Split City Council kills Midland housing plan
A tie Glenwood Springs City Council vote Thursday night served to deny a developer’s plan to build 34 free-market houses on a 6-acre parcel of land along the west side of Midland Avenue abutting Red Mountain.
After Councilman Todd Leahy stepped down from hearing the Fox Hollow proposal due to business ties to developer Craig Helm and his project, the remaining six council members couldn’t come to a consensus.
Helm proposed to build 12 single-family homes, 12 town homes and 10 duplex units on the mostly vacant site at 2225 Midland Ave., located about 1,600 feet north of the 27th Street roundabout.
The plan also received mixed reviews from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission in July when it, too, deadlocked in a 2-2 vote regarding a recommendation to council.
In City Council’s case, a 3-3 vote on separate motions by Councilor Kathryn Trauger to deny a major development permit and property subdivision for the project essentially accomplished her and fellow council members Steve Davis and Stephen Bershenyi’s intent.
An inability by council to produce a majority decision goes as a denial, City Attorney Karl Hanlon explained after the more than 90-minute-long public hearing, where several Midland Avenue residents also weighed in against the plan.
Trauger’s primary concern had to do with safety issues expressed by fire and police officials regarding access into and out of the site. But Davis and Bershenyi had different reasons for opposing the project.
“I have had my ear bent by constituents on this, and the number one issue for all of us is how Midland Avenue is in a state of dysfunction,” Davis said.
“I live on Midland, so I get it,” said Davis, who represents the city ward that includes the middle and northern sections of what’s become one of the city’s primary thoroughfares but is designed more as a rural street.
“This is just a poor site for more density,” he said.
Bershenyi said the project, with 1,700- to 2,700-square-foot homes costing between $400,000 and the low $500,000s, as represented by Helm, would do nothing to address the city’s need for more affordable housing.
“We’ve missed the boat in Glenwood on affordable housing … and these are not affordable homes,” Bershenyi said.
Trauger agreed that smaller unit sizes and possibly even greater density than what was being proposed might address that particular issue.
“The trend is toward smaller units, and that’s what truly could make these units affordable,” she said, adding she hopes Helm returns with a plan that had better site circulation and smaller units.
Helm declined to comment after the meeting on his next steps.
A requested variance to exceed the city’s 35-foot height limit by about 2-and-a-half feet, as well as several design variances, proved less of an issue than the traffic impacts, site access issues, debris flow and rockfall concerns, and affordability.
Helm said the project met the intent of a 1978 annexation agreement with the city that allowed for even higher densities than he proposed. The nearby Cottonwood Landing and Terraces projects are more dense than what Fox Hollow was seeking, Helm pointed out.
Helm also argued that the project does meet a need for a certain type of housing in Glenwood Springs.
“Without significant new development, the cost of housing will continue to rise along with the percentage of people who cannot live, work, play and raise a family within the community,” he said. “Growth is going to happen irrespective of this development.”
The site has been owned for several years by First Baptist Church of Glenwood Springs, but the land was never developed after it was annexed in 1978, except for a single rental unit.
Russell Talbott, representing the congregation that has since become the New Hope Church in New Castle, said the Glenwood property is key to the church’s eventual expansion plans.
“You would be hard-pressed to find another site in Glenwood Springs where this kind of development could be done,” Talbott said. “There is a great need for more housing, and this project fills that need.”
Neighboring residents said the project would be out of scale with the surrounding residences, which are mostly single-family homes on 1-acre lots.
Council members Leo McKinney and Matt Steckler and Mayor Mike Gamba were inclined to approve the project.
“I’ve listened to the arguments about density, and I have a hard time understanding how six units per acre is more dense than what we approved on Highway 6,” McKinney said of the 116-unit Oasis Creek Apartments that were OK’d.
That project came to 31 units per acre, McKinney said, noting he voted against that plan.
Gamba said Helm made it very clear that Fox Hollow wouldn’t be an affordable housing project.
“I don’t feel that we can vote no on a project just because it isn’t affordable,” he said.
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