- Gov. John Hickenlooper was sworn into office on Jan. 11 and gave his first State of the State speech on Jan. 13. The Governor said that if there ever was a time for collaboration, it is now. He said the State’s task is to support job growth and “unleash the entrepreneurial spirit in Colorado.”
Hickenlooper got a huge round of applause from the General Assembly when he announced his idea to add a note to proposed bills analyzing how much they would costs business, much like existing fiscal notes indicate how much bills would cost the State if approved. The Governor stressed job growth, education, healthcare, water and improving governmental effectiveness and efficiency as his priorities for the legislative session. Hickenlooper announced that he has hired members from both major parties to create a bipartisan budget team, whose first priorities are to tackle the State’s $1 billion deficit.
- At the NCLA Legislative Kick-off, experts said the best way to grow our economy is to support higher education. Colorado’s geographic location – away from the nation’s large population centers on both coasts – put us at a disadvantage. However, Colorado’s highly educated labor force is one of the state’s strengths. Unfortunately, funding for higher education has shrunk to less than 10 percent of the general fund because it, unlike K-12 education, does not have a dedicated revenue stream.
While state legislators agreed that funding higher education must be a priority, it was not surprising that they did not agree on how to accomplish this goal. Sen. Bob Bacon (Fort Collins) said a dedicated funding source was necessary. Sen. Scott Renfroe (Greeley) said Colorado’s budget already has too many dedicated revenue streams and the government now has no control over most of its budget. Rep. Randy Fischer (Fort Collins) suggested that the elimination of $2 billion worth of existing tax exemptions could free up additional revenue. Rep. Glenn Vaad (Mead) said the legislature will have to think outside the box and urged the audience to resist cynicism and help the Governor and legislature to come up with solutions for the State’s budget woes. The debate over the State’s budget will take center stage when the 2011 legislative session begins on Jan. 12th.
- The US. Army Corps of Engineers has delayed the release of the supplemental Environment Impact Study (DEIS) on the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP). NISP plans include construction of Glade Reservoir northwest of Collins and Galeton Reservoir east of Ault.
A spokesperson for the Save the Poudre Foundation, which has vociferously opposed the project, was quoted in the Denver Post as saying, “Every delay and corresponding cost escalation is an opportunity for these cities to invest in alternatives to these projects.” What he probably means is that every delay increases the cost for the $490 million proposal, making its eventual completion more challenging. Now the Corps of Engineers anticipates the DEIS will not be released for another six months at a minimum. In addition, the DEIS for the new Halligan and Seaman reservoirs, also on the Poudre, have been pushed back to 2012. The Corps says the extra time is needed to study the “complex environmental issues” of the project.
- Recently many REALTORS® have asked about the likelihood that the much ballyhooed NASA technology park – known as the Aerospace and Clean Energy Manufacturing and Regional Innovation Cluster (ACE) would be located somewhere in our area. Don Marostica, the outgoing Director for the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, says that by Feb. 15, the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technolgy plans to have a list of manufacturers it has identified as prospective participants in the technology park.
A site should be selected by mid-March. Meanwhile, city officials along the entire Front Range cities are busy pushing various sites for the facility, which is expected to employ 7,000 to 10,000 workers and host 60 to 100 companies. Note: Many of our municipalities in the region have existing facilities or sites that would be appropriate for ACE, and the existence of three universities in our area would undoubtedly be a lure. Regardless of which city is selected if it is anywhere in Northern Colorado – from Boulder to Greeley – the surrounding towns will benefit as well, since employees would likely choose to live throughout the area rather than settle in one particular town. Not surprisingly, some residents are already expressing opposition to the project, saying it would create unwanted growth in their town.
- At the request of the City Council, Fort Collins staff has been working on a proposal to preserve neighborhood character in the Eastside/Westside areas adjacent to Old Town since January 2010. A complicated formula to limit home sizes based on the “block face” home size average seemed destined to be adopted by the City Council when the proposal was set for first reading on Jan. 4th. However, a few days prior to the hearing another alternative was added which would simply require home additions or scrape-offs to meet a .27 floor area ratio (FAR) requirement. The specific rationale for selecting .27 FAR, which is a dramatic reduction from what is currently allowed (.40 or .50 depending on the zone in which the property is located), was never adequately explained. Planners simply said that this was, in their opinion, the best way to solve the issues that prompted the Council to push for changes in the first place.
The new option appeared to take the City Council and members of the public by surprise. Many who spoke at the meeting asked the Council for more time to evaluate it and its consequences. After hours of tedious and sometimes contentious discussion, the Council’s majority block (Kelly Ohlson, Ben Manvel and Lisa Poppaw) voted to move the .27 FAR option forward. Mayor Doug Hutchinson and Council member Wade Troxell voted against it (Council members David Roy and Aislinn Kottwitz were not present at the meeting). Those voting in favor of the regulations said there would be plenty of time between the meeting and the public hearing, now slated for Feb. 1st, for City boards and commissions, as well as the public to thoroughly study the issue. Note: The Fort Collins Board of REALTORS® opposed the block face average concept, but FCBR representatives said the .27 proposal was too extreme and would impact property owners’ rights in these neighborhoods. Discussions are underway to convince staff and Council to modify the proposal before the Feb. 1 hearing.
- The City Council engaged in another tense discussion about economic development in regard to a possible rail-served industrial park. Council member Sean McCoy continued his attacks on the Longmont Area Economic Council while Council member Brian Hansen became quite animated in voicing his concerns about the environment and preservation of open space around the City. Eventually both Council members voted against a motion giving staff the directive to continue to work with the LAEC on the project but it passed on a 5-2 vote.
The Council didn’t select a particular site for the rail park, but empowered staff to research three different sites for the park or any others that might become available. The most likely location is the Concepts Direct property south of Union Reservoir because it has already been annexed into the City and is appropriately zoned for the project. While the redevelopment of an existing site, like the sugar mill, was supported by some Council members, it would be more expensive to build than a raw site. Staff and LAEC say that the park would bring more businesses to Longmont and therefore create new jobs. Note: The Vestas Company’s plant in Windsor is an example of why industry needs rail access to transport its good. Greeley is also working on a similar concept and if Longmont does approve a rail park, it will increase the City’s ability to attract new industries.
A 295-acre corridor north of the Leprino plant is on its way to designation as an urban renewal area. City planning staff and the Planning Commission studied the area between U.S. 85 and the airport and advised the City Council that it meets State statutory requirements for designation as blight, including deteriorating structures, inadequate public infrastructure, inadequate lot and street layout and unsafe conditions. (Crime – theft, assault and burglary – in the area is twice as high as the Greeley Tech Center, a comparable industrial area.) 55 properties located within the City are part of the urban renewal area; 14 others are in Weld County and could be added later by a subsequent annexation and public hearing process. The blight designation makes the area eligible for tax-increment financing. A variety of land uses are proposed for the area based on interest from developers and businesses, including a potential clean-energy park, an agri-tech business incubator, and a mix of other industrial, commercial and recreational uses. The final public hearing will likely occur on Dec. 7.
The Loveland City Council decided to move forward with the creation of a Jobs Development Fund, agreeing to allocate $5 million for the initial effort. Other communities in Colorado (and elsewhere) use a revolving loan fund for this purpose. The fund is intended to stimulate economic development, job creation and redevelopment of downtown; it will provide a means by which the City can assist projects while remaining revenue neutral and financially able to facilitate more projects. Betsey Hale, the City’s Business Development Manager, says the fund is an important tool because credit markets are currently tight and even substantial and successful companies can’t get the level of lending support that used to be available. There are strong local projects that are ready to finance if a funding mechanism is available. On December 7th the Council will consider a resolution to amend the City’s Economic Development Policy and an ordinance to amend the City’s Investment Policy.