Feb 242009
Authors: Matt Minich

Editor’s note: Coverage for city Districts 1 and 3 will appear on Thursday and Friday this week.

Theodore Gates will barely be old enough to drink alcohol legally by the time city Election Day in Fort Collins rolls around this April 7.

But as the only student running for elected office this year, Gates, a 20-year-old history major from Gunnison, says his platform is what students need this year and will help him hold his own as he runs against two much older — and more experienced — opponents for the city council seat in District 5.

Gates aims to represent the non-permanent Fort Collins population in the district, which covers the area west of College Avenue and south of Prospect Street.

The student demographic — a huge proportion of the total population in the CSU region — has been pushed out of local politics in the past, Gates said.

“I want to provide a seat at the table for everybody,” Gates said. The seat he’s running for would allow him to vote to change and implement city ordinances, set city policy direction and help hire and supervise the positions of city manager, city judge and city attorney.

While Gates said he anticipates that his opponents will target his youth as a sticking point in his candidacy, he said he hopes voters will look at his stance on the issues plaguing Fort Collins rather than on his age.

One such issue is the three-unrelated housing ordinance, commonly called U+2, which mandates that no more than three non-family residents can live in the same property without special zoning permission.

Gates, who said the ordinance has unfairly targeted students and does not solve the noise problems that it was intended to solve, said he would plan a large restructuring of the regulation.

Gates hopes to displace Kelly Ohlson, the current incumbent chair for Fort Collins City Council and mayor pro tem in District 5.

Gates said that while he respects Ohlson’s many years of community service, he also feels the councilman has an out-of-touch view of the district.

Ohlson, who has been involved in local politics for over 25 years, argued that his experience in city government was his best weapon in the city council race this year.

First elected to city council in 1983, he served as mayor from 1986 to 1987 and has since served not only on city council but also on various boards of city governance.

Ohlson said that while he is proud of the work he has done in his last term as a councilman, which began in 2005, he also sees new challenges on the horizon for Fort Collins.

“We’re not isolated from this national crisis,” Ohlson said of the nation’s current economic troubles. While Fort Collins has weathered this storm fairly well, Ohlson said, the economic health of the city is foremost in his mind.

Job creation and expansion are a priority, he said, and to bring development about he aims to nurture economic incubators, such as the Rocky Mountain Innovation Initiative, which helps new entrepreneurs in their start-up projects.

He said he intends to improve the development review process, making it easier for local businesses to expand, and intends to carry on with the city economic advisory committee, which was established in Ohlson’s current term.

Additionally, Ohlson said he hopes to work closely with CSU students to help ideas formulated at CSU hit the marketplace.

“I view myself as pro-CSU, pro-student, pro-Fort Collins,” he said.

Ohlson also listed transit, traffic congestion and environmental concerns as issues that always need attention in Fort Collins. In addition to providing more incentives for people to walk and ride bikes, Ohlson said he wants to reduce stop light times and create more turn lanes at stop lights, as he said time spent with a car idling increases environmental damages.

The third candidate for the District 5 spot, Andrew Boucher, president of the local marketing and consulting firm Boucher Strategies, announced his candidacy Monday.

Boucher said that he hopes to bring a fresh perspective if elected as representative of the district.

He said he is strongly opposed to the U+2 ordinance, which he said he has opposed since its conception.

The ordinance, which Boucher called “fundamentally wrong,” combined with a lack of new jobs for CSU graduates are helping to push former students out of Fort Collins, he said.

“Too often, graduation day is moving day,” Boucher said.

He said he hopes to change this by building a connection between local businesses and CSU so that new talent can go directly into the Fort Collins workforce.

Boucher said that he hopes to be a new voice that will encourage job attraction and retention in Fort Collins by creating an environment where businesses can thrive.

And while he said he is “wary” of anything that will affect the local ecosystem, Boucher said he supports the Glade Reservoir project — which will divert water from the Poudre River into a reservoir north of Fort Collins, benefiting 13 communities in Larimer County — as Boucher said it will create jobs, preserve local agriculture and provide much-needed water storage.

The project has faced opposition from the Fort Collins community, as the reservoir will not directly benefit Fort Collins, and environmentalists have expressed concerns that it risks damage to the Poudre River. Ohlson has been a vocal opponent of the project, and Gates said his permanent stance on the issue will depend on pending cost and benefit reports.

City council elections beat writer Matt Minich can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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