Rifle closes door on annexing property proposed for housing development
One developer’s plans to increase its residential footprint were stymied last week after Rifle City Council opted not to annex a piece of property being considered for a major subdivision.
Rifle City Council on April 19 voted 4-3 against annexing from Garfield County a 7.9-acre parcel in south Rifle where Eco Dwelling LLC is proposing to develop up to 66 single-family units. The parcel is directly west of Grand River Health and east of 20 affordable-housing units called the Wapiti Commons being built by Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley.
The proposed residential lots would have varied in size, from 3,000-5,000 square feet, with one acre dedicated to park space. Eco Dwelling also proposed providing 30 guest parking spaces in addition to two off-street parking spaces required for each unit, city documents state.
Voting against the motion were council members Sean Strode, Joe Carpenter, Chris Bornholdt and Mayor Ed Green. Voting in favor were council members Alicia Gresley, Brian Condie and Clint Hostettler.
“We’re losing quality of life here,” Strode said, adding that the development is too big and could cause more traffic issues. “So I’d like to see some less units.”
Eco Dwelling has over the past year made quite an impact on local real estate. After opening a modular home manufacturing facility just east of Rifle on U.S. Highway 6, it proposed using cold-formed recycled steel to assemble 17 single-family units on 1.93 acres at West 14th Street Marketplace. The two-bedroom houses — 900 square feet in size — are to be placed on 3,000 square-foot lots and are expected to sell for $250,000-$275,000, according to Eco Dwelling owner Fernando Argiro.
But one major contention to arise from last week’s meeting is that Eco Dwelling’s newest proposal to build in south Rifle would create too uniform of a neighborhood and lacks an initial sketch plan that typically complements annexation packages.
According to Rifle City Attorney Jim Neu, annexing land is a big decision since it’s the city that ultimately inherits its oversight in many respects. If the city approves annexing the land from Garfield County without the sketch plan, it fears Eco Dwelling could deviate from its original plans.
“Without the sketch plan, you are annexing something that we really don’t know what it is,” he explained. “The annexation agreement usually pins down what you’re seeing, so that we know that’s what we’re getting.”
This very point led to heated exchanges between council members, staff and Eco Dwelling representatives over why a sketch plan hasn’t appeared. City staff said they requested one. Eco Dwelling Representative John Kuersten said that never happened.
“They’ve had my application since September, and they never requested that,” he said. He added, however, the sketch plan, which offers a review of the concept for development and the overall feasibility of any project, would be provided after the annexation is approved.
But city staff worries about a number of planned attributes for the proposal. There are four roads proposed to make up the potential neighborhood, but right now, the dimensions are too narrow and do not meet city standards, city documents state.
“Would we even be able to do maintenance on these roads?” Green said.
Another concern is that the number of units being proposed do not meet the city’s comprehensive plan, which designates this specific area as neighborhood commercial and high-density residential.
“The density for this area is suggested to be 12-30 dwelling units/acre and the applicant’s proposal is for approximately 8.33 dwelling units/acre,” city documents state.
If struck, the deal between Eco Dwelling and Rifle would also waive a required $246,310 park fee with the aims of promoting more green spaces in south Rifle. But with no sketch plan in place, the city currently doesn’t know what equipment will be built on the two park spaces proposed for the project.
“You can put up one slide and call it a park,” Strode said.
Another detail in the proposal is that 11-12 of the units would be three-bedroom and be sold for up to $375,000. This is unlike the units proposed for Marketplace, which are two-bedroom units to be sold for less.
“We’re talking apples and oranges here,” said Rifle resident Mark Hays, one of a handful of people who spoke during public comment. “This is not the same thing that was presented for Marketplace.”
Meanwhile, city documents show that Eco Dwelling’s proposal isn’t actually being considered as an affordable-housing project.
While the market itself is still inflated at post-pandemic prices — the average is currently $481,500 for a single-family home in Rifle, data from Realtor.com shows — Eco Dwelling is selling for considerably less. But Eco Dwelling is still saying the proposed properties could be purchased by outside investors.
“This is true of any unit that is built in the city; however, the lower price points make it easier for investors to buy these properties,” city documents state. “While this would still provide rental housing stock to the city, if the properties are purchased by investors, the equity for first-time homeowners would no longer be a benefit of the project.”
Still, Kuersten said land is extremely expensive, and that building these types of units using this type of prefabricated process is really the most viable way of providing cheaper housing.
“You have to build smaller to get to that price point, or you have to subsidize it with taxpayer money — like Habitat,” he said, adding that he already has about 70 people interested in buying. “That’s the only way to do it.
“Nobody can move here; people that are here can’t afford to stay here. Our workforce is leaving, and we have to start adding to that somehow.”
The council members who voted in favor of Eco Dwelling’s proposal and the annexation itself contended that if Eco Dwelling sells the land because they can’t build, its future use could lead to the creation of a large apartment complex. They also noted that Rifle’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the annexation during a March meeting.
“I am a little concerned about the traffic and the amount of houses,” said Gresley, who also encouraged more community outreach about the project. “But I don’t want to see a five-story apartment building go up there, either.”
Condie pointed out that Eco Dwelling’s proposal meets the city’s comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2019 and currently calls for accommodating a population of more than 15,000 people over the next 20 years.
“As far as traffic, I’d like to see a third exit into that place,” he said. “I’m all for increasing the number and size of options for people to live in this area. It’s a great place to live.
“People are moving out of the cities, and I think we should welcome the workforce.”
Post Independent Assistant Editor and lead western Garfield County reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-423-5273.
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