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Bigger buildings may mean cheaper homes

Special to the DailyThe West End, proposed for 5.3 acres of land just west of the Gashouse near Edwards' main intersection, would have about 175 condos, 70 of them affordable. Neighbors say it's too big.
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EDWARDS ” “Generous” and “unprecedented” is how a developer proposing a new complex on 5 acres at the center of Edwards describes his plans for affordable housing.

But the size of the buildings in the “West End” proposal ” which a county lawyer said would be comparable to those in Riverwalk ” has a nearby neighborhood association saying it’s too bulky and would create “wear and tear” in the neighborhood. And the neighbors say they are worried the county is “fast-tracking” the proposal.

“It just seems a little too dense and the setbacks seem too close to the county’s Eagle River Preserve,” said Tracy Erickson, general manager of the Homestead Owners Association.



Louisville-based Midtown Group’s plans for the West End property now include stores, offices and as many as 185 homes, with at least 70 of them affordable. That would be the greatest number of affordable condos in one local development since Miller Ranch, said Assistant County Attorney Alex Potente.

A public-private partnership being negotiated between the county and the developer could increase that number and lower the homes’ price tags for locals.



The land is just west of the Gashouse on Highway 6 at Edwards’ main intersection. It is just south of the Eagle River Preserve, a 72-acre parcel where the county and community will build a park.

The Eagle Valley Land Trust wrote a letter to the county saying the proposal would come too close to the open space.

The development, on land that now contains mobile homes, would be a mix of affordable and market-rate homes as well as about 55,000 square feet of stores and about 24,000 square feet of offices.



The complex will be “more consolidated and compact” than Riverwalk, said Jena Skinner-Markowitz, a planner with Eagle County.

One of the three buildings would be five stories tall. The other two buildings would be three and four stories tall.

With a plaza, lots of sidewalks and limited above-ground parking, the complex is geared toward pedestrians and mass transit, said Potente, who described the complex as “micro-urban.”

“This density is necessary to dedicate a significant portion of our property to locals-only, deed-restricted housing as we are committed to doing here,” the Midtown group’s Brian Bair said in a letter to the Homestead Owners Association.

Bair could not be reached for comment Monday.

A study just released by the Urban Land Institute says Eagle County is headed for “difficult times” if it does not build more employee housing, saying it must build 500 to 600 units a year over the next 20 years.

Density, the report says, is an important tool for the county.

“Every appropriate parcel should be developed to its maximum, consistent with local housing needs and plans and particularly near schools, parks, public transportation and retail centers,” the study said.

At the center of Edwards, the site is an ideal place for pedestrian-oriented, transit-oriented locals housing, Potente said.

“This is core Edwards,” he said. “You don’t get any more ‘core’ in the valley than this.”

In addition to the 70 affordable homes, the developer would also set up a real-estate transfer tax that would bring in $3 million to $6 million over the next 10 years to be used for affordable housing at or near the project, Potente said.

The tax alone would compensate for the 57 jobs created by the development, Potente said.

Negotiations between the developer and county staff members have the Homestead group worried that the county is not being transparent and is set on approving the project.

Erickson points to a May 18 memorandum from Bair to Potente in which Bair mentions “expedited approval” and waivers of road fees. The memo also outlines a plan to create a public-private partnership between the county and the developer in which a nonprofit created by the county would buy and sell some or all of the affordable units.

“They should make everything much more transparent and visible so we know what our public officials are doing,” Erickson said.

The May 18 memo reflects earlier stages of the negotiations that are continuing, Potente said. He stressed that any plan would have to be approved by the Board of Commissioners in public meetings.

Potente said road fees have not been waived. In fact, the developer would pay more in road fees than it is required to, Potente said.

It would pay $1 million in road fees, possibly for a new roundabout on Highway 6, he said.

Potente also said the proposal is expedited because the “sketch” and “preliminary” plans are being considered at the same time, and that is not unique to this project.

Also, Eagle County Housing Guidelines say a developer that exceeds housing guidelines will be assisted with an expedited housing process, Bair said in a letter to Homestead owners.

The public-private venture between the developer and Eagle County, now under negotiation by Potente, could increase the number of homes and lower their cost to locals, he said. The number of deed-restricted homes might approach 80 if the county enters into the partnership.

Under the agreement, a nonprofit created by the county would buy some or all of the affordable condos, and then sell them to locals.

If the public-private partnership moves forward, the deed-restricted, price-capped “workforce housing” would target households that make around 120 percent of “area median income,” or about $86,400 a year. That means the studios would cost $239,000, one-bedroom condos would cost $273,000, two-bedroom condos would cost $307,000, and three-bedroom condos would cost $341,000, Potente said.

Whether or not the county agrees to create the nonprofit, the housing offered by Midtown is plentiful, Bair said.

“These alternatives represent the most generous and unprecedented housing plan ever proposed by a private developer in the history of Eagle County,” Bair said in a letter to the Homestead owners.

Erickson ” referring to prices in the May 18 memo that were slightly more expensive, such as $252,000 for a 600-square-foot studio ” said the prices aren’t very affordable, especially on a price-per-square-foot basis.

“By looking at the numbers, it seems like this is not really affordable housing,” he said.

Since it received a preliminary approval last year, the developer has added more land to the proposal, which previously only included 3 acres. At that approval, Commissioner Arn Menconi said more employee housing would be required, saying it would be a “community benefit” in exchange for more homes and retail space.

He lobbied for the project to be 40 percent affordable housing.

Under the current plan, 30 to 33 percent of the residential floor space would be affordable.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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