Affordable housing pursued for downtown Rifle
Citizen Telegram Editor
Downtown Rifle may be the site of a new affordable housing project in the near future, as the city and community leaders revamp their efforts to stimulate growth in the area.
Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. President Michael Langhorne said his organization is working with two developers of Colorado affordable housing projects and could make a recommendation on which one the city should try to work with in the next few months.
“This would be something that teachers and police officers could afford,” Langhorne told Rifle City Council at a Feb. 19 workshop. “Right now, we don’t have any details, since there are a couple of private property owners in the area that could be involved.”
A possible downtown site is city-owned land near the Brenden 7 Theatres, he added. The city leases the land to Brenden Theatres, who pay the city what amounts to annual rent.
Langhorne said the goal for that downtown parcel has been to see more development, such as a chain restaurant.
“That doesn’t look like it will happen,” he stated. “The chain restaurants have some pretty strict guidelines and requirements that we just can’t meet right now.”
But if an affordable housing project were located near the movie theaters, Langhorne said projects could “start to snowball.”
A key financial step to such a project is securing a loan from the Colorado Housing Finance Authority, created in 1973 to make loans to low- and moderate-income home buyers, affordable multi-family rental housing developers, and small and medium-sized businesses. The authority is a self-sustaining public enterprise funded by issuing bonds.
“We need a grant in order for either developer to do this,” Langhorne said. “I think we have a good possibility of getting it, but we need to put together a winning application.”
City Planning Director Nathan Lindquist noted only ten developers in Colorado are qualified to build projects funded by the authority.
Such a project in the downtown area could help show other developers “how they could make money in downtown Rifle,” Langhorne said. “When a retail business has the traffic, such as what they would get from the families and couples living in a project like this, it’s a way to survive.”
Langhorne said both developers have visited and toured downtown Rifle over the last two or three months and remain interested in such a project.
“We just need to get to a place to put pencil to paper and start working out the details,” he added. “They’re both highly experienced, well-qualified developers of these types of projects.”
Housing authority grants are awarded twice a year, Langhorne noted, so if the city doesn’t get approved in the first round, the application can be adjusted for the second round.
“I’d like to see a developer chosen and on board before we start talking to any private landowners,” he said. “And that will lead to the where, what size and other aspects.”
Affordable housing units could be either sold, leased or converted to condominiums, Langhorne added.
The city should not have to offer any added economic incentives, he said, noting the city recently decreased its development fees by as much as 60 percent to help boost new home construction.
The potential affordable housing project follows a revamp of a city downtown revitalization plan developed before the 2009 Great Recession and sharp drop in natural gas activity sent the Rifle economy plummeting. City Manager Matt Sturgeon said banks will not make loans on development identified in that plan, so it has been scaled back. The revised plan identifies areas of downtown thought to be suitable for certain kinds of development.
“There are a few more parking lots in this plan,” Sturgeon said. “It calls for single story buildings instead of a mix of commercial with residential on a second floor, but there are still a few locations where we think a two-story building could be feasible at some point. So we’re not totally abandoning two-story commercial and residential uses.”
The plan is not binding and is intended to guide desired development in the downtown area.
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