Gypsum rejects rental project for Stratton Flats
In a 3-3 split vote, the Gypsum Town Council on Tuesday rejected a proposal to complete the Stratton Flats neighborhood with construction of rental apartments and townhomes.
The proposal drew fiery opposition from residents of the single family homes currently comprising the Stratton Flats neighborhood. Their statements then generated a forceful defense from the project developer. But after nearly two hours of presentation and debate, the tied council vote killed the proposal.
The town approved the existing Stratton Flats planned unit development in 2008 and the previous developer spent $18 million for infrastructure at the site. However, only 25 percent of the approved units have been built to date. The project is located on the south side of U.S. Highway 6, west of the Eagle County Regional Airport.
Polar Star Development of Edwards submitted the revised Stratton Flats plan. It features an increase of density at the site from 339 units to 473 units. The proposal — the third plan for Stratton Flats — included 284 units in 12 three-floor apartment buildings and 68 townhome units. Additionally, the plan allocated space for construction of 32 additional Habitat for Humanity homes. Proposed amenities included a clubhouse, playgrounds, a dog park, a soccer field, a basketball court, a community garden, pickleball courts, volleyball courts, trails, an ECO trail connection and barbecue and picnic areas.
The proposed shift in neighborhood character from for-sale housing to rental apartments was the focus of Tuesday’s debate.
In his presentation of the plan, developer representative Tambi Katieb of Land Planning Collaborative noted two previous developers had failed to complete the Stratton Flats neighborhood as a single family housing project but the rental option was a viable alternative
“We all know that affordable rental housing is desperately needed in the community,” Katieb said.
Katieb pointed to recent national reports showing Eagle County is one of the five least affordable counties in America.
“We need more housing for rent and for sale and this fits the bill,” he said.
In response to the revised plan, a contingent of Stratton Flats homeowners protested the proposal to bring a large number of rental units to the neighborhood.
Thomas Carter presented a petition with 122 signatures opposing the rental plan.
“When we bought into this, we were promised a community with single family homes,” Carter said.
“Building single family homes is a way to keep people in this valley,” said resident Richard Payton. “Let’s give people a chance to buy their first homes.”
Resident Brigette Carter said she formerly lived in rental units in the county. She described the transient nature of apartment residents, saying that results in increased crime and partying issues.
“I don’t want that brought into my community. I will do everything I can to prevent it,” she said.
“I have been to other Polar Star Developments. They are not places where I would walk alone at night,” said resident Heather Dima. “What good is manicured recreation space if we don’t feel safe using it?”
Polar Star response
Jerry Flynn, one of the principals of Polar Star Development, strongly objected to how the company’s rental projects were being characterized.
“The level of defamation of my company is amazing,” Flynn said.
Flynn noted the average time of residency in the company’s EagleBend units is five years. “It is not as transient as it was portrayed to be tonight,” he said.
Flynn said the Polar Star team has met with Stratton Flats residents and revised its plan in response to the input received.
“It becomes a challenge when the only thing they want is the old plan that was promised to them,” Flynn said. “Maybe there is someone out there who is willing to take the risk to finish the development as originally planned. The bank has not been able to find them.”
Chris Romer, of the Vail Valley Partnership, and Eagle County Housing Director Jill Klosterman voiced support for the plan to bring additional rental units to the valley.
Klosterman noted there is a 4,500 housing unit shortage in the county. “We have a supply problem in our community. We just don’t have enough housing for our work force,” she said.
Romer added the lack of affordable housing in the county impacts local business success. “There are more jobs in the county that people to fill them,” he said.
During their debate of the proposal, council members questioned what the rental amounts would be for the project.
Flynn said rents would range from just under $1,000 per month for one-bedroom units to $1,725 for three bedroom units. Polar Star’s proposal included a provision for 40 percent of the apartments to be developed as affordable units for local housing under federal guidelines. Those guidelines target households earning no more than 60 percent of the Eagle County area media income. In 2016, that was $79,600 for a three-person household. The remaining units were proposed for rental at market rates.
“I know that $1,300 sounds expensive, that $1,700 sounds expensive,” Flynn said. However, he noted some three-bedroom rents in the valley are upward of $4,000 per month.
Council member Dick Mayne voiced concerns about the project’s density and the impact of having so many rental units in one area. Additionally, he noted with the company’s two-year construction goal, the impacts would come quickly.
“I think this type of development is needed, but maybe not all in one area,” Mayne said.
Mayne also noted his preference for the original Stratton Flats plan.
“Communities where people own their homes seem to be more successful,” Mayne said.
Council member Chris Estes noted the proposal reflects the changing needs of the valley. “I liked it (the Stratton Flats site) when it was a hay field. Things change over the years,” Estes said.
When it came time to vote, council members Mayne, Marisa Sato and Chris Huffman voted against the proposal while members Estes, Pam Schultz and Tom Edwards voted in favor. In the tie vote, the proposal failed.