Guest column: Poking the sacred cow
Habitat for Humanity (“Habitat”) is planning to build eight housing units on the vacant land at Eighth Street and Midland Avenue in the Cowdin neighborhood. The project has insufficient parking and builds units roughly five feet from the sidewalk along Eighth and Midland Avenue.
Design charrettes were held last year, but details of the project were not widely understood until P&Z reviewed the project this summer. Despite general support for Habitat, this is when many residents blanched.
But let’s backup. The City acquired this land to facilitate future reconfiguration of the 8th and Midland intersection. Eschewing that use and incorporating tortuous legal theory, the City granted this land to Habitat for $1 without a public vote.
Habitat requires owners to have worked within the city or zip code for two years prior to purchasing this housing. They can then change jobs. So long as they work anywhere between Parachute and Aspen they may retain ownership of the property. So they need not always work locally. While this is affordable housing it is not local workforce housing as it is sometimes called. At the end of the day the land Glenwood sold for $1 can be used to provide housing for workers who take jobs up valley. Aspen thanks us.
The Cowdin neighborhood is a proud, densely developed, working-class neighborhood. Parking here has always been a challenge. Many units house multiple commuters or families and have at least two parking spaces. This, plus street parking, resulted in a crowded but workable neighborhood. Unfortunately the City recently eliminated the vast majority of our street parking out of necessity for fire access. Parking is now a huge problem. On a work night cars are strewn anywhere people can park them, often blocks from home. Despite this the City requires only 1.5 spaces per unit, presumably to accommodate developers.
And now comes the eight-unit Habitat project with 14 parking spaces (reportedly later changed to 16, though they won’t confirm this number). Cars will potentially pour onto Cowdin at Eighth Street where no street parking exists.
Habitat personnel have told me that parking is adequate because many of their owners won’t need multiple cars: single mothers, walking commuters, people without roommates. Really? What if those single mothers get married, or their kids grow up wanting cars? What if the walking commuters change jobs, commute upvalley, or need roommates someday? Won’t this necessitate cars?
Then there are the setbacks. The project builds within roughly five feet of the sidewalk along 8th and Midland. Habitat has optimized the City’s developer friendly code by claiming that the units “face” Cowdin, not Eighth and Midland. The only thing that “faces” Cowdin is their proposed dumpster. Choosing this “facing” allows for minimal setbacks from Eighth and Midland.
One solution to this mess is simple: downsize. A local architect has penned a plan for six units with 16 parking spaces (2.67 per unit) and wide setbacks with room for landscaping at this gateway to our town. Rather than maximize density under code he designed what fit the site. It would be great to see 20 units on this site, but 20 won’t fit. Neither will 10. And neither will eight. Six units do fit. Six is the number.
Habitat has refused to meet with us to discuss constructive solutions and has not returned phone calls to confirm the number of parking spaces.
Habitat fears downsizing will cost more money, but it won’t. The land cost $1, units sell below cost, and six units have less shortfall to recoup from donors than do eight. The savings will pay for the redesign that they themselves have necessitated. Sadly two fewer families will be housed, but there has to be a reasonable limit on density. Habitat can’t house everyone.
Codes are minimum standards. The fact that it’s late in the game and Habitat held charrettes last year and technically meet code and have approvals is all beside the point. Nobody cares. The point is there is not enough parking, and bedrooms will be mere feet from traffic, noise, and diesel fumes on Eighth and Midland.
Habitat is a fantastic organization doing God’s work. But they are better than this. They are not entitled to run roughshod over a neighborhood. Projects must meet neighborhood needs, not merely a flawed city code designed to accommodate increased density by developers. Habitat needs to fix this mess and get it right.
Gary Vick is a Glenwood Springs resident.
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