There are problems that Fort Collins is facing that Midtown can solve. Lack of affordable housing — there’s room to build that in Midtown. Increasing congestion and traffic on busy arterials — we already have multi-modal transportation systems in place in Midtown. Overcrowded schools — There’s space in many Midtown schools with more space available in some nearby northside and alternative schools. And best of all, Midtown already has infrastructure in place. Unlike greenfield development that requires all new electrical lines, water lines, sewer lines, roads and sidewalks, all of these things already exist in Midtown.

As a city, we should be looking to Midtown for answers. And most particularly, we should be watching that new development in Midtown is specifically designed to help Fort Collins respond to the problems that we’re facing.

As new development comes in, it should have an urban feel. That means commercial buildings should front the sidewalk so that a pedestrian or bicyclist can easily walk right into the store without having to cross wide swaths of parking lot first. There should be a mix of uses, much like downtown Fort Collins has, that encourages both daytime and nighttime activity. And most of all, it should be dense, so that we can make the most of the land we have available.

Space to build

Many Midtown businesses have expansive parking lots that are rarely, if ever, filled.

Many Midtown businesses have expansive parking lots that are rarely, if ever, filled.

Midtown was developed during the post World War II boom that Fort Collins experienced. Veterans flocked to Colorado A&M (later called Colorado State University) to take advantage of the G.I. Bill. Aqua Tec (now Water Pik) got its start during this time and Kodak moved into the area, driving the expansion of the city’s boundaries in order to make way for these newcomers and their families.

Suburban style development, with a sequence of winding local roads that lead into collectors which then dropped motorists onto higher speed arterials, was all the rage and businesses bought up cheap land in the middle of corn fields with little concern for the distances between their location and residential housing. And it was these distances which required the use of a car to get from home to work or store — which meant each of these places had to provide space for those cars to park.

On the one hand, these expansive parking lots created eyesores and have made for uncomfortable and unsafe pedestrian and bicycle environments. But on the other hand, now we have all this space just waiting to be developed! And the more densely it’s developed, the more walkable and bikable it will become, creating in effect a new, contemporary feeling district that’s compact and comfortable, much like downtown.

The Midtown Plan

This image, and the text that accompanies it, came from the Midtown Plan.

This image, and the text that accompanies it, came from the Midtown Plan.

City planners recognized several years ago that Midtown is ripe for redevelopment, so they spent over a year drawing up a Midtown Plan. They provided several open houses for residents to give feedback. They met with business organizations from along the corridor. And then they took the Plan to City Council where it was adopted in 2013.

With the Plan now in place, the next step is for the redevelopment to happen. The Foothills Mall was already on the drawing board when the plan was being written. But two large new infill projects are currently being proposed on either end of the old University Plaza Mall. Spring Creek Place is senior housing planned for the area just north of Whole Foods. The 168 units should come on the market in 2018. And on the far southern end of that S. College strip mall, the old Kmart building is going to be torn down and replaced with a much larger King Soopers store.

Spring Creek Place will provide high density housing in close proximity to shopping and rapid transit.

Spring Creek Place will provide high density housing in close proximity to shopping and rapid transit. (Image taken from the development review plans posted on the City’s website.)

While some developers really seem to be taking the Midtown Plan to heart, others still seem to be struggling with the concepts presented in the document. And because the Plan only provides guidelines, developers may be incentivized to follow the plan, but they’re not required to. Which means that residents need to pay attention and exert a little influence when necessary to let these developers know that when we gave our feedback on the Plan, we meant it.

Get Involved This Week

There’s an opportunity to get involved in giving feedback this week.

On Wednesday, November 2, 2016, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., at the Christ United Methodist Church, 301 E. Drake Road, in the Fellowship Hall, the City of Fort Collins Planning Department will hold public neighborhood meeting to consider a re-development proposal in your neighborhood. The project is referred to as King Soopers, Re-development of the Former K-Mart Parcel, located at the northwest corner of S. College Avenue and W. Drake Road.
City Website

Some Quotes to Keep in Mind from the Midtown Plan

“…more urban, mixed-use development is to be promoted as a key part of reinvestment in Midtown…”

“Key Design Principles for large Parcel development:

  • Buildings address and define streets
  • Encourage pedestrians and bicycles
  • Provide connection to transit station
  • Provide promenade along transit corridor
  • Create plazas and open spaces
  • Articulate building forms
  • Internalize and wrap parking
  • Minimize curb cuts”

“Midtown is envisioned as transforming from an auto-oriented, single-use retail environment into a mixed-use, transit-oriented, vibrant neighborhood that supports a variety of incomes, where design is paramount and the identity of Midtown is established and authentic.”

“Vision for Midtown – – Midtown should be promoted as a sustainable, mixed use district that is pedestrian and bike-friendly, adjacent to a state-of-the-art new transit system and has a distinct identity with great architecture and public open space.”

“Beyond multi-story/ multi-unit development, stakeholders mentioned a desire to see more townhome/brownstone type development integrated into retail/commercial uses.”

“…more urban, mixed-use development is to be promoted as a key part of reinvestment in Midtown…”

And because I can’t resist

Here are a couple more photos of pretty darn large parking lots in Midtown that weren’t even close to being full on a Tuesday afternoon when I took these photos. Not only can I envision new buildings standing on this (mostly) vacant land, but just look at all that space over these buildings that could be used for a variety of housing types.

This is only one half of the Target parking lot at Troutman. The Target parking lot at Front Range Village isn't particularly better.

This is only one half of the Target parking lot at Troutman. The Target parking lot at Front Range Village isn’t particularly better.

It might look like this photo was taken from across a road, but it's really just the edge of the parking lot, with a lane for cars that want to bypass the parking lot in order to get to the other side of the parking lot.

It might look like this photo was taken from across a road, but it’s really just the edge of the parking lot, with a lane for cars that want to bypass the parking lot in order to get to the other side of the parking lot.

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