Willits developer takes risk by reopening town review
BASALT – For the second time in four years, a primary developer at Willits in the midvalley has opened a can of worms by voluntarily reopening the review of part of the project.Michael Lipkin is a principal party in a limited liability company that has approvals to build 84 multi-family units on a 6-acre parcel in Willits. Lipkin and his partners have already developed about 200 condominiums and townhouses, and they have sold numerous lots for single-family homes. Their approvals from 1996 allow 125,000 square feet of development for 84 residential units similar to the existing Lakeside and Willits townhomes.Lipkin and his company, Nadineco LLC, are back before for the Basalt Town Council trying to alter the approval. They want flexibility to build one-story “flats” or the townhomes, as market conditions dictate. The change, Lipkin said, would benefit Willits and the community because it would eliminate 60 percent of surface parking and place it underground. That means roughly 1 acre less asphalt, Lipkin told Town Council members last week.”We thought it’s good for everybody,” he said.Lipkin and his partners need the council’s approval to make the changes. But by reopening the review, the council can add new changes and the public can weigh in on the project.Representatives of two homeowners associations in Willits took the opportunity at a hearing last week to voice their concerns about additional development. The representatives of the Lakeside Townhomes and Willits Townhomes alleged they were victims of shoddy construction of their units.Becky Oliver, president of the 110-unit Lakeside Townhomes Homeowners Association, claimed there are numerous construction defects involving the roofs, contact points between roofs and walls, and installation of windows and doors. The statute of limitations to sue the contractor to force corrections has run out, she said, and the development firm and the contractor linked to it haven’t been cooperative.”This group of builders has not come forward to help us at all,” she said.Oliver said she realized the Basalt council couldn’t intervene in Lakeside Townhomes’ dispute with the contractor and developer, but she wanted to raise the issue before the additional multi-family units are constructed. She said the town should monitor the construction of the next 84 units more closely.”We’re asking that you guys help them be more responsible in the future,” Oliver said.Bob Kaufman, a member of the board of directors at the Willits Townhomes, said the 68 units there face many of the same construction defects as at Lakeside. He said roughly 20 percent of the homeowners there are delinquent on their homeowners’ dues because of tough economic times or foreclosures, so the association faces financial difficulty making the repairs.He, too, urged Basalt officials to carefully monitor construction of the next multi-family units at Willits.Jody Edwards, an attorney representing Lipkin’s group, said he has “a lot of sympathy” for the homeowners with complaints. However, he said he and his client couldn’t address the concerns because a notice of claim for a lawsuit had been sent by one of the homeowners’ associations. That notice was given by the Willits Townhomes association. The insurance carrier had advised the developer not to talk about the issue because of possible litigation, Edwards said.”It’s a topic for a different forum,” he said.Lipkin added that the legal process to settle an alleged construction defects is straightforward in Colorado. If there are construction defects, the homeowners will get relief, he said.”There’s no reason it won’t be dealt with,” Lipkin said.The connection between the development firm and the general contractor on the Lakeside and Willits townhome projects wasn’t clear.Town attorney Tom Smith confirmed that the council couldn’t consider construction quality at Willits an issue in its review of the new 84 units.However, the developer’s decision to reopen the approval for the 84 new townhouses also opened the door for council members to request more community benefits from the project. Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said she wants some of the 84 townhomes deed-restricted as affordable housing. As approved, they are all free-market units.Councilman Glenn Rappaport countered that requiring some of the units to be affordable, and possibly below market value, means prices on other units must be priced higher. He opposed any affordable housing requirements.Councilman Pete McBride said the slow real estate market will dictate the pricing. “If they aren’t attainable, they aren’t going to sell,” he said.Whitsitt responded that today’s market conditions won’t necessarily continue over the 10 years Lipkin’s crew could build the townhouses. Once the market turns around, prices could soar beyond what is considered affordable.”I am uncomfortable with zero affordable units,” she said.The council made no decision. It will resume the discussion of the 84 townhouses on Feb. 22.Lipkin has previously reopened the approval process at Willits – and it appears he got burned. He is a part of a different group that owned the commercial core of Willits, known as the Willits Town Center. The group had approvals to construct several buildings, including one for a Whole Foods Market. The group in 2007 asked Basalt to reconsider the approvals because it wanted to add 120 residential units. The request sparked a public controversy and bogged down the review. The request was ultimately withdrawn, but Lipkin and his partner, Joseph Freed & Association, lost their financing and construction stalled. They lost a large portion of the project through foreclosure by a lender last year. The fate is the commercial project is email@example.com
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