Related/Westpac’s pitch for affordable housing | AspenTimes.com

Related/Westpac’s pitch for affordable housing

Related/WestPac is working on an application to build nearly 1,000 residences in the shadow of Mount Sopris. The site, in foreground, is where the Sanders Ranch and Bair Chase Ranch development proposals failed. (Courtesy Rocky Shepard/ Related/Westpac)

GARFIELD COUNTY ” The Roaring Fork Valley’s largest development firm is making a lofty promise about its latest project.

Related/WestPac representatives said their massive Cattle Creek Crossing development will provide “community housing” rather than vacant second homes. Project manager Rocky Shepard said the vast majority of the roughly 980 homes proposed will be attainable for working folks in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“We don’t want to compete with Aspen Glen,” Shepard said, referring to the high-end golf community just upvalley from the Cattle Creek Crossing site.

Shepard, a former schoolteacher in California, said Related/WestPac recognizes the need for housing for essential community workers, such as police officers and teachers. It plans to deliver that vital housing.

Pat Smith’s WestPac Investments LLC teamed with the Related Cos. last winter to acquire the 282-acre site for $18.5 million. Related/WestPac also owns the Base Village property in Snowmass Village and is working with the Aspen Skiing Co. on that project.

The downvalley property is on the south side of Highway 82 at its intersection with Cattle Creek Road. It’s about halfway between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. A development application will be submitted to Garfield County later this month, Shepard said.

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The developers are looking at a combination of single-family and multifamily residences, along with townhouses, duplexes and river cottages.

Related/WestPac is volunteering to make 10 percent of the total units, or nearly 100 residences, available through Garfield County affordable housing guidelines, said Shepard and Related/WestPac public relations consultant Jeanette Darnauer. The affordable housing guidelines place income restrictions on buyers and cap appreciation of the units.

Placing them in the affordable housing program is a goodwill gesture on the part of the developer, Darnauer and Shepard said. The project doesn’t have to provide affordable housing because the number of proposed units is less than zoning allows, they claimed.

The Garfield County planning staff has not released its review of the project.

The intent of the developers is to make the vast majority of the remaining 900 or so units “attainable” for the valley’s working- and middle-class residents, Shepard said.

Many developers make that claim, only to build housing that is either unattainable from the start or quickly appreciates out of the price range of working locals.

Darnauer and Shepard said Related/WestPac has several factors working in its favor to keep the housing affordable. Foremost is the company’s experience: Related/WestPac is one of the biggest developers in the country and has built more than 300,000 affordable homes, Shepard said.

“They know how to get the most out of it,” he said.

The company will build the homes in Cattle Creek Crossing itself and take advantage of the economies of scale available from constructing nearly 1,000 units. Related/WestPac is also considering pre-engineered homes, which have improved in quality, to help control costs.

Darnauer said the land cost will help keep the project affordable. A prior development firm defaulted on a loan. The lender repossessed the site and accepted Related/WestPac’s $18.5 million bid. Compared to other land sales, that was a bargain.

The developer also will use the size of single-family home lots and of the multifamily residences to try to influence price. Most of the residences will be smaller than what the free market demands, in hopes that prices remain attainable.

“It should be the best deal in town,” Shepard said.

He and Darnauer acknowledged that the market will ultimately dictate prices: “They can’t know or predict what’s going to happen in the future,” Darnauer said.

An undetermined number of single-family-home lots overlook the Roaring Fork River. High demand likely will drive those prices the most.

The original Willits developers argued with Basalt town government officials for years that they should be allowed to take a free-market, affordable-by-design approach rather than provide deed-restricted housing. Most observers feel that the experiment failed. The townhouses that were originally affordable quickly spiraled out of the price range of the intended buyers.

Basalt officials no longer accept developers’ pitches for projects that will allegedly be affordable by design.

While Cattle Creek Crossing isn’t adjacent to any town, the developers claim that it is still an appropriate place for a high-density project. It will have an internal shuttle, Shepard said, which can deliver residents to a bus stop on Highway 82. The developers also intend to provide 14 acres to the Roaring Fork School District and build some neighborhood commercial spaces to serve local residents.

Garfield County officials wanted a high-density project on the site rather than another golf community. The county land-use master plan identified it as appropriate for high-density housing, and the land was rezoned to higher density recently.

“It seems like an appropriate place for high density,” Darnauer said.

No organized opposition has materialized yet, but details of Related/WestPac’s plan just came to light.

The site has bedeviled previous would-be developers. George Hanlon’s Sanders Ranch proposal, which combined a high-density golf community with 700,000 square feet of commercial space, coalesced downvalley anti-growth sentiment in the 1990s.

The next development team planned the Bair Chase golf community with significantly fewer homes and no commercial space. It couldn’t raise the financial resources to complete the project. Plus, the team alienated the public by tearing down a majestic red barn from the property’s past life as a cattle ranch.

Shepard said Related/WestPac will build a replica of that barn.