Coming soon … thousands more homes | AspenTimes.com

Coming soon … thousands more homes

John Colson

The Bershenyi Ranch near Glenwood Springs was recently optioned by an Illinois company. Though no formal proposal has appeared, the property is emblematic of the valleys ongoing ranchland-to-residential transition. (Paul Conrad/Aspen Times Weekly)

Up and down the Roaring Fork Valley, at least 6,650 homes are ready to be built, with only minor government review.In theory, at least, builders and developers could decide tomorrow to exercise their rights and break ground on all of these homes. All they would have to do is go to their respective building departments in Garfield, Eagle or Pitkin counties (where they might need to jump through some additional but minimal hoops), pull the requisite permits, and the next thing you’d know there would be thousands of new homes, townhomes and condos going up between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.Nearly 7,000 homes, approved but as yet unbuilt.It’s an impressive number, but it doesn’t account for the job growth expected over the next two decades in the region, which will undoubtedly add to existing development pressure in Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties. This job growth will likely mean that, in addition to the already-approved homes, thousands more will be built as well – both in the Roaring Fork Valley and in western Garfield County, along the Interstate 70 corridor.Future projections aside, though, the fact is that between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, and up various tributary valleys, thousands of homes are waiting to be built.It’s hard to know exactly how many, but The Aspen Times spent about a week and a half trying to find out.Because of the breakneck pace of development in the region, and the relatively ponderous way that local governments track development numbers, the available information is neither exact nor exhaustive. But it can give a general idea of what the regional housing inventory could look like within a few years.Suffice it to say that, taking into account three counties and four towns, the number would roughly equal 6,650 homes. Due to the uncertain nature of second-home development, which is increasingly prevalent in all three counties, it’s impossible to know how many people might occupy those homes.

Within the next 25 years, according to planners, growth pressures from the resort economies of Eagle and Pitkin counties could triple the population of Garfield County, which is sandwiched between the two growth-generators.That means Garfield County, with some 50,000 people today, could balloon to 150,000 by the year 2030, if current trends continue unabated.In the same time frame, Pitkin County is expected to grow from 16,000 to as many as 26,000, while Eagle County is predicted to increase from 48,000 today to as high as 88,000 by 2030. To state demographer Jim Westkott, the numbers indicate that Eagle County will house a higher percentage of its work force than Pitkin County.The numbers come from The Watershed Collaborative, an ongoing cooperative planning effort by the three counties, the Healthy Mountain Communities organization and the Colorado State Demographer’s office.The report issued by the Collaborative also predicted that by 2030 there would be roughly 18,000 workers commuting into Pitkin County, and 29,000 commuting into Eagle County (the eastern portion of the county, not the Roaring Fork Valley) compared to 7,500 for Pitkin and 1,000 for Eagle today, respectively.The presumption is that most of these future commuters, at least 35,000 (compared to 6,700 today), would live in Garfield County, according to the Collaborative’s latest report, which can be viewed at http://www.hmccolorado.org.All that, though, remains in the realm of “estimates” and “projections” by planners and demographers. In the meantime, the approvals currently on the books tell their own story about the valley’s future.

According to Garfield County Planning Director Mark Bean, Glenwood Springs’ population is roughly 8,000, but is expected to reach 12,000 before the city halts further growth. Bean said the city has decided it will not annex any more land and that it will focus future development on filling the existing urban area.The city’s planning office estimates that there are about 565 approved (or in some early stage of review) homes within the town boundaries today, although there may be other projects that meet underlying zoning requirements and never required formal development review.Of the plans on the city’s books, however, planner A’Lissa Gerum said a development for 17 townhomes at 729 Overlin Drive was approved this year but has not yet been built. The planning office processed two major developments this year for townhomes in Cardiff Glen, a project near the municipal airport at the south end of town. One project includes 17 townhomes and another has 16 residences. None of the homes have been built, but building permit applications for the 17-home section have been submitted.The Glenwood Meadows subdivision, a mixed retail-residential development along the Midland Avenue bypass extension, is allowed to construct up to 475 residential units, but they still must obtain development permits to do so, Gerum said. So far, the developers have only submitted a plan for 120 apartments. The department also has received an application to build 23 townhomes at the Glenwood Auto Plaza Subdivision.

In Garfield County, according to documents and anecdotal information from the planning department, and data from the assessor’s office, there are more than 2,675 homes waiting to be built that already have basic or preliminary approvals.These homes mainly are contained in large-scale projects, including some that are old and very large, such as the Spring Valley Ranch near the main local campus of Colorado Mountain College. On some 5,900 acres of valley floor and an upper plateau, a Florida development company has preliminary approvals to build 577 homes, two 18-hole golf courses, an equestrian center and 20,000 square feet of “neighborhood commercial” space.The Four Mile Ranch, up Four Mile Road toward Ski Sunlight, was approved for 54 units, Bean said, but not much has been built since the project went into bankruptcy and a bank reportedly took control.Nearby Oak Meadows, also on the Four Mile Road, still has about 50 homes to go in its final phase of development.Then there is the hotly debated Sanders Ranch development, now known as Bair Chase after the development company that bought the land five years ago. The 280-acre project recently stalled due to financial difficulties, but preliminary approvals for 230 homes and a golf course remain. The developers have until next fall to submit a final plat, or face the possible loss of their approvals.Among the other large, incomplete projects are Iron Bridge (formerly Rose Ranch), another golf subdivision just south of Glenwood Springs where 78 homes are still unbuilt, according to county documents. Another is the Aspen Glen golf subdivision, farther south toward Carbondale, where some 316 homes have yet to be built.Not yet submitted, but still expected by Garfield County planners, are a couple of large-scale parcels with significant development potential.One is the Bershenyi Ranch along the county road leading to Sunlight Ski area, which was recently optioned by an Illinois investment company, said Bean. According to news reports, the developers tentatively plan to build some 275 homes on 1,600 acres, leaving as much as 1,000 acres in agricultural use.Another is the “Sunlight View” property surrounding the ski area, where Bean said there is a potential for up to 700 homes.Still another large, partially built project is River Valley Ranch at the southern tip of Carbondale, where 300 of 560 approved homes are still waiting in the wings, according to RVR’s Brian Leasure.Other projects in Carbondale include the 52-home Keator Grove development off Highway 133 near RVR, which is now being annexed into town. Cleveland Place, on Eighth Street in the north end of town, was approved for 31 homes.

The Town Center, a mixed commercial and residential project where the Thunder River Theater building is now going up, has “a possibility of 30 units … but that’s not set in stone,” said town planner Janet Buck, because the final residential-commercial mix is undetermined.Teacher housing may also be built on the land now occupied by the Carbondale Elementary School, which is slated to be either converted to community uses or demolished, or the site of the new Roaring Fork High School.Not to be forgotten, but also not included in the totals for “approved but unbuilt” homes, are the relatively ancient Aspen Crystal River Estates and Te-Ke-Ki subdivisions, located above White Hill in the area known as The Crown. The two properties, which were subdivided decades ago, together contain more than 250 homesites. But the developers have thus far failed to get access across the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad tracks next to County Road 100 east of Carbondale.Without that access there can be no homes built, although the owners are reportedly negotiating the issue with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which owns the railroad right of way.Farther upvalley, but still within Garfield County and on the valley floor, are several projects that still have build-out potential, including Blue Creek (36 homes) and Cerise Ranch (54).Eagle CountyIn the unincorporated Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork drainage – El Jebel, Sopris Village, Missouri Heights and some intervening areas – there are approximately 1,282 homes approved but not built.In the unincorporated El Jebel area, for instance, most of the subdivisions have been essentially built out. But an Eagle County “Dwelling Unit Analysis” indicates that, in a portion of the 1,282 figure, there is still room for 752 homes in the undeveloped areas.

Within the Eagle County area of the town of Basalt, county documents estimate there are around 780 homes approved but not yet built, given the potential represented by the underlying zoning.But Basalt’s town planning staff estimates, in those projects with approvals, approximately 593 homes are yet to be built, which are characterized as “planned infill and approved development.” This includes 175 or more homes in the Willits project and about 70 homes in the Southside area.Up the Fryingpan River, according to Eagle County data, the underlying zoning calls for up to 740 units. With 210 existing homes, that leaves room for 530 new homes.Overall, county and town officials estimate there could be an additional 1,875 homes on the books and ready to be built in Eagle County.

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The Pitkin County planning office estimates, as of May 2005, there were roughly 670 “vacant lots” outside the “urban growth boundaries” of Aspen and Basalt that could be developed with minimal review by government agencies. These lots have not been the subject of land-use applications or building plans, but are identified as potential homesites by the county.In the Pitkin County portion of the Fryingpan Valley, according to county planning director Cindy Houben, there are an estimated 40 “vacant lots” ready for development. Add in Basalt and Emma, and the number grows to 133 potential homesites that, again, are not part of any formal buildings plans but have been identified by the county for their potential.But, Houben noted, that number, and all information she gathered for this article, is in large part based on data in the county’s Geographic Information System. The information is generally reliable, she said, but it is not necessarily accurate in every detail.Plus, Houben said, “Every lot in Pitkin County still has hoops to go through,” even if it’s just a 1041 “hazard review” to assess the geologic or other environmental dangers on the property.All in all, Houben said, the number of lots that could be built upon with relative ease remains a tough number to determine. For example, she said, the county believes there are “somewhere between 57 and 96 vacant lots” that could be developed with minimal government involvement within Aspen’s “Urban Growth Boundary,” which stretches a couple of miles outside the city limits.Up the Crystal River, Houben said, there are perhaps 178 such vacant lots waiting to be developed, while Woody Creek could see as many as 138. And up in the Snowmass Creek and Capitol Creek drainages, she said, there is the potential for literally hundreds of homes if large ranch properties were subdivided into 35-acre lots. But, she said, there are only 108 “lots,” as described in the Pitkin County code book.In Aspen, according to planning director Chris Bendon, there are approximately 230 “unbuilt residential units,” which includes 110 free-market homes and 120 affordable-housing units. That number includes the 97-home first phase of the Burlingame Ranch affordable-housing project. A total of 236 homes were approved for Burlingame, but the remaining homes are in phases two and three and will require City Council approval before ground is broken.And in Snowmass Village, the potential housing market is by far dominated by the Base Village project being developed by Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Company. A total of 635 condominiums has been approved for that project. Other than Base Village, and minor infill development, the town is believed to be essentially built out.That brings the grand total of approved-but-unbuilt housing in the valley, from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, to the aforementioned number of 6,650.It must be noted that these numbers are subject to change, whether by construction of homes within a given development, or by changes in the way planners interpret the information they have on file.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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