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ARCHIVED  August 27, 1999

Poudre flood plans stir opposition

FORT COLLINS — Development plans within the Cache la Poudre River floodplain won’t be worth the paper they are drafted on if city officials have their way with new recommendations for use of the land.A set of guidelines proposed by staff members of the city’s utilities department, who are tasked with floodplain management, follows the most restrictive of a broad set of options they had considered.
If adopted, the planned regulations would:
n Halt any new development within an area defined as the 100-year floodplain flanking the river.
n Prohibit any redevelopment of existing properties in the floodplain.
n Prevent property owners from using fill to raise their land above the flood-prone area.
n Bar property owners from making any additions to buildings located in the floodplain.
Where the river skirts north of downtown Fort Collins, vast tracts of land would be put in a deep freeze if the rule changes hold up during an upcoming review by the Fort Collins City Council.
The staff recommendations were scheduled for presentation to the 20-member Floodplain Regulations Task Force Aug. 26, after The Northern Colorado Business Report went to press. But task-force members who had viewed the recommendations offered a range of opinions prior to the meeting.
Conservationists see the recommendations as a victory, while many property owners and developers say that the floodplain issue has become a foil for blocking growth.
“Whether it was intended or not, the floodplain issue is now becoming a device for managing growth,´ said Joe Rowan, who serves as chairman of the Poudre River Trust, a group founded to promote redevelopment and clean-up of the river’s urban corridor.
“What we need to do is look at areas that are high-risk,” he said. “Not putting people in harm’s way makes a lot of sense. Not too many people would argue that. But all of this now is designed to cast more doubt on the validity of new development in the city. The Rno-growthers’ have exhausted all the other arguments.'”
The city official who directs the utilities staff that presented the report said the growth issue had nothing to do with its contents.
“This has nothing to do with growth management,´ said Bob Smith, Fort Collins’ water-planning manager. “We don’t care about the growth issue. That’s of no concern to us. Human health and safety is the only consideration we deal with.”
At risk in the decision process are portions of an ambitious plan by prominent developer Bill Neal and former Fort Collins mayor Ann Azari to redevelop the Poudre’s urban riverfront.
Neal said the city was in danger of following a path that had proved to be a failure in past land-use and development decisions.
“I hope we don’t do what we did a few years ago on the passive solar issue,” Neal said, referring to a failed city policy requiring that all new construction meet passive solar criteria.
“In that case, we elevated one area of concern because that’s where the focus was, at the expense of everything else. I don’t want to see a single-minded focus on one element of land-use planning. I don’t want to see the kind of thoughtful, people-oriented development that is possible on the riverfront get scuttled.”
Ken Tharp, a task-force member who said he is “leaning toward the most restrictive” of floodplain options, said the lessons of the Spring Creek flood of 1997 need to be applied to the Poudre floodplain decision. He discounted opinions that link the floodplain debate to growth control.
“All in all, I think it’s a false argument,´ said Tharp, who has served on city boards in Longmont and Fort Collins. “I respect the sincerity of that point of view, but my vantage point is what happened along Spring Creek. ` I’m deeply concerned that what we have seen on Spring Creek is minute compared to what can happen on the Poudre River.”
The city staff proposal takes floodplain rules several steps beyond what the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, recommends for flood-prone communities. For example:
n While FEMA makes a distinction between what is called the “floodway,” a narrower zone than the land occupied by much larger floodplain, the new regulations would define the floodway and floodplain being equal.
n FEMA regulations, and city rules now in force, allow redevelopment of buildings and other property in the floodplain. The proposed rules would prohibit any new construction or redevelopment.
n Federal guidelines would allow property owners to build up their land with fill to raise it above the floodplain, but the new recommendations would ban the use of fill.
The so-called “Super Wal-Mart” project, approved by voters in April and set for development on the northeast corner of Mulberry Street and Lemay Avenue, would have been prohibited if the proposed changes in regulation had been in effect at the time permits were sought. Wal-Mart developers will use fill to raise the parcel about five feet, raising it above the 100-year floodplain.
Riverfront property owner Bill Sears, who owns the land occupied by Sears-Trostle Lumber and Hardwoods Co. on Linden Street, said rule changes would nonetheless change the face of the Wal-Mart development.
“If this package is adopted as proposed, anything else in that area will be jeopardized,” Sears said. “You’ll see a real rush to get building permits in before this process is over.”
The city water department staff gave ground on one of the floodplain considerations, allowing remodeling work costing up to 50 percent of assessed property value for property already located in the floodplain. But one task-force member said that the remodeling provision needed amendment to require the city to adequately warn property owners about risk.
“The city staff ought to do everything possible to discourage remodeling,´ said David Lauer, who represents the Friends of the Poudre on the task force. “Property owners need to be told there is a greater risk in investing money.”
Sears, whose land sits above the floodplain, said property owners with a stake in the outcome of proposed regulations would seek greater representation as the floodplain task force continues its work.
“As this process goes on, there will be more and more people who will want a voice,” Sears said. “I’m sure we’ll see a lot more interest from property owners.”
Task-force member Randy Fischer, who represents the city’s Natural Resources Advisory Board, said he hoped those with an economic interest in the floodplain region would be able to listen to the reasoning of engineers and scientists who had helped draft the recommendations.
“Nobody sat down at the beginning of this process and said, RHey, we’ve got to prevent development in the Poudre River floodplain,'” Fischer said.
“My view, and that of most members of the task force, is that these recommendations are appropriate for protecting human health and safety. My feeling is that people in this community, 20 years from now, will look back on this process and say, RBoy, those people were really geniuses to come up with that.’ I’m confident that that will happen.”

FORT COLLINS — Development plans within the Cache la Poudre River floodplain won’t be worth the paper they are drafted on if city officials have their way with new recommendations for use of the land.A set of guidelines proposed by staff members of the city’s utilities department, who are tasked with floodplain management, follows the most restrictive of a broad set of options they had considered.
If adopted, the planned regulations would:
n Halt any new development within an area defined as the 100-year floodplain flanking the river.
n Prohibit any redevelopment of existing properties in the floodplain.
n Prevent…

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