P&Z sweet on Red Feather `plums’ | PostIndependent.com
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P&Z sweet on Red Feather `plums’

Just in time for Halloween, Red Feather Ridge developers came to the Glenwood Springs Planning and Zoning Commission bearing treats, almost $8 million worth. And while the developers were pleased with the commission’s recommendation for approval, the real test comes Dec. 11 when the project goes before City Council The 6-1 vote by the P&Z Commission was similar to the last go-round in June, when the commission voted 5-2 in favor of the project, but extra incentives offered by the developers managed to sway Commission Chairman Larry Hon. “Last time, I didn’t think the benefits to the city were where they ought to be,” Hon explained. “The applicant has come forward this time with all the conditions and suggestions. … To me, it’s an outstanding project.”The proposed project would include 149 houses located about a half mile south of Airport Road on the east side of Four Mile Road. It also includes parkland, space for a municipal cemetery, water rights and affordable housing. The lone dissenter on the commission, Russell Brown, said he’s concerned about prematurely extending the Urban Growth Boundary.”I wish it weren’t within the UGB so I wouldn’t be in this position,” he said. “I believe in 15 to 20 years we will hit the wall with growth.” Instead of moving the boundary now, Brown suggested continuing to look at developing land within the boundary. Then, when that land is developed, it might be time to stretch the UGB.The six commission members who voted to recommend approving the project pointed to the economic benefits it would bring, the affordable housing that would be built and the much-needed cemetery space that would be gained. They also said the alternative, letting the land be developed, as already approved by the county, as 58 two-acre lots with no city control or benefits, would be a poor move. Just one person from the public spoke against the project Tuesday, saying he’s not against development at the site, he’s just against dense development.Red Feather’s bumpy flightThe representative of the land developer, Guy Harrell, from MidFirst Bank in Oklahoma City, admitted the bank fell into its role as developer by making a bad loan. “We originally got here in March 2001 when it was obvious the other developer was going to lose the plat on the 58 lots,” Harrell said, referring to Four Mile Ranch developer Lester Colodny. MidFirst was forced to bankroll more than $1 million in improvements to Four Mile Road just to keep the approval that had already been granted by Garfield County. “Obviously we knew very little about Glenwood Springs, or we never would have made the loan,” he said. To recapture as much money as possible, the bank proposed a plan to develop the site more densely. The only way to do that, they found, was to be annexed into Glenwood Springs. Garfield County regulations don’t allow such dense development. So bank officials began to put together what they saw as a lucrative package for the city to win approval. One major problem they faced, however, was the city’s Urban Growth Boundary, a line set in 1996 to separate dense, urban-type developments from rural growth. Harrell and his development team won a recommendation for approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission in June, but the plan was rejected by a one-vote margin by City Council on Aug. 1.Undeterred, the developers came back, turning in a new application to the city in September and appearing before P&Z on Tuesday. According to Harrell’s presentation, the new offer includes nearly $8 million in cash and other goodies for the city. They include parkland, affordable housing, money for traffic mitigation, land for a cemetery and fees for schools, building permits and other “plums,” as they were called by City Council members in August. “This is the third time the staff has recommended the project,” Harrell said of the city’s Community Development Department personnel. “They’ve really got to be searching to find a con.”More plumsDespite all the offerings by developers, Dave Merritt, who sits on both the P&Z Commission and City Council, pushed for more. During the commission’s discussion on an annexation agreement, Merritt asked that in addition to MidFirst prepaying $75,000 in building permit fees, they also prepay $125,000 for a new bus whenever the city determines it needs one. Also, a new wrinkle in the project is the offering of six lots to Habitat for Humanity. The six lots, Harrell suggested, would be included in the 23 affordable-housing units the bank offered to build. Merritt, however, made it part of the preannexation agreement that if any lots are given to Habitat for Humanity, they would need to be in addition to the 23 affordable-housing units. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that uses volunteer labor to build affordable houses for people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. But after the meeting, Red Feather Ridge attorney Lee Leavenworth could be heard telling city attorney Karl Hanlon, “I can tell you right now we can’t do all that.”Just how much they can do likely won’t be known until December.


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