More affordable housing sought from El Jebel-area project | AspenTimes.com

More affordable housing sought from El Jebel-area project

The Eagle County commissioners want the developer of the Tree Farm project to beef up the amount of affordable housing in the El Jebel-area project.

The commissioners said in a meeting last week that 43 deed-restricted affordable rental apartments isn't enough. They also expressed concern that the free-market units will be and remain "attainable" for local buyers, as landowner Ace Lane and his Woody Ventures LLC intends.

"The thing that concerns me is the housing piece," County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said. "It feels like we're not there yet."

A representative of the development team, Dave Marrs, chief financial officer of Geronimo Ventures LLC, said this week the commissioners can expect "a more refined and robust mix of housing choices" when Eagle County's review of the project resumes in El Jebel on Monday. He said the team is reworking the numbers and exploring housing efforts that can be made with the Roaring Fork School District.

“There are 43 units that are truly affordable. The others are not.”

— Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry

"I think the number of units we offer for affordable housing, local buyers and renters, will increase," Marrs said. "This will include price-capped, for-sale housing."

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Lane applied to build 340 residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space.

The Eagle County code requires him to provide 85 affordable housing units — 25 percent of the 340 total units. Lane has committed to provide an additional unit as part of a separate development proposal, boosting the total to 86.

However, the Eagle County Housing Authority advised the commissioners to give Lane double credit, thus reducing his obligation to 43 units.

"If you provide rental, you get two times the credit," Tori Franks, the authority's real estate and development specialist told the commissioners last week. "It's double credit because (rental) is so sorely needed."

Jon Fredericks, Lane's land-use planner, noted that the 43 deed-restricted apartments would be built in the first phase of the project. That includes 26 one-bedroom units, 13 two-bedroom units and 4 studios. They will rent for 80 percent of the Area Median Income, per Eagle County requirements.

Lane and his team contend that many of the additional 293 free-market residential units will be affordable by design — high density and small square footages. In addition, they will have mid-level finishes to help keep prices "attainable" by Roaring Fork Valley workers. There will be 137 free-market rentals, 130 condominiums and lofts, and 30 live-work units.

The rental prices on two-bedroom units would be about $1,990 per month. Lofts and condos would be sold between the low $400,000s and low $600,000s, according to Dave Marrs.

"That's the price that isn't here," Lane said. "It's down in New Castle."

He told the commissioners he strives to build a project that will inspire other developers to help solve the Roaring Fork Valley's affordability problem.

The reviews during public comment were mixed.

Project supporter Laurie Soliday said she regularly has people inquiring whether they can convert a chicken coop on her property into affordable housing. That shows how desperate people are for affordable housing, she said.

"It's a big deal," Soliday said.

But Ryan Meyer said Lane's team provided a "sales pitch" rather than a definitive plan for providing housing that will remain affordable for workers.

Other speakers questioned if the project will generate a greater need for affordable housing than supply, thus exacerbating the problem. Under Eagle County formula, the commercial portion of the project would require 75 units of affordable housing.

Speaker Tom O'Keefe said it's impossible to provide affordable housing and preserve the special attributes of the valley.

"If everybody who wanted to live in this valley was allowed to, you would destroy the very reason that makes it so desirable," he said.

Josh Goldman countered that it is hypocritical for people who already own their homes to oppose additional affordable housing.

The Basalt Affordable Community Housing Commission took a different stance. It entered a map into the public record that shows there are 141 affordable-housing units and 84 free-market units already under construction in the midvalley. Another 102 housing units are approved but not built, and review has started on 171 units. Another 175 units are allegedly in the pre-application stage.

Even without the Tree Farm proposal, there are 673 units under construction, under review or contemplated in the midvalley, according to Cathy Click, a member of Basalt's housing board. Click urged the commissioners to let the housing be built before approving such a large project in unincorporated Eagle County.

When it came time for the commissioners to speak their minds, they questioned the logic behind the double credit for Lane providing affordable-housing rental apartments.

"There are 43 units that are truly affordable. The others are not," Chandler-Henry said. She said she thinks price caps or appreciation caps are necessary on additional units. Commissioner Jill Ryan concurred.

Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said she wants to see the double credit reduced for the affordable-housing rental units. She noted the housing authority's recommendation is advisory rather than binding.

"The two times credit may be extended," McQueeney said, emphasizing the word may. "That's a board decision."

The commissioners urged Lane's team to rework the affordable-housing proposal in time for the next meeting Monday. The commissioners will hold another public hearing at the Eagle County office and community center in El Jebel at 5 p.m.

Marrs said the county and development team are on the same page.

"A mix of housing types and choices is just as important to us as it is the Eagle County commissioners — it's what builds community and we're both chasing the same goal," he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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