Complaining about a project and its pedestrian or bike access after it’s built is too late. The best time to suggest improvements is while the project is in development. And in Fort Collins, there are avenues of communication that are worth using if you have a concern with a project that’s under review.
First and foremost, you need to know that there’s a development project that’s been proposed. If you don’t know that something is happening until the bulldozers arrive, then it might already be too late to give input. So step one is signing up for the City’s Development Review email that comes out every Friday. Head to the Development Review section of the City’s website and sign up in the upper right hand corner of the page. When the emails come, you can skim through the list for addresses or project names that interest you. Most people don’t care about every new development in town, but they do care about the ones near where they live, work, or hang out.
If you’re not interested in receiving emails but would still like to see a weekly summary, there’s a page on the City site that is updated in tandem with the email: This Week in Development Review.
Other ways to find out what’s up and coming in the development world is the Development Proposals Under Review page, which includes a searchable list of projects. Or watch for the big yellow “Development Proposal Under Review” signs that are put up on lots where a project is being planned.
Once you click through to a project that interests you, it can be a bit confusing where to go from there. You generally want to click on the link under the project heading that says “CityDocs”, then click on “Submittal Documents.” And from this point it can get kind of overwhelming, since developers are asked to submit a boat load of information to city staff before their project can roll out. Key links to look for are the “site plan,” which should include information about car and bike parking, and “elevations,” which doesn’t necessarily help in knowing what the bike parking or access will look like, but you can often get a sense of what the project is going to look like from all sides, which can be helpful in understanding what’s going on with the site. Sometimes you’ll see a document called “traffic study” which can contain some good info as well.
In general, unless a development plan covers several buildings, the developer won’t be dealing with anything on the street. On occasion a plan will take into account an added bus stop that doesn’t currently exist (such as with the new CSU Medical Clinic that is being built at the corner of S. College and Prospect), but this is rare.
However, if the developer is building an entire sub-division of housing, or a new mall, or new residential units at the mall, then there will be streets laid out that are under the developers purview. The site plan should show where sidewalks will be laid, where bike trails might be added (especially in a residential subdivision) and where bike parking will be placed.
Occasionally you can even glean a few other interesting details by looking at site plans, or in the case above, at the elevations section of the new residential development going in at the Foothills Mall. It looks like a bicycle repair station will be included in the maintenance building of the project.
Smaller projects, such as the Cedar Park Emergency Room proposed south of Harmony on College Avenue, might include bike parking on their plans, but it’s unlikely they’ll deal with anything else multi-modal related (other than automobile parking and truck unloading). There is a bike rack for two bikes included in the plans above, but it took me a bit of searching to find them. (They’re supposed to be located near the entranceways. So if you’re searching, start near the doors.) After speaking with the City planner who is assisting with this project, he pointed out that the Land Use Code requires a bit more bike parking than what they have on the plan.
When you look at submittals online, remind yourself that you’re probably looking at an iteration of the project. They might not be the final plans. Developers turn in an initial set of plans, which sometimes are really just a rough sketch of what they’re thinking. The City planners then route the plans to all of the various departments (stormwater, historic preservation, utilities, etc.) and each department gives a response regarding specific parts of the code that the developer is going to need to take into account given the general scope of the project that they’re working on. This is often followed by adjustments, changes, more feedback, more changes, etc. It’s during this period of back-and-forthing that residents can often include their own feedback.
If a developer is hosting an open house (which is required for some projects), that will be listed in the Development Review email that gets sent out. This is a key opportunity to learn more about a project and give the property owner feedback.
If you’ve missed the open house, or there isn’t one being held from what you can tell, then contact the city planner that’s listed with the project if you want to send in feedback or get clarifications. (And remember, they’re not the developer. They’re just the city staff person that has been tasked with working with the developer. So they might not have all the answers. But they’ll know who to talk to to get them.)
The city also has a person whose sole job is to help residents understand what’s going on with development projects in the city. Her name is Sarah Burnett and you can find her contact info. on the Development Proposals Under Review page. In my experience Sarah returns emails very quickly… unless she doesn’t know the answer to the question. Then she’ll ask the parties involved until she gets an answer that she can reply with. So if you write to her and don’t hear anything back for a few days, just know that she’s very likely asking around and waiting on responses from other city staff before writing back.
Getting to know the city code can be helpful in addressing issues. Rather than saying, “I wish there was…” you might be able to say, “City code requires…” which holds a lot more of a punch and might very well address the exact concern that you have.
The Fort Collins Municipal Code includes instructions as to how much bike parking there should be, how pedestrian movements should be addressed (pathways that are separate from cars and bikes), and what amenities should be considered to help encourage bicycling and walking to the location. The “Access, Circulation, and Parking” section of the code that includes all of this information is available to read online at MuniCode.
Remember that the code addresses new development. Any crappy infrastructure already in place is pretty much grandfathered in until a point when the property owner makes some improvements. Then, depending on the improvements, they may be required to bring other areas up to code as well (such as bike access or parking). So if you have a favorite shop that you like to visit, but they don’t have bike parking, they’re probably not required to put anything in. But perhaps talking to the proprietor and letting them know how much you’d appreciate some bike parking might be enough to encourage them to install a rack.
One last thing that you should be aware of. The City has subdivided different parts of town into “areas.” Many of these areas have a plan which addresses patterns of growth, zoning, transportation corridors, and other themes that will affect how the area grows and develops over time. The West Central Area Plan was finished a couple years back. The Old Town Neighborhoods Plan is under review right now as is the Downtown Plan. And the overarching City Plan is slated to be studied and updated within the next year or so. While the staff is reviewing a plan they often post several surveys online. They hold multiple open house events as well as some directed round table discussions. This is the optimal time to get involved in discussing how a specific part of town should look and feel. And you don’t have to live within the area to give feedback on it, especially if you travel through. I attended several West Central Neighborhood meetings. I tended to not give much input on zoning and other things that really affected residents in those neighborhoods far more than they would affect me. But I was very vocal about driving and riding issues in these neighborhoods, and I believe that’s entirely appropriate as I do travel through these neighborhoods fairly often.
The City of Fort Collins has several avenues for residents to give feedback (and they’re exploring adding even more). But if you don’t take advantage of them, then your voice will not be heard. It takes a minimal amount of work to skim through the weekly Development Review emails to stay up to date with new projects that are coming online. Don’t wait until the buildings have been built and the connecting streets have been laid (sans bike lanes). Step up and say something early, and encourage fellow pedestrians, bicyclists, and Transfort users to speak up as well. The more developers hear from the community, the more likely they’ll recognize the need and take action.
Thanks to Ryan Mounce, a Fort Collins city planner, who helped to answer some questions I had on projects and who reminded me of various means of connecting with the City regarding development.