Volunteer architects design worker housing projects
VAIL, Colorado- It is midnight when Rob Rydel looks around the room and wonders if he and the other volunteer architects can keep working for another hour.
They can, and do. As long as the band is together, they’re gonna play.
A few dozen architects locked themselves in rooms and volunteered tens of thousands of dollars worth of time and talent to help design three public housing projects. It’s called a Charrette and it’s as much fun as architects can have with pens in their hands.
It’s all part of the annual Housing Colorado conference, a statewide group of housing professionals who advocate and create affordable housing. This year hundreds of them gathered in the Vail Marriott.
Charette is French for “little cart,” and the architects are trying to put all kinds of stuff into a small space – hence the name of this workshop.
They do this every year and they did three of them this year: One in Silverthorne, one in Denver and one in Aurora.
Rydel runs Oz Architects in Denver and was in charge of the Silverthorne project.
They’re all municipal workforce housing projects being designed to be places where the workforce might actually want to live.
“It’s designed around the idea of long-term living, not short-term rentals,” says Mark Leidal, Silverthorne’s community development director.
Summit County’s banana belt?
Silverthorne bought 50 acres on the north side of town with visions of building workforce housing.
Right now it’s a hay field with some wetlands and slopes too steep to build on – a typical High Country building site. That leaves them 24 acres for housing, and they figure they can get around 150 units in there.
Silverthorne, like most places, isn’t feeling quite the press for workforce housing that it was a few years ago. Still, better to get on with planning the project so it’s ready to build when it’s needed.
“We don’t want to flood the market with affordable housing. We’ll wait until it’s the right time,” Leidal said.
A couple different developers started through Silverthorne’s approval process, Leidal said, but were sidetracked by recessions.
Silverthorne came up with the front end money to buy the land – $3.5 million – and Summit County’s affordable housing tax fund is reimbursing the town.
It’s an urban environment with alleys and garages, and homes sharing some common green space – as much green as they see in Summit County with its 21 frost free days per year. Bu then, this site is in Summit County’s banana belt, says Mark Leidal, Silverthorne’s community development director.
Dichotomy of the day
The architects are all private sector folks volunteering their time to design a government-funded public housing project. Silverthorne will pay to have it built. Most of the people attending the Housing Colorado conference work for various government housing agencies, but seemed thrilled that there’s no government grant money involved because of the hassle government agencies create for people who take their money.
But then, those agencies want you to keep track of what you do with that money.
But there is no government grant, so there’s not much of this sort of thing with Housing Colorado’s Charrette. The volunteer architects show up, break out their pens, paper and computers, and crank up the creative process.
Everyone volunteers. It’s a little like starting a rock band and for three days the hours are similar. They started at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, worked until 1 a.m. Wednesday and between 8 a.m. and noon Thursday they were putting the finishing touches on their noon presentation.
From the conference in Vail, the project goes to Silverthorne’s town boards, who are mindful that the architects are free and the countywide tax fund is paying for the land.
“It’s a huge benefit for the town to get design services for very little cost,” Leidal said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.