Eagle County approves Edwards area, 120-unit 6 West Apartments plan
EAGLE — There’s nothing on the horizon that will solve Eagle County’s housing shortage in one fell swoop. But there are a number of proposals floating around that would chip away at the problem.
On Thursday, Oct. 19, the Eagle County Commissioners approved one of them — the 120-unit 6 West Apartments in Edwards.
Developer Gore Creek Partners LLC has proposed the 6 West Apartments planned unit development at a 5.727-acre site located south of U.S. Highway 6 and immediately west of the Eagle River Mobile Home park. The proposal calls for 120 one-, two- and three-bedroom units located in nine buildings on the site. Proposed rental prices at the 6 West units will be around $1,300 per month for one-bedroom units, $1,900 per month for two-bedroom units and $2,300 for three-bedroom units.
The property proposal also includes plans for a 3,000-square-foot community building with amenities including a fitness center, business center, cyber/coffee cafe and indoor-outdoor areas for socializing. Also planned are a dog park, small playground and bike and ski-tuning areas.
In their review of the plan, Eagle County staff noted there is a demonstrated community need for the project. The county’s own statistics show there is a need for 4,466 workforce housing units today and a projected need for 11,960 workforce units by 2025.
“We are hearing from a lot of our local businesses saying, ‘We can’t hire employees, we can’t keep our doors open,’” Commissioner Kathy Chandler Henry said during a special hearing Thursday, Oct. 19.
But just because there is a recognized need for something doesn’t mean it will easily materialize. The developers of the 6 West Apartments say their project is a case in point.
‘The numbers are tough’
During Thursday’s meeting, Steve Spessard, of Gore Creek Partners, told the commissioners that ideally, site work on 6 West Apartments will commence yet this year, with occupancy in some units as early as 2018. But that’s a best-case scenario.
“Very candidly, it is very tough to make the numbers work on this project,” Spessard said.
To improve the financials associated with the project, during an Oct. 9 public hearing the developers requested property tax exemptions from various jurisdictions. The commissioners were uneasy about granting that request without input from the various local governments affected and directed the 6 West team to reach out to the jurisdictions.
But during the two weeks since that meeting, the developers actually moved away from the property tax exemption plan and proposed an alternative cost-saving scenario.
Thursday the development team proposed that 70 percent, or 84 of the 120 units, be restricted to people employed in the local workforce. To help with project financing, the county will provide a $323,000 loan to the developers, an amount reflecting the value of water rights associated with the property. The county will dedicate the water reflected in those rights to the Upper Eagle Water Authority to help fill “gaps in the river.”
Ultimately, the 6 West Apartments will repay the loan, which will be subordinate to its primary financing, using an equity share structure.
“The partnership with the county is the water rights loan, as well as just the way the project has been received and reviewed internally,” said Dominic Mauriello, of Mauriello Planning Group. “The county staff has really gone out of its way to assist us with the project.”
Although the current plan does not include a property tax exemption provision, Mauriello said that issue may be revisited.
“If a tax exemption were possible, and it still might be in the future if the Eagle County Housing and Development Authority were able to get a plan for it in place that meets all of the legal requirements, then all of the units would be (workforce) restricted,” Mauriello said.
Just as with the initial public hearing on Oct. 9, Thursday’s 6 West Apartments discussion generated several comments of support and no vocal opposition.
Mike Riesinger, of the Berry Creek Metro District Board of Directors, noted that the board supports the development of affordable housing, but wanted to be certain that traffic and parking issues associated with the 6 West proposal are addressed.
“There is going to be 59 fewer parking spaces than required by the county at this location,” Riesinger said. “If anyone comes over to visit there, there will be no place to park.”
Spessard responded that he is part of a group that develops student housing around the nation and those units traditionally require more parking than what is typically required in an apartment project. He said that the parking provided at 6 West is in excess of typical student housing requirements.
Mauriello said the county’s parking requirements are some of the highest in the area.
“They may reflect what was needed for Cadillacs in the 1970s, not cars of today,” he said.
Mauriello added that the 6 West apartments are located right next to a bus stop and theorized that many residents will use public transportation, rather than own cars.
On the subject of traffic, residents noted that congestion in the area is really tied to times when students arrive at school or when schools dismiss classes at the end of the day.
“You know when that time is going to happen, so take I-70,” said resident Claire Noble.
For their part, the county commissioners praised the creative financing approach 6 West proposed and characterized the development as the right project in the right place.
“I really like some of the public benefits of this,” Commissioner Jill Ryan said.
“I think it is a reasonable accommodation to do the water loan,” Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said. “The project, as it is being presented today, is much more clear and straightforward.”
“We are giving up a bit to have more traffic here, but we have people who need a place to live,” Chandler-Henry said.
The commissioners unanimously passed the three land-use actions clearing the way for the 6 West Apartments — a 1041 permit, a PUD application and a zoning change.