No resolution on Midland Ave. housing project | PostIndependent.com

No resolution on Midland Ave. housing project

Craig Helm explains his Midland Lofts development plan before Glenwood Springs City Council.

Amending a nearly four-decade-old annexation agreement may make sense to allow for a higher-density residential project of some sort amid of sea of large-lot single-family homes on Midland Avenue, but there are no guarantees the current plan being put forward will fly.

That was Glenwood Springs City Council’s message Thursday night to Craig Helm, who was hoping to win support for the amendment along with a vote of confidence for his conceptual plan to build a 71-unit apartment building.

Instead, Helm was left to wait until Jan. 5 when council will decide whether to lift the density and use restrictions contained in the annexation agreement but not tie the move specifically to Helm’s project.

“I support the annexation amendment,” Councilor Todd Leahy said in echoing the sentiment of the council majority.

“But I don’t want to give you any false sense of approval for this project,” Leahy advised Helm, reflecting the specific charge given to council by City Attorney Karl Hanlon at the start of the meeting. “We just can’t give you that certainty.”

The unusual process ties the requested annexation amendment for the 6-acre piece of property owned by the New Hope Church of New Castle with a conceptual review for the Midland Lofts project being put forward by Helm, who is under contract to buy the site.

If the annexation agreement is amended, Helm would still have to take his proposal through the full major development permit review process with no guarantees as to how the project will be received by the Planning and Zoning Commission and ultimately City Council.

The plan itself has some merit, several council members said, but it also has a lot of problems. Among them are the amount of traffic it would add to an already stressed Midland Avenue corridor, about 300 vehicles a day, and the overall scale of the proposed four-story, 57,423-square-foot apartment building.

Several neighbors also spoke out against the proposal for those same reasons.

“There are a number of places in Glenwood Springs where this project would be well-suited, but I don’t think Midland is the place for it,” said Councilor Steve Davis, who lives in the vicinity of the proposed development site.

“These are my neighbors, and I have to look out for my constituents,” he said. “And right now I know I can’t back out of my driveway in the morning.”

Helm said after the meeting that he’s not sure he can proceed with the plan without some certainty that what he’s proposing, or some version of it, will be approved.

“Frankly, it seems pretty clear to me that a good chunk of council is concerned that Midland just doesn’t work, regardless, so I’m not sure I can convince them that we ought to build something there,” he said.

The proposal does open up the larger question about how to create affordable, or at least attainable housing in Glenwood Springs, with Helm calling it “far and away the number one issue facing the city.”

“While our first design met the guidelines of the [existing] annexation agreement, it did not optimally meet the needs of the community,” Helm said during his presentation, in reference to a plan put forward this summer for a less-dense 34-unit mixed residential development that ended up being rejected.

The new proposal is designed to bring rental housing into the mix that would be affordable to those earning between 90 and 100 percent of the area median household income of $69,780, Helm said.

Rents for the studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments would start at $1,000, as currently proposed, he said.

To accomplish that, Helm said he would need variances from the city’s height and parking requirements.

Traffic and congestion are a “by-product,” he said, of not having enough housing where people work. To address those concerns, he offered to pay $100,000 into a fund to help with Midland Avenue and 27th Street bridge improvements.

If the city were to expand the Ride Glenwood bus service to serve Midland Avenue, Helm said he would also build a bus stop in front of his apartment building.

“People my age do struggle to live here,” said Tyler Desiderio, a millennial who spoke in favor of the proposal along with his girlfriend, Melanie Poole.

“I support the project because I believe it would add to the needed supply of housing in Glenwood Springs,” he said.

Altai Chuluun, who is president of the Roaring Fork Young Professionals, agreed.

“It is a big issue, and the people most affected by the housing situation are young professionals, many of whom are commuting from farther west,” Chuluun said.

Council member Leo McKinney said he would likely support the project if Helm proceeds.

“The only way we’re going to grow as a community is if we address this problem,” he said.

Complicating things for Helm if the annexation agreement is amended and he does not go forward with his proposal is the city’s six-month moratorium on new development applications along the Midland corridor. The moratorium was approved earlier this month so the city can come up with a plan to fund Midland and 27th Street improvements, as well as the massive South Bridge project.

Because Helm was already in the conceptual review process before the moratorium was put in place, he was allowed to proceed. If he starts from scratch with a new plan, he would have to wait until the moratorium is lifted.