Eagle County housing group report cites difficulties in creating more units | VailDaily.com

Eagle County housing group report cites difficulties in creating more units

Local government processes often hinder attempts to build workforce housing

Nearly 80% of employers say housing availability is negatively affecting their ability to hire and retain workers.
What’s this task force? To learn more about the Eagle County Housing Task Force, go to the volunteer group’s website.

We all know Eagle County is short on workforce housing. But a recent report shows there are still barriers to building.

The Eagle County Housing Task Force recently released a report about the barriers to building housing the volunteer group found during its research.

“The inadequate supply and lack of availability of housing in the Eagle River Valley is likely due to our culture, policies, processes and regulations” that hamper housing efforts, the report states.

Barriers include inadequate staffing at the local government level and too much involvement from attorneys. The report also notes that local government staff is too often “indifferent to delays and mistakes that cost time and money.”

The report adds that housing must have the support of both the public and private sectors. The report cites the Chamonix townhome project in West Vail as an example of those partnerships at work.

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Steve Lindstrom is the chairman of the Vail Local Housing Authority. Lindstrom said he appreciates the task force’s input.

“It’s good to have a neutral outside party,” Lindstrom said, adding that the task force spends a lot of time talking with developers, builders and government officials.

You say ‘yes,’ I say ‘no’

The report shows that “sometimes we’re our own worst enemy,” Lindstrom said. “Talk to any developer and they’ll grouse about the gauntlet to get things approved.”

Lindstrom added that “resident housing” doesn’t have the kind of profit margins to justify lengthy, expensive journeys through local government approval processes.

Lindstrom said local government needs “alignment from top to bottom with some of our jurisdictions.”

“Decision-makers will say yes, and staff says, ‘I don’t know,’” to projects, Lindstrom said, adding that “If we all collectively get on the same page, we can get a lot done.”

Mike Pearson leads the local office of Fortius Capital. That firm has done most of the work at the nearly-complete Two Rivers Village in Dotsero. The company has also built homes at Aspen Ridge in Gypsum, as well as projects in Minturn and Red Cliff.

Pearson for some time has talked about the need for better approval processes for builders.

Pearson said the building departments in local government offices are dealing with many of the same issues faced by the private sector, particularly attracting and retaining good people.

Pearson said his company since January has had six permit applications filed with Eagle County officials. There’s been no action on those applications, he said.

Staff is “working their butts off,” Pearson said. But there are still delays.

While nearly all of the single-family homes at Two Rivers have been built, Pearson said he’s not seeing much progress with a 10.5-acre site on the property zoned for 150 condominiums and townhomes.

Possible solutions

Pearson said he sees a couple of ways to get more housing built in the valley.

The first is approving more density on building sites.

“We all want to maintain open spaces, but we need more housing,” Pearson said. More density is perhaps the best way to satisfy those sometimes-conflicting priorities, he said.

But, he added it seems like projects that propose a more-dense approach are often fought by neighbors.

Funding is another problem, Pearson said, adding that he sees a solution.

Pearson noted that the 6 West apartment complex in Edwards was recently sold by the developers for more than $40 million.

With that in mind, Pearson said this is the perfect time for Eagle County to sell the Lake Creek Village apartments in Edwards.

The complex is deed-restricted, so units won’t rent for full market prices, Pearson said. If the complex sold for $215,000 per unit, the county would have a pool of more than $58 million to use for other projects in the county.

“With a reasonable amount of leverage, you could build a $100 million project,” Pearson said.

Instead of more meetings, Pearson said the county needs a 10-year action plan with specific projects in mind. The current state-owned rest area at Edwards would be a perfect spot for housing, he added.

“We almost don’t need a report,” for action, Lindstrom said. But, he added, “none of this is easy.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

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