EAGLE — In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Eagle County Board of Commissioners approved Bob Warner’s plan to renovate his 42-year-old EagleVail office building into a shared living facility.
Following a public hearing that stretched to nearly 4 1/2 hours and included comments from several EagleVail neighbors strongly opposed to the proposal, the commissioners ruled that the project met the county’s standards for approval and presented a unique workforce housing option for the valley.
Warner’s plan calls for developing the shared living space within the existing 10,000-square-foot commercial building, which will be remodeled but not expanded in size, except for entry staircases on either side of the building.
The Warner Workforce Housing proposal calls for 30 single-occupancy rooms and five double-occupancy rooms within the existing building. Each unit would be equipped with a microwave, sink, refrigerator and closet. Bathrooms on each floor would be shared, each serving approximately 2.3 rooms.
A community room with kitchen facilities and an on-site manager unit would be located on the west side of the middle-level floor. There would be a maximum of 42 occupants on-site, no pets allowed and short-term leasing or subleasing would be prohibited.
“I have been involved in EagleVail since its inception,” said Warner as he introduced his proposal to the county commissioners. He said his renovation plan represented a sensible way to utilize the aging office building and the project itself balanced the needs of the neighborhood with the needs of future residents.
“Times have changed and the way people live and work has changed. I think this application before you is evidence of that,” Warner said.
Warner said it has always been tough to find housing in Eagle County and recalled his own struggles when he arrived here 52 years ago.
“But times were different then. Affordable housing was still hard to come by, but not like today’s standards,” Warner said. “And when I came here, I don’t remember people not wanting housing for me, and people like me, in their neighborhoods.”
Planner Rick Pylman noted that Warner Professional Building 2 is actually older than the planning guidelines for EagleVail. The building dates back to 1976. The guidelines were adopted in 1979.
“It is a commercially zoned property, but there was no commitment from anyone that it would remain as an office building forever,” said Pylman.
He argued that “boarding house” is one of the designated special uses allowed in EagleVail commercial areas.
“This use has really become popular again,” said Pylman. “It seems to be both economically and social viable employee housing.”
The individual rooms will be small, acknowledged architect Bob Ladd. The rooms range in size from approximately 170 square feet to approximately 120 square feet.
“They are self-contained for someone to survive and really take care of themselves in that space,” Ladd said.
Current residents of EagleVail voiced several concerns with the Warner Workforce Housing proposal. They cited inadequate outreach on the part of the development team and stated the project didn’t meet the family neighborhood character of EagleVail.
“I have canvassed other members of the community and asked the question ‘Did anyone reach out to you about this?'” said EagleVail resident Hazel Kreuz.
Kreuz said not one single person answered “yes.”
“I believe in good projects. I think the best projects happen when both entities have time to work out the issues,” Kreuz said. “I believe there is more work to be done here.”
Cindy Krieg argued the location and density of Warner’s project are not compatible with the existing family neighborhood. She also said it is unfair to characterize EagleVail residents as NIMBYs.
“Those of us who have submitted comments and attended the meetings are part of the Eagle County workforce,” she said.
“There is no disagreement that employee housing is needed in the county, but you should plan for it. You shouldn’t try to shoehorn it in,” said EagleVail Property Owners Association attorney Wendell Porterfield.
“If I lived in Wolcott, I would think this is a sensible thing because it wouldn’t have a fire escape in my back yard,” said resident Brad Kreuz. “If we are going to change something that is so close to all the existing homes, it really bothers me we aren’t going to tell those people about it.”
In response to the resident comments, development team members said they had hosted an informational meeting. Additionally, they noted that the county received 176 pages of public comment about the plan which demonstrated that people were aware of the proposal.
Eagle County Sustainable Communities Director Adam Palmer, who wrote the staff findings about the Warner application, noted that a number of the letters the county received highlighted concerns about the character of the project tenants and the transient nature of the occupants.
“I don’t believe these are people to be afraid of. The target market describes many of us as we came here,” Palmer said.
The project housing plan calls for rental rate caps of 70% area median income for an individual household — $1,152 per month — for the 30 single occupancy rooms and rental caps at 100% of the area median income — $1,645 per month — for the five double-occupancy rooms. Warner’s attorney Sarah Baker said those caps represent the highest rental amounts that could be charged, not the actual planned rental fees.
Baker also countered the argument that the project would introduce a transient population to EagleVail. Baker said there are currently 132 VRBO listings and 119 AirBNB listings in the neighborhood, which she said suggests there is already a substantial transient population in EagleVail.
‘A place to land’
In their deliberations, the Eagle County commissioners noted their job was to apply the appropriate land use standards in making a decision. “In America, we have property rights,” said Commissioner Matt Scherr.
All three commissioners agreed with the staff findings and the decision by the Eagle County Planning Commission that the application met the county standards. They also granted a parking variance — allowing 35 spaces for the building rather than the 37 spaces required by code. The commissioners noted the building is located very close to ECO Transit stops and within walking distance of community amenities.
“EagleVail is a place where people land when they come here,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “This does make a small dent in our affordable housing need.”
With the approval secured, Warner said he plans to begin work on the renovation and hopes to have rental units available at the site as soon as next spring.