Developers of the proposed Glenwood Ridge residential project on Four Mile Road have withdrawn the application in hopes of getting direction from Glenwood Springs City Council on how to address a host of concerns that led to a city planning recommendation for denial.
“We are hopeful this will provide us with an opportunity to work with the city staff for a period of time and collectively arrive at some solutions to these background concerns,” Gary Menzel, owner representative for Elk Meadows Properties LLC, said Thursday evening at the first of what was to be three council meetings dedicated to considering the proposal.
Most of those concerns have to do with impacts from a more-than 400-home residential development on a large spread of former ranchland that’s more than a mile removed from the current city limits.
“We believe that these problems all have solutions,” Menzel said.
Glenwood Ridge had proposed to annex 506 acres of the former Bershenyi and Martino ranches situated on both sides of Four Mile Road about 1.5 miles south of the Midland Avenue/Four Mile turnoff, along with a narrow strip of city-owned land that would connect the properties to the city’s southern boundary.
The development plan called for a total of 413 new housing units to be built in phases over the next 20 years, including 225 single-family units, 98 townhouse units, 12 duplex units and 78 condominiums.
City staff and the planning and zoning commission had both recommended denial of the project after a series of public hearings this spring.
Concerns, at least from the city’s perspective, have mostly revolved around street needs in the South Glenwood area, primarily Midland Avenue and the 27th Street bridge, and the estimated $16 million in improvements necessary to bring them up to modern standards.
Other concerns included costs associated with taking on lower Four Mile Road as a city street, the lack of a public transit plan and trail connections to the existing South Glenwood neighborhoods, the developer’s request to be exempt from the city’s affordable housing rules, and extra costs for public services such as police, fire and utilities.
Public comment had also been mostly opposed to the development plan, but for a variety of other reasons including putting a high-density development in an area that’s currently defined by larger-lot, higher-end subdivisions located outside city limits in unincorporated Garfield County.
Menzel and his project team requested a work session be scheduled with City Council to begin to address those concerns in the context of a new development application. Council members were open to the idea but did not set a specific date to do that.
Re-stating their case
At the same time, Menzel also questioned why the city seemed ready to deny a project that he believes meets the goals of the city’s 2011 comprehensive land-use plan and that involved an area that was purposely included within the so-called “urban growth boundary” that was part of that plan.
“It appears to us that these background problems are insurmountable for any development south of 27th Street,” he said, offering that unless those problems are addressed the city will never see new development to meet a stated need for new housing in the community.
Glenwood Ridge had offered to pay for a roundabout at Midland and Four Mile that is envisioned as part of the larger South Bridge project.
That project, which would give the city a southern connection across the Roaring Fork River to state Highway 82, is estimated to cost more than $35 million to complete. However, there is no dedicated funding to complete it at this time.
The developer had also proposed to build a 16.7-acre baseball and softball field complex to be operated and maintained as a city park. And, another 1,140 acres that was not part of the annexation request was proposed to be dedicated to the city or possibly Colorado Parks and Wildlife as open space or a primitive mountain park with hiking and biking trails.
“We believe the Glenwood Ridge plan that we crafted is consistent with the comprehensive plan and is in response to the demographic trends of the community,” Menzel said. “For this to proceed, though, we need some input from the city.”
Elk Meadows’ economic consultant, Ford Frick of BBC Research, also spoke at the Thursday meeting before the application was withdrawn. He posed the question, “If not this project, what project?” referring to an oft-stated desire by city leaders to attract new housing construction.
He countered projections that Glenwood Ridge would be a drain on the city’s general fund. Rather, the project would add new households to Glenwood Springs, which in turn would generate new sales taxes and other revenues, add to the income base and give people who work in Glenwood an opportunity to purchase a home there.
“The traffic problems are real, and the solutions are expensive,” Frick said. “But the impact of residential growth is very modest.”
Project attorney Larry Green of Glenwood Springs added, “I don’t believe there is another piece of property this size in or near the city that could support 400 houses … and at some point in time this property is going to become an integral part of Glenwood Springs.”
Although the decision had already been made to withdraw the application, council allowed members of the public who showed up Thursday to say their piece, which the development team was content to stay and hear.
“That is too much on that property, simply put,” said local resident and business owner Lori Chase. She also criticized the plan for a ball field complex, saying that, if lighted, it would cause nighttime light pollution and would be too big a liability for the city.
Others said the proposed development is too far from the central part of town and counter to the “new urbanism” trend toward more compact, walkable communities.
Glenwood Springs resident Sheila Markowitz said that, without deed restrictions on at least part of the housing units proposed, there is no way to ensure future affordability of homes.
“Nothing stays affordable unless you have a deed restriction,” she said. “It just goes higher and higher and higher until it’s no longer affordable.”
Former city councilman Russ Arensman agreed, noting that the Cardiff Glen neighborhood was approved without deed restrictions and quickly became unaffordable during the height of the real estate boom in the late 2000s.
Arensman said annexation and development of the Glenwood Ridge property could work and applauded the developer for pulling the applications and seeking to work with the city on a plan that would be acceptable.
“We could use the housing, and there are good elements in this proposal,” he said.