EDWARDS — A local developer’s plan for 16 low-income townhomes for Habitat for Humanity stumbled on its first step Wednesday.
The Eagle County planning commission voted unanimously to recommend against a zoning change that could make the project possible. The 1.38 acres is zoned commercial general and would need to be rezoned for the multi-family project. It’s adjacent to a sliver of Homestead open space.
It now moves to the Board of Commissioners in June.
The project meets all the county’s master plans, including the Edwards Area Community Plan that calls for affordable housing in the community center, not in rural areas, said Rick Mueller, the developer who owns the land. It also meets the county’s affordable housing requirements, Mueller said.
Rick Pylman, a planner on the project, pointed out that the land is designated for high-density development under the Edwards Area Community Plan.
It’s 850 feet from an ECO bus stop, he said.
“It is perfect in-fill development, although that can be difficult because when you propose it you get a roomful of people who oppose it,” Pylman said. “We’re taking a neglected piece of land and creating a higher and better purpose.”
The county’s planning staff said it meets or exceeds every single category, except providing open space. However, the report says that if a project is providing a public benefit, such as low-income housing, the developer doesn’t need to provide open space.
Last year Eagle County’s taxpayers spent $3.2 million for 160 acres of open space in Homestead.
Directly across Highway 6 from Homestead, county taxpayers and private donors spent $12 million for 72 acres, the Eagle River Preserve.
Tab Bonidy does Habitat’s architectural work.
“Providing the homes for Habitat far outweighs that little strip of open space,” Bonidy said.
Mueller serves on the local Habitat affiliate’s board.
“I’ve been with Habitat for 15 years. These families work hard in our community. Why should we kick them down the road? These people contribute greatly to our community,” Mueller said.
Mueller said the plan is to donate housing credits to Habitat to sell as a fundraiser.
“It’s possible it could raise enough money for Habitat to build another house,” Mueller said.
Chris Neuswanger, a Homestead resident, called Habitat “a great organization,” but said this is not the place for 16 units. Neuswanger called the 1.38 acres a useless piece of bottomland in a flood plane, and said Habitat’s income reports indicate the organization doesn’t need the money.
During the planning commission’s deliberations, Bill Heicher spoke highly of Habitat, but said this is not the place for the project. He said the land is de facto open space, that it’s been open for 30 years and should stay that way.
“Approving this zone change is just not the right thing to do,” Heicher said.
Planning commission member Greg Moffet said an overheated housing market could be as close as 18 months away.
“It kills me to come down against a project that provides much-needed affordable housing, but given the policies in place I don’t see that we have any choice,” Moffet said.
Homestead is lined up against the idea, saying the lot next to a small piece of their open space and neighborhood is not the place for low-income housing.
They cite its potential negative impact on their property values and traffic, and say the location is not appropriate for children.
“This project is totally out of character with surrounding homes, no garages, very high density, high footprint ratio and our open space is going to become their backyard and our parks and playgrounds will become theirs as well. Four bedrooms in 1,200 square feet is a warehouse not a habitat,” Neuswanger wrote in a letter to Mueller.
The Homestead Owners Association notified 108 residences, and many voiced their opposition, says a letter from general manager Tracy Erickson to Eagle County’s community development department.
Erickson said Homestead also opposed changes in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The planning commission voted 4-0 to recommend that the Board of County Commissioners does not approve the zoning change that would allow the project to happen.