Carbondale, RFSD talk affordable housing
If Tuesday night’s joint work session between the Carbondale Board of Trustees and the Roaring Fork School District administration is any guide, the town may yet see an affordable and teacher housing complex near downtown.
The plan dates back to 2007, when the trustees approved a Planned Unit Development (PUD) on roughly 14 acres of district property including the former sites of Carbondale Elementary School and Carbondale Middle School. The original plan called for 89 units surrounding the grade school, in the field between the two buildings, and on the old tennis court, with a maximum of 10 percent free market units.
The plan was revised in 2010 after a new library was slated for the tennis courts and alternative uses were proposed to the land around the newly minted Third Street Center. The alteration included much more detailed plans, placing as many as 120 units on the field and calling for access by extending Grace Avenue to 3rd Street and Capitol Avenue to Highway 133. It would require the Third Street Center to relocate parking to the east side of the building.
The intersection of Highway 133 and Weant Boulevard would need to be modified, potentially justifying a stoplight or roundabout if the Thompson Park subdivision on the other side of the highway also moves forward.
Now, with deadlines looming to begin the process, the town and the district must decide whether to proceed with some form of the project. No official decisions were made at the meeting, but members of both groups spoke in favor of moving ahead.
“Obviously, we feel a real sense of urgency to try to get some of this done,” said RFSD Superintendent Diana Sirko.
Town Manager Jay Harrington agreed. “This is one we want to keep alive,” he said.
Although he expressed some concerns about the specifics, including the potential fate of the property’s existing trees, Trustee Frosty Merriott also expressed hope for the plan.
“The bottom line is that this is a viable project, and it’s something that this community, as well as the school district, really needs,” he said. “It’s something that I’d like to see happen.”
Trustee Allyn Harvey expressed concerns that the town would invest in the project only to have the entire development fill up with district employees, since the current agreement only guarantees space for a pair of police officers.
RFSD chief financial officer Shannon Pelland said no one wants that to happen.
“Our employees have made it very clear that they don’t want to live in a PUD that has 120 of their colleagues in the same place,” she said. “This was large enough where we felt like we could get a healthy enough mix of different income levels and employers that it would feel like a community.”
She added that the district is currently conducting a survey to gauge interest in the project.
Harvey also encouraged the assembly to consider decreasing the 5 percent appreciation rate, citing other successful projects with a lower cap. He questioned whether the units would remain affordable if the housing market followed trends in Aspen and Basalt.
“We’re starting to see effects down here that are similar to what we saw upvalley 30 years ago,” he said.
Trustee Katrina Byars expressed hopes that the plan could include other demographics.
“I’d like us to have some conversations about making sure the affordable housing needs are met, we do something for seniors, and we’re also taking care of teachers,” she said. “This is a rare opportunity for all of us. I think it’s the most compelling affordable housing project in our future. There’s not going to be another one like this so close to our downtown corridor.”
In the end, it all comes down to money.
“For us, really, it’s figuring out how we’re going to put the financing packet together,” Pelland said.
Mayor Stacey Bernot agreed.
“I guess it’s up to Shannon and the consultants to sharpen their pencils and work on some of the numbers,” she said. “I do believe it could still be a model project.”
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