New Castle to host open house on possible land purchase

Ryan Hoffman
An approximately 22-acre parcel of land, shaded in blue, directly east of New Castle that the town is considering buying.
Provided |

Town officials are encouraging New Castle residents to come out Tuesday night and share their ideas and thoughts on a potential purchase of approximately 22 acres of land directly east of the town.

The event is being billed as an open house, and it starts at 6:30 p.m. March 29 at the New Hope Church, which is located about 400 feet west of what is known as the Kuersten property. The town last July entered into a one-year contract option to purchase the 22.45 acres from Robert and Kathleen Kuersten for $800,000.

Under that option, the town has until Aug. 6 to make a decision on the property. If purchased, the town would have to annex the property, which is contiguous with current town boundaries. Tuesday’s open house is intended to provide residents the opportunity to weigh in.

“This is a meeting for Council to listen to the community,” said Tom Baker, town administrator. “We’re not trying to sell an idea, we’re not promoting an idea. We’re listening to the ideas.”

The clarification that Council is not pedaling a proposed use comes after running conversations about the possibility of using at least part of the land for a senior housing development.

Since last July, the town conducted a focus group with Augustana Care, a nonprofit senior care facilities developer, and conducted a preliminary demand analysis on senior housing and care facilities.

That analysis, conducted by Highland Group, a firm specializing in research, planning and marketing solutions for senior housing and care communities, concluded that New Castle could capture a good amount of the demand for age-qualified (55 and older), for-sale units — either patio homes, condominiums or town homes. The annual pool of potential buyers for such units in the identified primary market area is around 77 annually, and the analysis expects that number to increase to 83 by 2020.

However, the demand analysis found that as the level of care increases, the demand decreases. Specifically, there is little demand for assisted living and memory care, the analysis stated. Several of those units could be incorporated into a broader senior campus, but the overall demand for those units is not present at the moment.

The lack of promise in the demand analysis, according to January meeting minutes, came as a disappointment to come councilors who felt some form of senior housing could fill a perceived void in the region.

Senior housing has been a running topic of conversation in the town and earlier this month Council discussed a request for proposal seeking ideas on a public-private development partnership from developers. While the proposal is broad enough, according to Baker, that it does not constrain proposed uses for the land, the request is initially being sent to six developers that specialize in senior care facilities and continued care facilities. Baker said he expects to send the proposal out early next week so that the town can collect the proposals from interested developers in April.

This comes as a group of seniors has been regularly meeting to discuss senior housing options in Garfield County. Some people in those meetings have discusses the possible land purchase in New Castle with a level of excitement.

There is continued interest in senior housing and continued care among some councilors, but the overall message from Council regarding the property is a desire to create family supporting jobs, Baker said Monday.

Regardless of what Council ultimately decides, the reality is any development that occurs on the property, should Council decide to purchase the land, is years away — if for no other reason than the need to excavate materials for assuring the proper grade for building, Baker added.

The March 29 meeting will convene at New Hope Church, with a walking tour of the property slated for the first 30 minutes. An overview of the work to date will be given and attendees will then break into small groups to talk about ideas for the property, which will then be presented to the larger group.

The town plans to compile the suggestions into a report that will be available to developers, Baker said.

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