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How to build cheaper homes

Bob Warner
Special to the Daily

Much has been written recently about affordable housing in the Edwards area.

Having developed and built over 750 homes and units in the valley that were sold to locals, many of whom were first-time homebuyers, I believe that I have some insight into some of the issues and possibly solutions.

When we built the Vail Commons in conjunction with City Market, most of the site development costs, including off-site costs were absorbed by City Market . The project worked because there was a company that wanted to build on the Vail Commons site. City Market was willing to help subsidize the cost of the affordable housing.

I purchased the land for Homestead in 1979 and the first units were not constructed until 1984. During this period of time, like all developers, we had the cost of holding the land. It is not abnormal for development to take several years to get through the zoning and planning process. I am somewhat shocked by the new concept that somebody can buy a very expensive piece of land, rezone it and think they can be under construction in a matter of months rather than years. This does not give the public adequate chance to review the project and the impacts it will have on the community. Local builders and developers would agree that sales prices have almost always increased faster than holding and construction cost. The longer you wait, the higher the profit.

The majority of affordable projects have not been built on the prime location, but rather on the fringes. It is very difficult to build an affordable project in a mid-rise type of building because the codes are much more stringent and parking requirements for underground parking are substantially higher which add to the cost of the project. When Miller Ranch was constructed it was done on land that was away from the heart of Edwards and the plan allowed for cost-efficient construction methods. I do not think it’s realistic to have affordable projects in a mid-rise building unless it is subsidized by market-price units and other commercial opportunities on the site.

I applaud the county for working on the issue of affordable housing. I believe they need to follow Miller Ranch style development rather than trying to force projects that are too expensive to build. If the county wishes to pursue projects similar to the West End that have high density, the affordable units should be sold to the county at well below cost, not at cost (both hard and soft) plus a guaranteed profit.

The paper may be correct when it says that density means more affordable housing, but it also depends upon whether that density is built in conventional low-style buildings rather than trying to do mid-rise construction where the costs are so much higher that there is no way it can be affordable. It is also important that the county and the public really understand what affordable housing is. I personally question whether a sales price of over $400 a foot is affordable. This is twice the price of projects like Miller Ranch.

Bob Warner is a local developer. E-mail comments about this column to editor@vaildaily.com.


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