Commissioner Menconi removed from Lake Creek housing board
EAGLE COUNTY – County Commissioner Arn Menconi and another member were kicked off a local housing board Tuesday over a $200,000 grant made to developers of Avon’s Buffalo Ridge apartment complex.Commissioners Tom Stone and Michael Gallagher said the Lake Creek Affordable Housing Board should have turned down Corum Development’s request for funds to help out with the Avon apartment complex’s building costs. Nevertheless, Menconi approved the grant and in doing so, did not represent the board’s opinion on the matter, Stone said.”My view is that when a commissioner is appointed as (the county’s representative) on a review board that the commissioner should yield his own personal feelings to a decision of the county commissioners,” Stone said. Menconi, who was absent from Tuesday’s vote, and board member Rob LeVine were replaced by Stone and local banker Kevin Brubeck. Menconi, who was reached by phone about the decision, said he missed Tuesday’s meeting because he was attending a conference in Grand Junction. He still supports making the grant, he said.”I voted to represent the people of Eagle County, not to represent what two members of the board think,” he said. A difference of opinionThe five-member housing board oversees the Lake Creek Village Apartment complex in Edwards. Eagle County endorsed the project to help the developers – also Corum Development – obtain funding. While the county has no financial obligation in the construction and operation of the project, their endorsement, in essence, created a public corporation that runs the project. As a result, one of the seats on the board is a Corum employee, and three seats on the housing board are appointed by the county commissioners. County housing director K.T. Gazunis, along with Stone and Brubeck, serves in those appointed positions.Buffalo Ridge was built in a similar way, except the town of Avon is the public entity that has endorsed the public corporation. The nonprofit Lake Creek housing board has about $350,000 in reserve funds that have been earmarked to help affordable housing in the county, said Jamie Fitzgerald, a board member and Corum Development’s vice president. The board has used that money in the past to help out other projects, such as Riverview in Eagle-Vail.The decision to help out Buffalo Ridge was in line with past practices, Fitzgerald said. Only four people are serving on the board currently. Fitzgerald recused himself from voting, he said, because he also serves on Buffalo Ridge’s Affordable Housing Board. Gazunis abstained from voting, Fitzgerald added, and LeVine and Menconi approved the grant. “It was just one nonprofit helping another nonprofit,” Fitzgerald said. But Stone and Gallagher don’t seem to see it that way. “I consider it a direct subsidy to Corum to give them $200,000,” Stone said. “I don’t think a public corporation should provide help to a private corporation for mismanagement.”Oversupply of housing? Fitzgerald had made a presentation to Gallagher and Stone about two weeks earlier about the grant. After further thought, Gallagher decided he did not support giving the grant to Buffalo Ridge. He would have rather seen the money used to help other public/private affordable housing projects the county is involved in, such as Riverview or the Golden Eagle Senior Apartments in Eagle, he said. Because the Avon apartment complex is being built using federal Housing and Urban Development loans, rents must be affordable to renters making no more than 80 percent of the average local wage. If the complex had not received the grant, it may have had to raise rents to make ends meet, Fitzgerald said. Not only would Corum lose the federal loans by violating the requirement, but the complex would no longer be affordable.Gallagher questioned the viability of Buffalo Ridge, considering the financial problems it already has had. “We do have an oversupply of affordable housing in the county at this time period,” he said. Menconi disagreed with that, noting that all but two of Buffalo Ridge’s apartments have been rented out. Disappointment all aroundStone called Menconi’s actions “irresponsible.” He added that Fitzgerald’s involvement in the grant was a conflict of interest because he works for the Buffalo Ridge developer.Fitzgerald said a Corum employee is required to serve on the housing boards of the company’s projects. Stone also said LeVine’s removal from the board should not negatively reflect on his longtime serve. But when asked to comment about the removal, LeVine responded, “I was taught that when you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”The housing board rarely ran ideas past the board of commissioners before taking a vote, LeVine said. But Menconi arranged to have a presentation made before the board so Gazunis, who needed direction from the commissioners, could vote accordingly, LeVine said.Fitzgerald’s presentation was made on Sept. 14 and the board, with the exception of Gazunis, had voted on Sept. 8. Gazunis said she needed feedback from the county commissioners before casting her vote. By the end of day on Sept. 15, she still did not have clear direction from the commissioners. Gazunis said she asked Fitzgerald if they could wait for her vote, but he told her no. Gazunis said she was told the federal department of housing needed to know soon if Buffalo Ridge got the grant. Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or firstname.lastname@example.org.