I am writing about the latest addition to the “New American Developer’s Dictionary,” the spoiling of the word “ridge” – as in Red Feather Ridge. Add to the image of children not knowing from where milk comes the convolution of words used by developers in our area to name their projects … a “village” is now condos and retail at the base of a ski area, a “ranch” is now a golf course development or a huge bedroom community subdivision, a “glen” is now either pseudo-Victorians or another golf course project, a “marketplace” is either a strip mall or will be characterized by “big box” retail, as will be the “meadows” in Glenwood Meadows. What legacy will we leave the children of the area? What makes and will keep this area attractive and affordable? Is it in our best interests to help “save” a developer and allow him to line his pockets at our expense in the near-term and in the long-term?
The developer of Red Feather Ridge wants to “stick a feather in his cap.” I’m worried what we’ll be “stuck” with. As proposed it’ll be another “cookie cutter” subdivision like so many in our area. The developer is asking us to do him a “favor” by extending our Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) and annexing his parcel, so he can recover the “investment” (or is it potential “loss”) of MidFirst Bank of Oklahoma. I was shocked to see the developer lead off their presentation before City Council with the idea of extending the city limits and UGB beyond their property to include parts of the adjoining Bershenyi Ranch! Are they truly trying to recover their loan amount or are they trying to make as much profit as possible? By asking for the UGB line to be along Four Mile Creek, might they have an option on the adjacent ranchland to perhaps build even more houses, or are they attempting to remove an active ranching operation that would impact the residents in the proposed Red Feather Ridge? Keep those kids wondering from where milk or hamburger come. …
I question the true impacts of this proposed project. Their traffic expert says that by going from 58 lots to 150 that the impacts or “level of service” will be negligible and that their entrance as designed will be adequate. What about impacts “downstream” from their project? They say that impacts to wildlife will be less with 150 lots than 58 two-acre parcels! Their reasoning is that the two-acre parcels could be fenced … but what about covenants that would prohibit that? I am unclear about the potential number of residents in this project. There are 150 lots proposed, but the city has been a proponent of ADU’s, or “accessory dwelling units.” In reality, those 150 lots could have 300 residential units and using Councilman Dave Merritt’s number of 2.2 average persons per household, the numbers and impacts are hugely different than the original 58 proposed … 660 vs. 127! Factor these numbers into everything from water, to traffic, to schools and all other services and impacts. As far as meeting the needs of housing our community, the 21 “affordable” lots as proposed will hardly make a dent, especially with the “big box” retail of Glenwood Meadows on the near horizon. And how attainable will those houses be with construction costs of $100 per square foot and up for stick-built construction? Will the “return” on the sales of the lots “save the bank,” or will they handsomely profit? It was touted that we need housing for workers. The developer is asking that the city help him out. The control is now in the city’s hands. I have some thoughts that may help us all out.
The true unmet housing need in our city is for retail and service workers. I pass by the mobile home parks along South Grand and feel that they are doomed. Adjacent to them, new townhomes are being built that are offered between $215,000 to $284,000. I know that RV spaces are being used for permanent year-round housing. In El Jebel, the RV space rent is $800 per month. In Glenwood along the Roaring Fork, the RV space rent is over $325. A friend is quoted as saying that a mobile home in Apple Tree Park that was “unfit even for his dog” was offered for rent at $650 a month. If we want to help “bailout the bank” and truly meet some unmet housing needs, I propose that the 150 (or some other “magic” number) lots be sold as modular housing lots.
I believe one of the main motivating factors for the developer to seek a higher density is due to the over-saturation of high-dollar, trophy-home lots in the lower Roaring Fork Valley and up Four Mile Road. I think they are looking for a more marketable product that will sell faster so they can recover their defaulted loan and expenses. They have even invested in extensive landscaping along Four Mile Road which would help screen a modular project from those who can’t bear the thought of seeing “livable housing on a living wage” as they drive to and from their trophy homes up Four Mile.
Other than helping to fulfill a true housing need, there are other benefits to consider with a modular housing development. Traffic in and through our city may decrease as fewer workers would have to commute from areas west. I believe that “less affluent” residents are more likely to use public transit than the SUV driving “soccer mom.” There is a greater likelihood of the residents to be “full-time” rather than second-home owners, thus enriching their neighborhoods and our community as a whole. Moderately priced housing will be attractive to employers (such as RFTA and Re-1) to co-op with their employees to meet both their needs. Lower priced lots/housing may make clustering more tolerable thus allowing for more open space. By allowing a number of modular homes in our city, housing prices/demand may moderate making the overall housing market more affordable for everyone. Upvalley communities such as Basalt and Carbondale have looked at “replacement housing” ordinances to help offset the redevelopment of affordable housing units. To encourage a modular housing development in exchange for extending the UGB and annexation may be a workable solution in meeting housing needs and avoiding the politics of a “replacement housing” requirement with future developments.
I believe we can “work backwards” to calculate a sales price for each lot that would allow the bank to “cover their exposure.” If that is THE driving force for this development proposal and the extreme request to expand the UGB and saddle residents with something that “doesn’t pay its own way,” then some creative thinking should be in order to make a “win-win-win situation” for the bank, the pocketbooks of the city’s current and future residents, and for retail and service sector employers. For example, at the requested density, if lots were sold for $50,000 each (150 X $50,000 = $7.5 million, or, less the 21 “affordable lots,” 129 X $50,000 = $6.45 million), then I’m sure the bank would cover their loan, be able to pay for various project mitigations, and probably take a bunch of dollars back to Oklahoma. This would suggest that with a stick-built development and lot prices $80,000 and more (137 X $80,000 = $10.96 million), there is much more at stake than the figures above and by the same token, even more dollars available for mitigation and no need to seek “fee waivers.” The offers to pay the city $400,000 for the roundabout and up to $100,000 for a park that would primarily benefit the project don’t seem so significant in terms of what the bank can make from this special request to expand, annex, and approve.
I urge our decision-makers to run the numbers and think of what will most benefit our community. Would 58 homes on two-acre lots be that objectionable? Remember that Garfield County also requires a percentage of the homes be affordable and that ADU’s may also be allowed. Compare that to what is requested and the immediate and long-term impacts and expenses. Remember that “residential development does not pay it’s own way,” and if we expand the UGB and annex this project, we should seek housing that meets the greatest needs and numbers. Please consider alternatives to what is currently proposed. We as a city and its citizens should not be obligated to “bail out” a bank nor allow a developer to maximize his profits at our loss both in real dollars and community vitality. There is no urgency to expand, annex, and approve this project as proposed. Please allow and encourage more dialogue between the community, the governmental entities, and the developer. Update and allow more studies to determine the true impacts, needed mitigations, and housing type/needs of our community. They say “you can’t take it with you,” unless you’re Dorothy in Kansas or MidFirst in Oklahoma. The decisions you make and the legacy you leave is of utmost importance. The landscape is forever changing, sometimes more quickly than is comfortable. Let’s all work together to change it for the better.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Greg Jeung is a Glenwood Springs resident and former city council member.
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