Basalt developer moves ahead with plan for 56 affordable residences
June 4, 2014
One Basalt affordable-housing project being pursued by a free-market developer crossed a remaining hurdle Tuesday night, while a separate project suffered at least a minor setback last month.
RealAmerica Development LLC, an Indianapolis development firm, received final design approval by the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission for a 56-unit housing project next to Stubbies bar just off Highway 82. The Roaring Fork Apartments will be 56 affordable-housing units, said Ronda Weybright, president and owner of RealAmerica.
A division of RealAmerica purchased property at 109 Emma Road that was once approved for a hotel. The prior owner poured the foundation for a hotel, but the recession knocked the project out of commission Roaring Fork Apartments LLC bought the 30,816-square-foot parcel for $1.8 million on April 15, according to the deed recorded with the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder's Office.
Roaring Fork Apartments has applied for a building permit. Acquiring the approval for a design change was a last administrative hurdle.
Weybright said a few major pieces of the project must still be negotiated, but she hopes that construction on the affordable apartment complex will begin this month.
"We're really, really close," she said.
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Pitkin County might end up playing some role in the project, though both sides are tight-lipped about the nature of their ongoing negotiations. Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said his staff is still negotiating with RealAmerica, but he declined to outline the issues.
Weybright said the key to building Roaring Fork Apartments is to get Basalt and Pitkin County to agree to allow the project to be used for selling housing credits to other developers. The concept discussed by the parties would allow developers to contribute to Roaring Fork Apartments to offset their own projects' affordable-housing requirements.
"It's the key to the affordability piece," Weybright said.
Roaring Fork Apartments would use the funds from other developers to pay off its mortgage and keep the rents on the units affordable.
Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon said he is confident that the experimental housing-credit concept will be ironed out and applied effectively at the proposed project.
"Truthfully, it's going to be Roaring Fork Apartments that gets built first," he said.
An important, though not necessarily vital, component of a 50-unit affordable-housing project at Willits Town Center has fallen through. Archdiocesan Housing Inc., a division of Catholic Charities, failed to acquire tax credits issued by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. The nonprofit housing company wanted the credits so it could buy into Mariner Real Estate Management's affordable-housing project at Willits.
The state housing and finance authority granted $6.82 million in tax credits to seven projects. There were 19 unsuccessful applications.
Tim Belinski, a local representative for Kansas City-based Mariner, said the affordable-housing project will proceed even if Archdiocesan Housing doesn't play a role.
"Either way, that building with the 50 affordable-housing units in it is the next building going forward," Belinski said.
The affordable housing is tied to a 113-room hotel at Willits Town Center. Basalt's approval for the hotel states that no additional building permits will be issued until the affordable housing is constructed. Belinski said there are "incentives" for starting the affordable-housing building prior to completing the hotel.
Mariner will have to assess with Archdiocesan Housing whether the nonprofit will be able to be a partner in the housing, Belinski said. The proposal for 50 units of affordable housing also must be reassessed, he said.
Meanwhile, the Basalt town government has renewed its vows for affordable housing and set a goal of developing 40 units by 2017. Scanlon asked the Town Council last week to assess if the town government should be in the affordable housing business or avoid it. The council affirmed its commitment and directed the Basalt Affordable and Community Housing Commission to update a 2008 housing-needs assessment. That will help determine what type of housing should be built for which segments of the population.
Scanlon said that while the recession temporarily eased the need for affordable housing, the demand is returning. The free-market rental pool is extremely limited.
"As the local economy recovers, the issue of affordable housing, especially for the town's largest employers, is becoming critical again," said a resolution passed by the Town Council. It goes on to say that the town will build 40 affordable-housing units on land it owns by 2017.
Scanlon said that likely will be achieved by working with various partners on small projects throughout town. He already has talked to Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork about teaming on small projects. Scanlon also said the town must take advantage of the availability of some land within town to buy for housing projects.