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ARCHIVED  July 16, 1999

Growth ‘think tank’ proposed

Plans for a permanent center for the study of ways to manage Colorado’s growth will include the academic muscle of the state’s three largest public universities if officials at the institutions can agree.

Business people have joined faculty and administrators at the University of Colorado in Boulder to discuss formation of a center that would house a repository of information and expertise on growth issues to benefit planners and local government officials statewide.

An organizer of the effort said he would like to see Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado involved as well.

“If we can get all three institutions involved, that would benefit everybody,´ said Byron Koste, a professor in CU’s College of Business who heads the college’s Real Estate Center. “There is no one university that can do it all. The more people you have in the boat rowing, the faster you go.”

Koste and two prominent northern Front Range real estate developers were scheduled to meet Tuesday, as The Northern Colorado Business Report was going to press, with Gov. Bill Owens to discuss the plan. The meeting, arranged by Fort Collins developer David Neenan, also was to include William Reynolds, whose real estate developments in Boulder and Fort Collins have changed much of the landscape in those cities.

CSU and UNC officials have said they are interested in hearing more about the proposal, and identified areas of expertise that could play roles in the formation of such a center.

“We’d be happy to cooperate,´ said UNC president and former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown. “We have lots of people who focus in areas related to growth management in academic departments here.”

Judson Harper, CSU’s vice president for research and information technology, stopped short of a pledge to collaborate but said CSU offers academic resources that are well-suited to the study of how burgeoning growth in the state can best be managed.

“Colorado State University has been heavily involved in public policy, land-use planning and natural-resource management topics from the get-go,” Harper said. “We are actively thinking about how that capability and experience can best be brought to bear to deal with growth issues in Colorado.”

Harper said he had been asked by CSU president Albert Yates to identify ways the university could commit resources to the study of the state’s growth and development.

Statewide focus

Koste said a group affiliated with CU’s Real Estate Center had been working for years on a framework for a council that would recommend ways the center’s resources could be used.

“The council is intent on creating an entity that would serve the whole state,” Koste said. “There needs to be a balanced organization, with stakeholders at the table. For this to function, we need to realize that Colorado is made up of a bunch of vastly different regions. What will work in all of these places? The answer is nothing. Nothing works everywhere.”

Elements of the plan that Koste and others at CU and in the business community have been discussing include:

n A central library containing information on growth- and development-related materials “that everyone in the state can have access to.”

n A databank that details how so-called “best practices” have been applied in Colorado, and details benefits and consequences of efforts to regulate growth.

n A staff of independent, objective experts on growth-regulation tools who can travel statewide to provide information to local governments, planners, developers and other decision-makers.

“We need to get the politics completely out of this, and look at applications of these ‘best practices’ to see where they have worked and where they have not worked,” Koste said.

The meeting with Owens was scheduled partly to assess the governor’s commitment to elements of former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer’s “Smart Growth” initiative, a proposal for a state-managed plan to deal comprehensively with growth issues.

“We are concentrating on getting the Owens administration on the same page with our program,” he said. “At the same time, we are trying to encourage them to let us help with whatever they want to do.”

A spokesman for Owens said that the governor had already committed to retaining much of Romer’s Smart Growth plans. He said lack of attention to the issue during the last legislative session should not be taken as a sign Owens had abandoned the concept.

“During the campaign, candidate Owens was always very complimentary of Romer for his Smart Growth effort,” Owens’ press secretary Dick Wadhams said. “He said that, if elected, it was something he wanted to follow in some form or fashion.”

In a speech to Colorado Counties Inc., a group made up of county commissioners and other county officials from throughout Colorado, Owens devoted most of this remarks to the issue of studying growth management, Wadhams said.

Neenan said the pressure that Colorado communities face as population grows and economies boom needs the attention of a special center established solely for the purpose of advising and educating citizens and officials about ways to cope.

“Every citizen of Colorado knows what the problems are,” he said. “It’s traffic, it’s sprawl, and it’s affordable housing. ` The trouble is that there isn’t an independent source of knowledge and expertise on those issues. That’s what we’re trying to create.”

Koste said membership in what he called a “confederation” to steer the study center would be broad, drawing from industry, academia, government and citizens groups. He warned that neglecting any one sector would undercut the mission of the center.

“It can’t be controlled by the planners,” he said. “It can’t be controlled by the academics. It can’t be controlled by the developers. Everybody has to be represented.”

Players at the table

Among the groups that need to participate, Koste said, are the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties Inc., the Colorado Home Builders Association, the American Planning Association, the Colorado Real Estate Council, Great Outdoors Colorado, the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and the League of Women Voters.

Reynolds, a long-time member of CU’s Real Estate Council, said part of the growth study center’s job would be to make lessons learned during breakneck development in some regions of the state and apply them elsewhere. A model for the process has already been established, with a group from CU’s Real Estate Council traveling to Grand Junction to share information on land-use issues.

“The laboratories are Boulder, Fort Collins and the Front Range,” Reynolds said. “We need to do better. We need to think better. We need to densify our cities, and preserve the open space. An independent kind of institute at a university might help people do this in a rational way.”

Both Koste and Reynolds said participation by the three northern Front Range universities was needed to make the most of an institute, but said they worried that intermural squabbles — possibly over where to locate the center –could get in the way of cooperation.

“If it’s best-suited at CU, fine,” Reynolds said. “If it’s best-suited at CSU, that’s fine, too. The important thing is to get everyone on the same page.”

Neenan said CU, with the Real Estate Center and the Real Estate Council already in place, would be the appropriate place to house the institute.

“CU has made a major financial contribution to this already,” Neenan said. “They have the expertise and the experience, so this is the logical place for this to be.”

CSU and UNC recently signed a broad agreement to cooperate in academic areas, sharing resources and making programs in accounting, business and other areas equally accessible by students at both schools.

But never have all three universities entered into a cooperative agreement of the sort that would be required to establish a jointly operated center for growth study.

“What we don’t want to do is work at cross purposes,” Koste said, citing the history of the universities, especially CU and CSU, to develop separate programs that deal with the same issues. “That kind of parochialism needs to go bye-bye. We can’t let this issue fail because of that kind of intermural stuff.”

Paying the bills

Koste said he was confident that funding for the center could easily be obtained through private sources of grant money, provided the universities could demonstrate they had assembled the tools to do the job.

“If we do it correctly, we have already found significant sources who could fund this forever,” Koste said, mentioning the MacArthur Foundation as an example. “If someone can show they have a handle on taking care of the growth pressures in Colorado, the money will be there.”

No name has been chosen for a growth study center, but Koste said several suggestions had been floated by members of CU’s Real Estate Council and others. Among them are the Smart Growth Institute, the Land Use Center of Colorado and the Growth Management Institute.

“I don’t really care what we call it, as long as it has an agenda that is not controlled by any one group or sector,” Koste said. “And it’s something that needs to happen sooner rather than later. If we wait until we get into a crisis, what you will see is the classic over-reaction.”

Plans for a permanent center for the study of ways to manage Colorado’s growth will include the academic muscle of the state’s three largest public universities if officials at the institutions can agree.

Business people have joined faculty and administrators at the University of Colorado in Boulder to discuss formation of a center that would house a repository of information and expertise on growth issues to benefit planners and local government officials statewide.

An organizer of the effort said he would like to see Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado involved as well.

“If we can get all three institutions…

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