Middle Creek ready to roll | VailDaily.com

Middle Creek ready to roll

Cliff Thompson

Vail is taking advantage of its ability to fund projects, selling tax-free municipal bonds to pay for building 142 units of affordable rental housing within walking distance of town’s main roundabout.

The Town Council has authorized $16.6 million in private activity bonds to build the Middle Creek housing project, and by so doing, hopes to both inject more vitality into Vail’s flagging economy and help solve a persistently tight affordable-housing market that typically warps the definition of “affordable.”

“This is not a town debt,” said Councilman Greg Moffet. “This (bond issue) is being done in our capacity as a conduit.”

Money to pay the bonds will be generated by rents from the project, which should vary from $540 for a studio to $1,750 for a three-bedroom apartment. Total cost of the development will be $23 million.

The project, which will have buildings up to six stories tall, will be located on a 25-acre swath on the north Frontage Road near the telecommunications tower, now operated Qwest. In addition to the rental units, the project also will include a $1 million preschool.

A lone dissenting vote came last week from Councilwoman Diana Donovan.

“I voted against this because I don’t think it meets the needs of the community,” she said, adding that if the project were put to the electorate, it would fail.

A balancing act

That’s not the only criticism the project has encountered, demonstrating the difficulty in building affordable housing in a high-priced environment. Residents of Spraddle Creek, an exclusive gated community that overlooks the site, opposed the project on a number of fronts, including density, location and appearance.

“Any large project in the town of Vail is a very difficult process,” Russell Forrest, Vail’s community development director, said earlier this year. “We hope a balance has been struck to provide a quality product that meets the goal of being “affordable.'”

Additional criticism came from the developers of other affordable housing developments within the Eagle County, who said they feared additional units would flood the market with too many affordable units.

Proponents, however, have said having residents and workers living that close to Vail Village and Lionshead will help cut down on the urban-like ski-season traffic and its attendant parking issues and provide Vail’s nearby businesses with more potential customers. That’s a big deal in Vail where an estimated 72 percent of the residences are second homes.

Entry-level boom

The decision to pursue the project at a time when historically low interests rates have spurred an entry-level housing boom generated some discussion last spring. Affordable housing projects are under way in Avon, Edwards and Dotsero that will bring several hundred rentable and for sale units online for the coming ski season.

Construction on Middle Park will begin later this summer, with completion expected in time for the 2004 ski season.

Denver-based developer Coughlin and Company will be developing the project in partnership with the Vail Local Housing Authority. It will be Vail’s largest affordable housing project, and its appearance is designed to mimic a European hilltown.

Vail’s last affordable housing project, the Commons built in 1994 in West Vail, also encountered resistance from nearby neighborhoods. It has largely been hailed as a success, however, bringingand 53 for-sale and 18 rental units to the market.

Timber Ridge, too

In Vail, currently there are a total of 417 deed-restricted rental and for-sale employee housing units.

Vail’s last large affordable rental housing development was the 198-unit Timber Ridge, also on the North Frontage Road about a mile west of Middle Creek. In April, the town initiated a “friendly” condemnation of the project after failing to reach an agreeable sale price with its owner, John Marks. The parties will rely on a judge to decide an equitable price for the project.

The town pursued acquiring the project after the deed-restriction on the rental units expired in 2001, meaning rents could be driven by market forces beyond “affordable” levels.

Early proposals for the project envision up to 200 units being built after the existing units are demolished.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com

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