Edwards RiverPark debate turns to workforce housing, fiscal impacts
The Eagle County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday scrutinized workforce housing solutions and fiscal impacts for the Edwards RiverPark plan. The three-hour session was the third public hearing for the controversial proposal.
The Edwards RiverPark is a commercial/residential planned unit development proposal from a group called Sierra Trail Investments LLC. The project is planned on a 53.7-acre parcel located north of U.S. Highway 6 and south of the Eagle River on land that was formerly the site of a B&B Excavating gravel pit operation. The proposal includes two large condo buildings and a condo/hotel building along with commercial buildings, multifamily residential and townhomes.
During Tuesday’s session, the project development team detailed plans for 540 total dwelling units at Edwards RiverPark which would include 10 for-sale deed restricted units and 90 deed-restricted rental units. Additionally, the project has proposed a 1% real estate transfer tax on free market transactions with proceeds earmarked for the county’s housing program.
“We have all realized for the last 50 years that workforce housing has been an issue in Eagle County,” said Dominic Mauriello, planner for the Edwards RiverPark. “It has really gotten to the crisis level.”
Mauriello said he cringes when he hears people say that Edwards RiverPark is “only doing 100 units” to help address the housing issue. “It is so much more than that,” he said.
The county needs thousands of new workforce housing units and a long-term plan to supply them, Mauriello continued. He said that’s why the RiverPark’s 1% real estate transfer tax is an important opportunity. According to Mauriello, a $1 million unit will produce $10,000 of revenue every time it is sold and the fiscal analysis for Edwards RiverPark predicts a total of $7.5 million will be collected during its first eight sales years.
Currently the county’s housing program doesn’t have a dedicated funding source, but when the project nears completion, Edwards RiverPark’s 1% real estate transfer tax could generate up to $450,000 annually for the program, he continued. When questioned about the impact of that level of funding, Tori Franks from the county housing program said it would be enough money to fund an entire year of downpayment assistance or to finance a buy-down program or provide secondary lending to a project such as Spring Creek Village in Gypsum.
Beyond the deed-restricted units and the real estate transfer dollars, Mauriello maintained that Edwards River Park would also help address the countuy’s housing issues by providing more free-market housing at a time when it is in high demand.
“The coronavirus has sort of highlighted that crisis,” he said, noting that more and more people are working remotely and deciding to live outside of urban areas. “People started to move to these Zoom towns,” Mauriello said. “They are buying units the locals might buy instead.”
Mauriello also addressed a frequent comment associated with the project. Some residents have argued that a project that’s similar to the popular Miller Ranch development is what Edwards needs — not the condo/hotel, retail space and resort amenities proposed for RiverPark. That simply isn’t practical, Mauriello said.
He noted the county owns the land where Miller Ranch was built and the county also subsidized the neighborhoods’ construction. Additionally, the Miller Ranch site is much flatter and did not have to fund roadway improvements.
“Construction costs back then were a lot lower than today,” he added.
Along with the housing presentation, Mauriello said that during its first eight years, Edwards RiverPark will bring in an estimated $15 million in revenues to Eagle County and $3.5 million to the Edwards Metropolitan District. From there, estimates indicate that revenues will stabilize to $5 million annually for the county and $500,000 annually for the metro district.
“That is a fairly sizable annual bump for them coming from just this one project,” he said.
The project will also provide more revenue for other entities including Eagle River Fire, Colorado Mountain College and Eagle County Schools, Mauriello said.
Mauriello noted the fiscal impact is an important consideration because development often is judged by its ability to pay its own way.
“In this case, we are going to benefit some of those other governmental entities.”
A good portion of this week’s meeting was given over to public comment regarding the plan as 17 speakers weighed in on the proposal.
A number of Edwards area residents voiced their opposition, citing community character, wildlife, traffic and other concerns.
“RiverPark, as currently designed, is more appropriate for Cherry Creek or Scottsdale,:” said resident Stacey Boltz.
Resident Elizabeth Holland said the proposed development doesn’t pass the common sense standard.
“Is it common sense to put 600 units next to open space? It is common sense to have that many units when we have a water shortage?” she asked.
Resident Margo Timbell said a neighborhood development, not a resort plan, is more appropriate for the property.
‘’A neighborhood is what we need in the valley. It may not be the most lucrative form of development for the developers, but it is what we want.”
John Horan-Kates, a Lake Creek resident for 45 years, bluntly said that development of Edwards RiverPark would be a mistake. “It’s too big and its in the wrong place,” he said.
Horan-Kates said a better plan for the property would be to put together a fundraising effort to purchase the land. “Imagine what Edwards would be like if we had a Ford Park there,” he said. He then offered to help make his fundraising suggestion happen.
Chris Hawkins spoke for members of the neighboring South Fork properties. He questioned building heights and compatibility of the RiverPark plan.
“This is really out of character with Edwards and what is stated in the master plan,” Hawkins said. “It’s all about community character.”
But project proponents also went on the record with their support for Edwards River Park.
“I am personally very excited about this project,” said Malia Norbrega.
She said Edwards RiverPark will mean more vitality for the community. “We are the most populated part of Eagle County, yet we don’t have the facilities that are available in smaller communities,” she said. “I am convinced that I will see many of the people who are voiced their concerns enjoying the amenities in the future.”
“I am very much for this development,” said Scott Cliver. “We need a new hotel. We need affordable housing. We need everything they are bringing to the table,” he said.
Kristin Sofge noted that she and her husband currently live in Florida, but have been visiting Edwards for 25 years and want to retire in the valley. “This is the place we want to call home in the future,” she said.
“Edwards needs a spark,” offered Scott Dirvonas. “The town needs what Vail and Avon have done.”
Susie Cunningham said that the current site, a former gravel pit, is an eyesore and discounted community character complaints from people “in their cushy homes and cushy neighborhoods.”
“It’s really a solution (for workforce housing) but people just want to complain about character,” Cunningham said. “How about the people at the trailer park? They are hard-working people and they get to live in a slum. I am 100% in favor of this project.”
The next public hearing for the project is slated for Tuesday, Feb. 2.