Developer seeks waiver from Glenwood Springs’ affordable housing rules
March 19, 2014
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Developers of the proposed 413-home Glenwood Ridge subdivision are seeking a full waiver from the city of Glenwood Springs' affordable housing requirements that would otherwise bring up to 62 deed-restricted units into the city's community housing program.
Normally, the city requires that 15 percent of homes in new developments carry restrictions, such as initial price controls, buyer income guidelines and appreciation caps, in order to maintain affordable housing prices.
Those rules have been suspended by the city for the past two years under a moratorium that continues until September 2015. The move was an effort by City Council to kick-start the economy following the downturn in the local housing market after the 2008 recession, by spurring new housing development.
Council could extend the moratorium to benefit the first phases of the Glenwood Ridge development which, if approved, would not likely begin construction until after that deadline.
But developer representative Gary Menzel of Elk Meadows Properties LLC and other project officials maintain that the project's design, housing types and sizes are such that deed restrictions should not be necessary ever.
"We believe the spectrum of housing product we have included in our plan satisfies the intent of this requirement," Menzel said during the first of three Glenwood Springs Planning & Zoning Commission hearings Tuesday night to consider the 506-acre Glenwood Ridge annexation and development proposal for the former Bershenyi and Martino ranches up Four Mile.
That would include a mix of 225 single-family unit types ranging in size from 1,300 square feet to no more than 3,000 square feet, on lots ranging from 1,700-10,000 square feet, according to project architect Tom Lyon.
Another 188 townhouse, duplex and condominium units spread throughout the 506-acre site would also be no larger than 1,500 square feet in size.
"The solution is to make sure you provide smaller lots and smaller housing types," Lyon said, adding that construction cost versus the selling price for a deed-restricted unit has proven to be an obstacle in other projects he has worked on.
Further, local land-use attorney Larry Green, who is also representing the Glenwood Ridge developers, said the whole idea of deed restrictions to achieve affordable housing is coming under review.
"We believe the concept of deed-restricted housing may not be the answer to the need for affordable housing in Glenwood Springs," Green said at the hearing.
Rather, "workforce housing" is achieved by creating a mix of small homes on small lots, he said.
The proposed community housing waiver is likely to be a key point of discussion as P&Z continues its review of the large annexation and development proposal on April 8 and again on April 22, when it is expected to make a recommendation to City Council.
Council is scheduled to begin hearing the proposal on May 15.
City planning staff and Garfield County Housing Authority Director Geneva Powell both question whether the housing mix and lot sizes are enough to keep prices in check.
"The decision to waive the community housing requirements should not be based on the current state of the real estate market," senior city planner Gretchen Ricehill wrote in her staff report to P&Z.
Powell, in a separate letter commenting on the development proposal, pointed to a reference in the developer's application noting that the local housing market appreciated between 10 percent and 12 percent in 2013.
"If that is the case, it is feasible to think that market will continue to appreciate during the 15- to 20-year build out of Glenwood Ridge, and incomes will not keep up with the rise in housing cost," Powell wrote.
That would then make the homes "unattainable and unaffordable to the average wage earner" over time, she said.
In addition to the housing waiver, the developer is also asking for an extended 10-year vesting period in which to begin construction. Once the first phase of the development is platted, the developer expects another 15 to 20 years before the project would be built out.
That doesn't necessarily mean it will take 10 years to move forward with the project, Green said.
"What is meant by that is, during this review process we will create a schedule within that 10 years for when the various phases have to be completed," Green said. "We can set those time frames for each plat."
P&Z also began taking public comment on the proposal at the Tuesday meeting, and will continue to allow comments when the hearing resumes on April 8.
Local construction contractor Jason Neuman said he believe the Glenwood Ridge project is well-designed and needed to help meet the needs of the community.
He also noted that development on the former ranchlands southwest of Glenwood Springs is envisioned in the city's comprehensive plan, and that the project site is within the city's identified urban growth boundary.
"The comp plan calls out for higher density on the south end of Glenwood, and whether I personally value higher density or not, it is in there as a need," Neuman said. "Sometimes we have to look at the needs of the community rather than the needs of ourselves."
However, Ken Call, who lives in nearby Chelyn Acres south of the proposed development, said citizens have twice spoken against high-density development in the area.
The first was the city voters' rejection more than 10 years ago of the former Red Feather Ridge annexation and development, which later was developed in unincorporated Garfield County as the large-lot Four Mile Ranch subdivision.
The second was the county commissioners' 2007 rejection of the former 189-home development proposal on the same property that's now being proposed for annexation into the city, Call said.
"The people who live up there moved there for the open spaces," he said. "You're looking at a development that, in my opinion, is completely out of touch."
Others who commented spoke to the potential impact on wildlife migration corridors from the development, as well as increased traffic on Four Mile Road and Midland Avenue leading into and out of the central part of town.