, and maybe even raised crosswalk speedbumps where they make sense.
- Install bike lanes, trails, and sidewalks in District 1, especially along Country Club road. This will have immediate and lasting returns on traffic, the future of our open spaces, the climate action plan, and the quality of life for a huge number of current and future neighbors.
- Insist that Larimer County lean in and partner on trails and bike lanes throughout District 1 and anywhere City trails intersect with Larimer County (or where a regional trail system could exist in partnership with another municipality!)
- Finish inter-neighborhood trail systems for Trail Head and Waterglen.
- Create a railroad pedestrian overpass on Vine + Timberline connecting into Mosaic while development is still ongoing.
- Dry Creek and Timbervine have only one ingress/egress road (International Boulevard). Not only is this dangerous in emergency situations, but the HOAs have begun to partner with adjacent landowners to create a neighborhood-managed roadway. This will become an exercise in frustration unless the City becomes actively involved to help.
- Transparency is required around what costs future developments carry – and by whom. Will a neighborhood require substantial water abatement due to floodplains? Is a neighborhood being proposed in an area of town not serviced by City utilities? Will a Metro District be required to facilitate the creation of neighborhood parks? If so, what will the cost be to neighbors? To future neighbors? To the City if not facilitated through a Metro District? Let’s be really clear about the give/take on future developments so we know who’s paying what (or what the alternative will likely cost if we opt for one solution over another).
- Full transparency is also required around Connexion build-out and completion timing. Lack of transparency breeds a lack of trust, and we have plenty of that in the broadband internet market already.
6. Key regional issues need their own dashboards + education hubs
This last one is a bit of a pet project, but having run as a well-intentioned neighbor for a non-partisan City Council position interested in getting more smart, passionate, well-intentioned neighbors to run, here’s what I noticed needs to be fixed:
- Ranked Choice Voting and Publicly Funded Campaigns per CleanSlateAction’s proposals should be top-of-list priorities for municipal election updates, but the unintended consequences of these two proposals should be carefully weighed in highly visible public forums.
- De-facto campaign coordinations occur between campaigns and the candidates and should not be allowed.
- De-facto campaign contributions occur between candidates and political parties and should not be allowed.
- “Progressive” and “Conservative” are used as labels in lieu of political parties and are overtly emphasized to a degree that is actively damaging to our municipal democracy.
- Voters have no unified source for candidate comparisons because there’s no unified dashboard of all issues and questionnaire responses.
- National-level political polarization penetrated our municipal-level election to the degree that the most common question I was asked was: “are you republican or democrat?”, where I was chased around a neighborhood for wearing a mask while knocking on doors, where I was threatened through text messages, etc.
- Ongoing civics education is a requirement. How does it work? How does funding work? How do you become a candidate? How do you raise and spend money as a candidate? What issues are important? What are the key ideas being discussed and what are their up-sides and down-sides? This should be a monthly, ongoing series.
All in all, I am very hopeful for the future of our City and will double-down on my work to provide a platform for neighbors’ voices to be heard.