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ARCHIVED  August 13, 1999

Consensus builds on plans for Poudre

FORT COLLINS — Tentative steps toward agreement on development plans along the Poudre River in Fort Collins have emerged from a month of meetings among business leaders and conservation groups.Meanwhile, a riverfront property owners’ group has added impetus to the drive toward remaking the urban river corridor by planning a nonprofit corporation to explore development potential.
The Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and two key environmental groups — the Friends of the Poudre and the Sierra Club local chapter — met several times during July to discuss areas that can and cannot be touched by developers who have eyes on urban waterfront projects.
“We hope we have come to some broad consensus over the protection of the Oxbow and the eastern portions of Martinez Park,´ said David Lauer, an organizer of Friends of the Poudre. “We want to make sure that there is room to live in this river corridor for other species besides ourselves.”
Mike Hauser, president of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, said he was also encouraged by the outcome of recent talks.
“These are more than baby steps, I think,” Hauser said. “The meetings were very valuable, in terms of learning about that environment, and we have reached some level of agreement.”
Proposals for urban riverfront development spread from the southeast corner of Mulberry Street and Lemay Avenue northwest to a place where the river is pinched between Lee Martinez Park and Legacy Park. While no formal plans have been submitted for public approval, the proposals being discussed include:
n A vast plan put forth by developer Bill Neal and his new partner, former Fort Collins mayor Ann Azari, for redevelopment along both sides of the Poudre and centered on the Linden Street crossing.
n A proposal for a new minor-league baseball park and community center near Willow Street and College Avenue, just west of Heritage Park.
n A plan supported by Friends of the Poudre to clean up and redevelop the riverfront at the southeast corner of Mulberry Street and Lemay Avenue.
The futures of these plans and others depend on the outcome of a process now under way to draft a new code for development within the river floodplain and on willingness of riverfront property owners to agree on the proposals.
Neal and Azari have been focusing their recent efforts on anticipating how new floodplain regulations might affect redevelopment and on contacts with land owners.
“A number of the families who own parcels along the river corridor are going to be critical to any plan for redevelopment,” Neal said.
A group of property owners, mostly in the area surrounding the intersection of Willow and Linden streets, will form a nonprofit corporation to examine options for redevelopment, said Bill Sears, former owner of Sears Trostel Lumber Co. and whose Linden Street property sits at ground zero for most development plans. Sears said about 30 of the 45 property owners have agreed to participate in the new organization, tentatively named the River Corridor Property Owners Association.
“The next thing we are moving toward is a meeting with Bill (Neal) and Ann (Azari),” Sears said. “Bill has said that if we wait for the city to do this, first of all it won’t happen any time soon and, second, you won’t like what you see when its done.”
Sears, who also is a member of the Friends of the Poudre board, said he saw consensus building among all interests — environmentalists, land owners and developers — that could lead to a sweeping redevelopment of the downtown river sector.
Common ground between environmental and business interests on river issues has been rare. But a Chamber of Commerce board member who also has a seat on the Poudre River Trust board said he also saw growing opportunities for cooperation between conservationists and commercial interests.
“There is a great deal of understanding that is happening between what are assumed to be the opposing groups,” Joe Rowan said. “I would agree that there is some broad-based understanding with what should happen with the Oxbow and East Martinez. I would not necessarily agree that it would be natural open space. I think most of us envision some kind of development where environmental issues are carefully addressed.”
Environmental groups see the Martinez Park and Oxbow parcels as the biggest potential battlegrounds. The Oxbow, north of the river between Lincoln Avenue and Linden Street, was formed when an early Fort Collins rancher rechanneled the Poudre to open grazing land for his cattle. The Sierra Club, and some members of the Friends of the Poudre, want that parcel untouched, believing that the river will reclaim its old course during a heavy flood year.
“Our main point is that the river has to be allowed to find its own course through the 100-year flood plain, and that it not be artificially channeled in any way,” Lauer said. “I have the sense that they (business interests) have heard that message. I don’t know whether they are listening or not, but they’ve heard the message.”
Ramon Ajero, of the Sierra Club Poudre Canyon Group, said his organization likely would oppose any human encroachment on the Oxbow.
“There is real recognition on both sides that the river is really a treasure for the city of Fort Collins,” Ajero said. “But how much human presence and human intrusion can we insert into the natural corridor? That is going to be one of the sticking points.”
Bruce Hendy, a Fort Collins landscape architect who has drafted a master plan for riverfront redevelopment that Neal and Azari have regarded as a framework, said that responsible designs for the Poudre corridor will keep environmental concerns a priority.
“One of the big things that we need to keep in mind for the Poudre areas is to maintain adequate setbacks,” Hendy said. “We need to keep a low profile near the river, and build in character and height as we move back toward the center of the city. Reclamation of the river should be one of the higher priorities for any plan. That’s likely to require a public-private handholding.”
Neal has not been present for the meetings with chamber members and conservation groups, but said he hoped that no single interest’s beliefs would control the riverfront future.

FORT COLLINS — Tentative steps toward agreement on development plans along the Poudre River in Fort Collins have emerged from a month of meetings among business leaders and conservation groups.Meanwhile, a riverfront property owners’ group has added impetus to the drive toward remaking the urban river corridor by planning a nonprofit corporation to explore development potential.
The Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and two key environmental groups — the Friends of the Poudre and the Sierra Club local chapter — met several times during July to discuss areas that can and cannot be touched by developers who have…

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