Student Housing: Housing plan revisions are in the works

BY DAVID YOUNG for The Coloradoan

The next chapter is unfolding in a contentious student housing project known as The Grove as the developers have teamed up with a CSU institution to examine sustainable building practices.

After North Carolina-based developer Campus Crest’s first proposal for a 624-bed apartment project on the southwest corner of Centre Avenue and Rolland Moore Drive was denied, the company came forward with a second proposal that is making its way through the planning process.

The new project includes expanding the plan from 23 acres to 27 acres and dropping the facility from 624 beds to 612 beds. This proposed development plan was submitted to the city Dec. 8, initiating the development review process.

Since the proposal was introduced in Fort Collins, there has been a strong outcry from those who live near the proposed project regarding everything from the size of the project to impact on the surrounding area.

Thus far, the proposed multibuilding student housing project, which will be on property the company is leasing from the Colorado State University Research Founda-tion, or CSURF, has been through one round of development review and revised plans based on city staff comments.

On Jan. 4, a staff comment letter was issued to the developer, and the city is waiting for revisions, which will begin another round of reviews, city project planner Steve Olt said.

Campus Crest has put its overall development plan and proposed development plan on hold for 30 to 60 days while it works to incorporate more green building elements into the project and engage the community in a collaborative design process.

Campus Crest entered into an agreement with the CSU Institute for the Built Environment, or IBE, to examine green building possibilities. IBE was founded in 1994 at CSU to foster stewardship and sustainability of natural and built environments through research-based, interdisciplinary educational forums for students.

Michel Hartnett, co-chairman and chief investment officer of Campus Crest, said the idea to work with IBE came out of a community meeting with residents about the project. He said the effort is two-fold in that it will make the project better for Fort Collins with a new design, while at the same time examining sustainable living practices.

Hartnett declined to say if the new timeline and process would impact the company’s projected opening date for the facility, currently slated for the fall.

For residents skeptical that the move to work with the IBE is too little too late, Hartnett said the reason the company didn’t do it with the first proposal is because officials were distracted by financial problems caused by the economy coupled with efforts to take the company public in October.

“Once we went public, we joined a couple meetings with our Campus Crest team and realized we had gotten off on (the) wrong foot,” Hartnett said.

The hope is this effort will put the company back on the right path, as Hartnett said the process has been a learning experience that will make the company better in the end.

Josie Plaut, director of projects for IBE, said Campus Crest hired the organization to examine The Grove project and how to better integrate it into the community and make it more energy efficient. IBE is not funded by the university as an enterprise entity, thus, Campus Crest paid an undisclosed fee for the services.

On Jan. 18, IBE hosted its first workshop regarding The Grove, which saw representatives from Campus Crest, the city, CSU, community and industry professionals.

Plaut said the goal of the workshop was to identify the project’s goals.

The meeting included six groups focused on: aesthetics and quality, energy and water efficiency, site layout, operations and maintenance, and student living experience.

The hope is that the process will bring the opposing sides together on the polarizing project.

“It is our hope that through a more cooperative and collaborative process that we can start to find common ground,” Plaut said. “It is a little bit different approach; it is something Campus Crest realizes they should have done much earlier on in this process.”

While it would have been better to bring all parties to the table a year ago, Plaut said

the IBE provides a venue for better communication between Campus Crest and the Fort Collins community.

The workshop was the first step. IBE will continue to work with Campus Crest to evaluate and make recommendations for a sustainable project, which will include recommendations for a third-part certification such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for the building.

The last neighborhood meeting regarding the project was Dec. 7. The reason the Fort Collins’ P&Z Board denied the first project was because of the entrances and their relation to adjoining streets not meeting standards and because the project did not meet the definition of a block in terms of surrounding roadways.

Campus Crest has seven other projects “under construction” across the country in addition to the Fort Collins site, according to its website.

The Fort Collins location is listed as opening this fall and has the bed count at 624, according to the company’s website.

Campus Crest currently has 26 properties in operation, including The Grove at Greeley, 3202 11th Ave.

[coloradoan.com]

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