January 25, 2019
Council Fills Vacancy
On January 15 the Fort Collins City Council announced it has selected Poudre School District Board of Education member Susan Gutowsky to temporarily fill the District One vacancy created by Bob Overbeck’s election as Larimer County Assessor. Gutowsky is also running for the seat in the April 2 municipal election.
In her interview with the Council earlier in the month, Gutowsky said traffic management, social and emotional health and the impact of growth are the three issues she is most concerned about. She worries about the impact of growth on the environment and believes growth should be carefully planned. Gutowsky cited support for the Climate Action a primary reason she wants to serve on council. Growth, she said, is “inevitable but doesn’t have to diminish our quality of life.”
To-date the District One seat has three candidates in the municipal election. In addition to Gutowsky, Glenn Hass and Joe Somodi are also running. The deadline for candidates is February 12.
Mayor Will Run Again
Mayor Wade Troxell has filed paperwork to run for a third term as Mayor of Fort Collins. He was first elected as mayor in 2015. So far, his only opponent is Michael Pruznick, who also ran against Troxell in 2015 and again in 2017.
Council Reviews U+2 Study Results
On January 22 the City Council had an opportunity to discuss the results of a study designed to analyze the effectiveness and consequences of the occupancy ordinance known as U+2. The study, which was conducted by Corona Insights, was a funded through a partnership with Colorado State University, CSU’s student government (ASCSU) and the Fort Collins Board of REALTORS®.
As Ginny Sawyer, the City’s Policy and Project Manager stated, “The ordinance has always been controversial among stakeholders. The Associated Students of Colorado State University and others have requested an increase in occupancy limits and the real estate community has questioned the efficacy and potential impact of the ordinance on housing affordability. Neighbors and long-term residents, especially those living near CSU, remain strong advocates of the ordinance and its positive impacts in their neighborhoods.”
In essence, the occupancy ordinance sets limits on the number of occupants allowed in a home. It states that occupancy in any residential dwelling unit is restricted to one family and not more than one additional person. It was implemented in 1964 and revised in 2005 to make it more enforceable following complaints by neighbors, mostly those living in areas around the university.
The study’s author, Corona Principal Kevin Raines, concluded that since 2010 more households violate the ordinance, but a majority are now non-students. While the Fort Collins housing market has been improving. “it is still a challenging market for renters…. In the face of low vacancy rates, market competition will push prices higher. While this has driven prices up in other Colorado markets as well…. The impact has been the largest for Fort Collins. Rents in Fort Collins are 78 percent higher in 2017 than they were in 2005.”
The research also demonstrated most residents are aware of the ordinance and more residents support it (42 percent) than oppose it (24 percent). The impact of short-term rentals (STRs) on rent prices was also included in the report. The author concluded STRs” negatively impact rental vacancy rates, but they are currently a smaller force than other market forces.” However, one staggering statistic presented is that revenues for owners of STRs have risen from an estimated $500,000 in 2014 to roughly $9.6 million in 2018.
After a short presentation, the Council began its discussion and it quickly became clear that a majority on Council will vote to keep the ordinance, more or less as it is currently written, without major changes in spite of any possible impact on housing affordability. New Council member Susan Gutowsky said, ““When you have a lot of people in rentals it affects the quality of life (in a neighborhood).” Ross Cunniff said he would support rental licensing before he would support any proposal to allow four unrelated people to share a 4-bedroom home. Gerry Horak said the study shows the ordinance is working and it hasn’t increased rent prices. Kristin Stephens voiced concern about the impacts of renters in her neighborhood.
It appeared that possibly Mayor Wade Troxell, Ken Summers and Ray Martinez would be open to changes in the ordinance, but they may face an uphill battle. The Council made no specific decisions on January 22, but the occupancy ordinance is scheduled for another discussion on February 26 when the staff will provide an update on enforcement efforts, chronic problem properties and outreach and education.
Council Declines to Proceed with Fire Pit Permits
The issue of outdoor wood fires in Fort Collins was also discussed on January 22. While the staff recommended that the City begin issuing permits for outdoor residential wood fires, the Council decided not to require permits just yet. It would cost the City roughly $24,000 a year to implement a permit program.
Wood smoke is a health issue for residents with asthma or other breathing issues. Gerry Horak has been a prime proponent of addressing wood smoke because of a neighbor who has been negatively affected by outdoor fire smoke. The City’s municipal code has language to deal with “nuisance fires” but City legal staff said the language isn’t strong or specific enough.
Ultimately the Council decided it would be better to revise the current code than to require permits that might not solve the problem. Some members of Council liked Ken Summer’s idea to offer incentives to convert wood burning fire pits to gas. He also suggested adding a prohibition on late night fires. The staff will look into revising the municipal code’s current language and increase its efforts to educate citizens about the health impacts of wood smoke and particulate pollution. While the Council decided not to go forward with a permit system now, it will revisit the issue in a year. Note: Boulder and Denver currently prohibit residential wood fires while Elizabeth and Larkspur require permits. The Fort Collins Board of REALTORS® had previously voiced concern over the possibility that the City might curtail the ability of property owners to have woodburning fire pits.