RFSD eyes south Gwood for teacher housing

An architectural rendering depicts how the smaller Cardiff Mesa homes are to look. The Roaring Fork School District is looking to purchase some of the units for its teacher housing program.
Glenwood Springs Community Development |

The Roaring Fork School District may be able to provide a dozen more rental housing units for teachers and staff in Glenwood Springs, if a south Glenwood developer is successful in amending plans that were approved by the city more than three years ago.

In addition to plans to acquire six units at the Ironbridge development south of town, the school district has been working with Silver Sage Preserve developer Pete Waller to buy three of the five multifamily buildings in his planned Cardiff Mesa neighborhood situated just above Airport Road.

The city in February 2013 approved the overall Silver Sage project, which called for 38 duplex units on the upper bench southwest of the Four Mile Road intersection, and 17 multifamily units in five buildings on the 42-acre lower bench.

To date, though, the project has not broken ground.

Waller is before the Glenwood Planning and Zoning Commission tonight seeking the review panel’s recommendation on a proposal to add six units and sell as many as 13 of them to the school district to satisfy his “community housing” obligation.

“As the real estate market has improved throughout the valley … we looked at building Cardiff Mesa,” Waller wrote in his amendment application.

However, construction costs have increased enough in the time since the plans were first approved that Waller said he wanted to revisit his approach and come up a way to provide more attainable housing.

“As evidenced by the limited new housing construction in Glenwood Springs, the market is not supporting the increased cost of construction,” he said.

Last November, RFSD voters approved a $122 million bond issue for two major school projects in Glenwood Springs and variety of other facility improvements across the district. In addition, $15 million was earmarked to purchase or build affordable teacher rental housing in Glenwood, Carbondale and Basalt.

The district is already pursuing 17 units in the next phase of construction at the Willits project in Basalt, and recently won support from Garfield County commissioners for a revision to the Ironbridge affordable housing plan that will put six units in district ownership as part of its teacher housing program.

The Cardiff Mesa proposal, if approved by the city and final arrangements can be worked out with the developer, would more than satisfy the school district’s goal to have at least 15 rental units in Glenwood Springs, said Jeff Gatlin, chief operating officer for RFSD.

“We need to look at the updated pricing plan, but this would give us the mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units that we are looking for,” Gatlin said.

Another of the amendments being sought by Waller would add one-bedroom units to the Cardiff Mesa plan, where none were included in the original approvals.

But the proposal could run into some hurdles in getting approvals from the city.

To keep costs down, Waller is seeking an exemption from certain development impact fees, as well as reductions in the original requirements for parking, landscaping and off-site infrastructure improvements.

Though supportive of most of the subdivision changes, city staff is recommending against a request by Waller for relief from a requirement that he install curb and gutter and sidewalks along 750 feet of Airport Road, and to repave the section of that road that would provide access to the Cardiff Mesa site.

If affordable housing is to be built in Glenwood Springs, such requirements cannot be expected of developers, Waller indicated in his application to the city.

“Very limited new rental or attainably priced for-sale housing has been developed in Glenwood Springs for many years due limited availability of suitable multifamily sites, high costs of construction and local fees and market prices/rental rates that will not support the cost of development of new multifamily units,” he wrote “In order to create workforce housing such as Cardiff Mesa, units need to be efficiently designed and constructed and city requirements such as the substantial improvement of Airport Road need to be mitigated.”

Waller said improvements would cost $7,000 to $9,000 per unit, “and substantially contribute to the foreclosure of the development of attainable housing for the community.”

City planning staff, in recommending denial of the request, argues that even developments with deed-restricted units in the past have been required to provide “basic improvements.”

P&Z is only the first level of review for the Cardiff Mesa plan. City Council will have the final say on the subdivision amendment and related requests.

Meanwhile, in addition to lining up acquisition of housing units, Gatlin said the school district continues to work on developing its teacher housing program, including guidelines for district employees to qualify for a unit and rents that would be charged.

“It would be premature to say what that’s going to look like at this point,” he said, adding the goal is to have teachers occupying some units by the 2017-18 school year.

“Voters put a big responsibility on us to solve the problem of attracting and retaining staff,” Gatlin said. “Our own staff is helping us draft these guidelines, and we are confident we will have a successful program in the end.”

In addition to the $5 million earmarked for each of the district’s three communities, rental income will be put back into the program, he added.

“This is just the first step to hopefully have a program that will have a bigger impact on our staff over time,” Gatlin said.

In addition to the units that the district is looking to acquire in Glenwood Springs and Basalt, planning has also begun to take another look at developing housing on the district-owned property south of the Bridges Center in Carbondale.

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