Tree Farm project’s affordable housing plan in El Jebel under scrutiny | AspenTimes.com

Tree Farm project’s affordable housing plan in El Jebel under scrutiny

This site plan for the Tree Farm project shows how development would be focused between Highway 82 and an existing water ski lake in El Jebel.

A midvalley developer is being criticized for an affordable-housing plan that detractors contend isn't all that affordable, but the developer's team contend they are going above and beyond Eagle County's requirements.

The Tree Farm project in El Jebel is offering to build 40 units of worker housing below market rents and to sell another 10 units with price caps.

Developer Ace Lane and his Woody Ventures LLC sweetened the deal last week by offering to designate another 150 sales units as resident-occupied.

Under today's guidelines, the apartments would be rented for $1,592 for two-bedroom units and $1,990 for three-bedroom units. Five of the units would be sold for $250,000 and the larger five would go for $401,000. Those prices will go up before the project is built.

Critics don't have a problem with the 50 rental and sale units with price caps, per se. They just say it isn't enough to make a dent in the affordable housing problem, and that the Tree Farm would create more need than supply.

The biggest criticism was of the RO units, which don't have a price cap. Residents would have to work in the Roaring Fork Valley but the market would dictate sales prices.

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Jon Fredericks, the land-use planner for Lane's team, said at a county commissioner meeting that the 150 RO units would be offered exclusively to eligible households within the Roaring Fork Valley for the first 60 days after they are listed for sale. After 60 days, they could be sold to anyone.

The units would be phased in over time. They wouldn't flood the market all at once.

Several speakers at the commissioners' meeting claimed those resident-occupied units (RO) wouldn't be affordable housing for the Roaring Fork Valley's working class. Instead, there's a danger they will become second homes for people outside the valley, foes said. Midvalley resident Kathy Nielsen criticized the affordable-housing plan for looking good on paper but not actually doing anything to address the need. The resident-occupied housing will be sold at prices out of reach for most working families, she claimed.

"Affordable doesn't mean affordable here," Nielsen said.

John McBride, developer of the Aspen Business Center, which includes 162 units of resident-occupied housing, said if the Tree Farm is allowed to offer its RO to eligible households for only 60 days it would be a "disaster."

He said the units sold at the business center have remained in the hands of workers over the years because of the strict requirement that residents of the valley occupy them. Otherwise, he said, they would be "tourist-owned units."

McBride said giving Lane an escape clause rather than committing to affordable housing wasn't fair for the valley.

"That would make development much easier than it's meant to be," he said.

But Fredericks countered that Lane was offering to go beyond Eagle Count guidelines by offering them exclusively to valley residents for 60 days.

After the meeting, Tori Franks of the Eagle County Housing Authority confirmed the Tree Farm is proposing more stringent regulations on resident occupied units than the county requires.

"As written in our guidelines, RO housing doesn't need to be marketed exclusively to eligible households for any certain time frame," Franks wrote in an email. "The Tree Farm developers offered that additional provision that would require them to offer RO housing to only eligible buyers for the first 60 days of listing."

After the 60 days, the sales would be open to any buyer. If the buyer wasn't deemed an "eligible household," they would pay a 1 percent transfer assessment on the sales price. That fee would raise revenue for the housing authority.

Franks also clarified the county's rules on eligible households for resident-occupied units.

An eligible buyer for units in the Roaring Fork Valley has to work 30 hours per week in Eagle, Pitkin or Garfield counties, has been hired for a permanent position at over 30 hours per week, or earns 75 percent of the gross household income in the three counties. People 60 or older who earned their living primarily in one of the counties prior to retirement also are eligible.

Eagle County's guidelines on resident-occupied units don't have income or asset caps for buyers, Franks noted in an email.

"However, eligible households are not allowed to own other real estate, which often can act as an asset cap," she wrote.

Eagle County officials said RO units have remained in the hands of local families in the Eagle Valley even without a strict requirement on buyers. Brett Ranch is a multi-family condominium development in West Edwards, according to Adam Palmer, the county's sustainable communities director. Families from outside Eagle County can purchase the units as soon as they are available, but they must pay a 2 percent transfer fee to the housing authority.

"That development has roughly 75 percent eligible local households and 25 percent non-eligible owners," Palmer wrote.

Franks and Palmer noted that even when a non-local resident buys an RO unit, eligible households still have priority in resells.

There was no explanation at last week's meeting why Lane would be allowed to charge a 1 percent rather than 2 percent fee.

The county commissioners are scheduled to resume the review of the Tree Farm on June 26 in El Jebel. In earlier meetings, the commissioners said Lane had to beef up the affordable housing component. They didn't comment at the most recent meeting June 1 if the resident-occupied housing proposal met their expectations.

scondon@aspentimes.com

TREE FARM PLAN

The proposal for a project in El Jebel includes 340 residences. They would break down like this:

25 apartments to be rented at 80% of area median income

15 apartments to be rented at 100% of area median income

5 units for sale with price cap of 100% of area median income

5 units for sale with price cap of 140% of area median income

150 units sold with resident-occupied designation, but open to any buyer after 60 days

140 apartments to be rented at free-market rate

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