Apr 24 2010

Plan Fort Collins

The City of Fort Collins is undertaking two projects this year that will have an impact on the entire city, and on the east side-west side neighborhoods in particular. The first is the update to City Plan, the overall guiding document for landuse within Fort Collins. This project is being dubbed, Plan Fort Collins. You can get more information at the city’s website.

The other project that is being tackeled is studying the design guidelines for the Eastside Westside Neighborhoods. This excerpt is from the City’s website

“Eastside & Westside Neighborhoods Design Standards Study is a study aimed at addressing the impacts of residential development occurring in Fort Collins’ oldest downtown neighborhoods. Small houses are being expanded or replaced, resulting in new houses often significantly larger than the original. This type of development is commonly referred to as “pop-ups” (additions) and “scrape-offs” (demolition/replacements), and is a frequent topic of public discussion since the early 1990s.”

The focus on these projects is on development and redevelopment opportunities within the city. As the city quickly runs out of buildable greenfield sites, there will be more and more pressure to redevelop and so called infill projects. The question is not when or if, but rather how and where it will occur. A big challenge is creating compatibility between existing and new. There will be continued pressures in the old-town area, and significant pressure on the Mason Corridor, and the city is also looking heavily at the so called mid-town area, basically surrounding Foothills Mall.

One of the big things I have been harking on for the last couple of years, is the need for the city to identify areas of town that are appropriate for redevelopment, and those that arn’t. There are significant pressures to rebuild portions of Old Town. There are areas though were redevelopment should be restricted to preserve the character of the neighborhood and town. Old Town itself is a major community identifier for Fort Collins, and is a tourist draw of itself. Mountain Avenue is another of those those areas that has a unique character with a mix of stately and worked homes, wide median, and an historic trolley running the length of the street. Then there areas that are more appropriate for redevelopment, such as Luarel Street across from Colorado State University.

Community dialogue needs to happen to help shape the future direction of not only Fort Collins, but communities across the country. As it becomes less feasible to develop greenfield sites, cities will start to rebuild with higher densities, higher structures, etc. I am in full support of this, but it must be done carefully with careful attention paid to the details of architecture, site planning, space creation, and creating public and private spaces.

Feb 12 2010

Berkeley Downtown

Well, I don’t know if this is the official downtown, but these were taken from the business district on several sides of the UC Berkeley campus.

This is the fabulous historical library in downtown Berkeley. I admit when, I first saw it, it was dark, and I thought it was an ugly dismal building (I also had a few great beers in me), But when I saw it the next day, and also learned what it was, wow!

This is a new building that fits in extremely well in its historical surroundings. It is all about compatibility ( a very subjective term, I realize).

Only a block from the new building. Check out the round corner windows. yes the windows really are curved. They don’t build em like this anymore.

For all you coffee lovers out there.

And finally, for you art lovers, this gem was taken in the student hangout section west of the campus.

For more pics, visit my Picassa Web Album.

Feb 3 2010

Fort Collins Designated a Distinctive Designation

Today it was announced that Fort Collins has been designated as one of twelve distinctive designations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This is quite an honor, and is a distinction that is highly competitive to obtain. The award is given to those cities and towns that offer an authentic visitor experience by providing dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, sustainability and revitalization. The other towns and cities that have been selected are Bastrop, Texas, Cedar Falls, Iowa, Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, The Crooked Road, Virginia (what a fun name!), Huntsvills, Alabama, Marquette, Michigan, Provincetown, Massachusetts, Rockland Maine, Simsbury, Connecticut, Sitka, Alaska, and St. Louis, Missouri.

Now comes the fun part, you can vote for your favorite town or city, and you can vote as many times as you want! The more votes Fort Collins gets, the more recognition! Simply click on this link to the Trust for Historic Preservation, and vote away!

Sep 26 2009

New Urbanism in the Mountains – South Main

This summer I had the pleasure of being able to tour South Main in Buena Vista, Colorado. I have heard about this community through various news articles and publications, and I have visited the web site many times. I was not prepared though, for how wonderful and beautiful this neighborhood has become! First it was a little hard to find. I had a vague idea of where it was in Buena Vista, but there were no real estate signs directing you to it. However, you could see it from the main highway through town. Fittingly, you drive down Main Street in Buena Vista to get to South Main. This community is only just beginning, but already you can get a feel for what this community will become. The homes range from fairly modest, to large custom homes, but they all exhibit an attention to detail, and fine craftsmanship that insures these homes will be around for generations to come. Mixed in with the homes, are some scattered mixed use and commercial buildings. It is obvious that this is only the beginning of the commercial core, but what is there embodies the best of commercial architecture. Instead of massive look-alike buildings, or even large buildings that are designed to look like they were built over time, these buildings actually are individual, and will truly be built over time, giving them some real character and individualism. Even the streets have character. There is one street that is built of river cobble, presumably from the river that is adjacent to the site.

As unique as this community is, the story behind it is every bit as unique. The community came to being behind the vision and drive of the sister brother team of Jed Selby and Katie Urban. Neither one had developed a community before, much less having really been involved in real estate. Being life long residents of Buena Vista, and avid kayakers on the Arkansas River, they learned that this 41 acre site was being proposed for development, and would likely cut the river off from the town. Instead, they parlayed a family investment into the ability to purchase the property, vision a community based on sound design principles, and that keeps the river open for the enjoyment of all residents.

While I have enjoyed touring many wonderful New Urbanism communities, this one is a diamond in the rough. It is being masterfully crafted and carried out. My hats go off to Jed and Katie. I only hope that my own development projects turn out as well done as this one it.

Sep 23 2009

Historic Preservation in Fort Collins in Jeapordy

As is common knowledge by now, Fort Collins, as with most local governments, has had a serious reduction in tax revenue during this economic downturn. As a result, the city is having to make some pretty serious cuts to the budget. This is something that is undisputed, and is understood. However, this is one cut being proposed that I, and a lot of other people, are against. There is a current proposal out to cut 1 full time employee from the Historic Preservation office. To many, cutting one person does not sound like much, but in the case of historic preservation, that is over 50% of the staff, as this office only has 1.8 full time positions in the first place. I don’t know of any other departments getting cut by over 50%. This office is involved in working directly with homeowners and business owners on helping them to get there properties designated as landmark properties, they help with grant writing, they help people understand the financial resources that are available to them for renovation and preservation projects on private properties. These are investments that people make in there own homes and businesses to improve these homes and businesses. These are also involved with meetings with new development to ensure that new construction is compatible with existing historical structures. These are two busy people! It is these preservation and improvement efforts that have made downtown and the general old area as popular as it is. Also note, the square foot value of real estate in Old Town is among the highest in the city, since even in down times, these properties are still in demand.

People do ask, what are the benefits of historic preservation? They are many. Historic Preservation is an economic driver. Fort Collins historic preservation efforts are nationally re known. We have among the largest collections of buildings of sandstone construction in the country. When you see pictures of Fort Collins in the national media, you don’t see pictures of the mall, you don’t see Front Range Village, you don’t see Walmart, you see one of our beautiful downtown buildings. During the last 10-15 years, we have seen private owners take on the rehabilitation of many of the buildings in downtown, to make it the success it is today. Downtown is a destination unto itself. How many communities can say that there downtown is more popular and is doing better than the mall? Not many. It is something to be proud of.

Meldrum-Oak, circa 1920's

Recently I came across this photograph at Ulrichs, located at 111 S. Meldrum It was taken in the 1920-30’s sometime and showcased some beautiful homes. Sometime in the late 1960’s to 1970’s these homes were torn down in the name of Urban Renewal, as was done across the country during the time. This was done in the name of progress, and for rebuilding of downtowns.

So what was built here?

A parking lot.

Is this really progress? Not in my mind. This was done before Preservation became important to the City of Fort Collins. I have also attached a photo of what the same corner looks like today. This is what historic preservation has done for Fort Collins, it has prevented things like this from happening again.

Meldrum Corner Today

Of course, preservation does not mean keeping it all as is, and not moving forward. Fort Collins has some fabulous examples of new construction and infill development that fits right in with the neighboring historical properties.

Imagine what downtown Fort Collins would be like today if we had lost most of those buildings and we had newer Key Bank style buildings? It would be like almost anywhere else USA.

So I encourage those of you who think this is important, make your views known to City Council members as they wrestle with the budget. I don’t envy their position, and they will have to make some hard choices, as we all have had to do. This is one though, that could be a million dollar mistake in the years to come.