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Traffic concerns dominate Carbondale housing project discussion

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent

CARBONDALE – As good a notion as it may be to build affordable housing aimed at attracting and retaining teachers in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1, one inherent impact with any new residential development is traffic.

As such, it was projected trip counts, traffic flow, off-site traffic mitigation and how to pay for it, that took up most of the discussion when the Carbondale Board of Trustees continued its public hearing on a proposed 120-unit teacher housing project this week.

Trustees are considering an amendment to the previously approved CES Partnership Village Planned Unit Development that would increase the total number of dwelling units allowed on about 11 acres of the former Carbondale elementary/middle school campus from 89 to 120.

Eighty percent of the units would be put into the community housing program and offered at below-market prices, with priority going to teachers and other school district staff, as well as other qualified public-sector employees.

Even with the downturn in the housing market, the need for affordable teacher housing still exists, Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said at the Jan. 26 Carbondale town board meeting.

“The concerns that drove us to pursue this haven’t gone away,” she said. “We are seeing some short-term impacts of the economy, but in the long run we will be right back where we were.”

The project would be phased over several years as demand warrants, and units are proposed to be pre-sold before construction will commence.

The remaining 20 percent of the houses would be sold on the free market to recover some of the development costs.

However, at 89 units, the project was facing about a $4 to $5 million deficit, according to Chuck Perry, the architect working with the school district to develop the project. Even at 120 units, the deficit is still expected to be around $1 million, he said.

“We will have to find other financial partners to make up that gap,” Perry said.

Trustees are generally in support of the increased number of units, as well as a plan to parcel off a 13,000 square foot lot at the corner of Third Street and Sopris Avenue for a new town library.

However, traffic and other community impacts can’t be overlooked, they said.

A traffic study estimates the residential development and new library would generate 2,026 new trips per day on the streets serving the neighborhood.

The biggest concern is the impact at the corner of Highway 133 and Weant Boulevard, where a five-way roundabout is now proposed, serving both the school district project and the recently approved Thompson Park development west of Highway 133.

The town is proposing a traffic impact fee be paid by developers to cover the estimated $1.5 million cost to build the roundabout, with the town contributing a portion as well. How much that fee would be has not been determined, which resulted in some hesitation on the part of trustees.

“We need to consider the true impact of this project and figure out now how each partner is going to invest in this,” Trustee Ed Cortez said.

Trustee John Foulkrod pointed out that Carbondale is being asked to absorb the impacts of housing teachers who not only serve Carbondale schools, but schools in Basalt and Glenwood Springs, which are also part of the Re-1 school district.

“For Carbondale to take on all of the impacts of that is a little extreme,” he said, calling on the other communities to come to the table.

Garfield County has already agreed to put $1 million toward the project.

Mayor Michael Hassig offered that, while the funding needs to be discussed at some point, the town can’t let dollars and cents questions get in the way of approving what he sees as a good deal for schools and the town.

“This project presents an extraordinary opportunity in terms of social capital,” he said. “It will bring teachers into town who will be a part of the community … and I think that hugely outweighs these [money] questions.”

Other members of the board had concerns about density (10.5 units per acre) and the open space plan for the project.

Still, “I think we have to look at the goal and intent of this project,” Trustee Stacey Bernot said. “This isn’t the typical development, and I’m willing to forego some of the usual density complaints.”

Trustees continued the public hearing until Feb. 16, with another follow-up meeting tentatively scheduled for early March. In the meantime, the Re-1 school board decided at its Wednesday night meeting to convene a special meeting on Feb. 9 to go over the latest development requirements.

“I think it would be good to make sure there aren’t any major concerns moving forward with this,” Re-1 Assistant Superintendent of Business Shannon Pelland said.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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