Developers: Plan blocks affordable housing

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A 1,000-unit affordable housing project is stalled -- and its developers blame the city and county's unwillingness to deviate from the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan.

After more than a year and a half of trying to bring an affordable housing project to Steamboat Springs, Rapid City, S.D., Realtors Bob Drew and Rich Evans said they were ready to give up on a project that would have provided single-family homes, duplexes and townhomes priced between $135,000 and $220,000.

The Ranch at Sunrise Ridge project was proposed for 160-acres owned by the Guire family off Routt County Road 42 and across the road from the Sliver Spur subdivision. The area makes up the northwest corner of the West of Steamboat plan.

Drew and Evans said the plan fell apart when the county said the property had to be annexed into the city before such high density could occur, and the city said the land could not be annexed because it was not next to the city boundary. A property owner between the city boundary and the proposed project refused to have his land annexed.

"The city refused to talk to us because the land is in the county. The county refused to talk to us because they are not in the urban planning business," Evans said.

County Planning Director Caryn Fox said the county was willing to work with the developers and had asked them to provide the county with a more comprehensive plan showing how developments would flow together beyond the Guire property.

However, Fox said the commissioners think that the land in the West of Steamboat plan should be developed from east to west, and the county is not in the business of urban development.

City Planning Director Steve Stamey said the city would not annex the land unless it is adjacent to the city boundary, upholding a basic planning principle.

Approved four years ago, the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan recently has been called into question. The plan was supposed to help solve the city's affordable housing problem by requiring that one-third of all homes be affordable, but not a single development has been built since its adoption.

West Steamboat landowners have said the the plan's proposed phasing, design requirements, infrastructure needs and affordable-housing component have made it unattractive to developers. Those landowners include Steve and Mary Brown, who own the majority of undeveloped property in the plans, including the piece separating the Guire's land from city limits.

But Drew and Evans said they were willing to work with the plan; it just needs a few adjustments.

Their proposed project would have been built over six years, provided almost half of the 2,400 units projected in the plan and 400 more affordable housing units then the entire plan required.

"We truly believe the market is there," Drew said. "These developments sell as fast as we can build the houses."

Drew and Evans develop large-scale affordable housing projects in Rapid City, Evans, who has a second home in Steamboat, said after hearing about the city's affordable housing problems, he decided to come up with his own housing solution.

In September 2002, he and his partners started with an 80-acre piece of land on the west end of Steve Brown's property. They envisioned building 470 affordable homes, but Evans said that in October, Brown decided not to move forward with the plan.

A month later, the Guire property came on the market, and the group put it under contract and doubled the size of its project, Evans said. Close to existing infrastructure and on relatively flat land, the developers thought the land would be ideal.

"When you develop, you need road, sewer and water," Evans said. "From our viewpoint, (close to infrastructure) is where you have to go."

Paved C.R. 42 would provide access to the development, the subdivision could tap into a sewer line 300 feet away from Silver Spur and a 12-inch water line at the southern boundary of the property.

Evans also said the subdivision would have association fees that would pay for city and county services until the city or county felt comfortable taking over those duties.

One-third of the proposed development was planned for single-family homes at about 1,600 square feet with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and double-car garages. The homes would be priced between $190,000 and $220,000.

Another third would have been for duplexes with 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath units with double-car garages for $135,000. The final third would have been a multi-family project offering 1,250-square-foot, two-bedroom, 2 1/2 bath units priced at $150,000.

Private deed restrictions and economies of scale would have allowed the developers to sell single-family homes for almost $100,000 less than market value, Evans said. Under the deed restrictions, part of the resale appreciation would return to the developers, he added.

Although Evans and Drew said they came across many stumbling blocks when working with the county and city, the biggest obstacle was the stipulated phasing of the plan, which required the West of Steamboat area to be developed from east to west.

With the project proposed for the farthest northwest corner of the 1,200 acres covered by the plan and nothing else yet built in the area, beginning construction on The Ranch at Sunrise Ridge would have been in direct conflict with the plan's requirements.

As recently as a November meeting with West Steamboat landowners, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said the county was not in the business of urban development and would not waiver in its goal to develop the land east to west.

"I guarantee the commissioners are not going to come off the east-to-west (issue). If you think we are going to be building west to east, we will be sitting here for a long time," Monger said at that meeting.

Less than a week later, the City Council echoed that sentiment when going through the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan Update with the commissioners. The two boards unanimously agreed to support east-to-west development and annexation but not another Silver Spur or Steamboat II subdivision.

That was the message Drew and Evans received when they took their plans to the county.

Fox said the county is not in the business of urban growth and said even with the infrastructure in place, other costs would arise with the development.

"What about the other things: school buses, street improvements, emergency services," Fox said. "You can't stop at water and sewer, you've got to address everything."

But Fox said the county has not shut its door to the developers, it just asked that they come back with a more comprehensive overview of how their development would mesh with others in the area. That overview could be as simple as a bubble diagram, Fox said.

Stamey said the city was not ready to work with the Sunrise Ridge developers because the property could not be annexed into the city. For property to be annexed into the city, one-sixth has to be touching the city line.

It is basic planning theory to annex only adjoining properties, Stamey said.

"We try to avoid leap-frogging," he said. "It is really not efficient to provide urban services when it's not adjacent to the city."

After Stamey told them the property had to be annexed into the city before it could be developed, Drew and Evans said they went to Brown and asked that he annexed his property into the city. That would then allow the Guire property to be annexed.

Evans said he at first agreed to annex the northern portion of his land and then recanted.

"That is when everything blew up," Evans said.

From the developers' viewpoint, the only way the 1,000-unit affordable housing project could be salvaged would be if the commissioners would change their minds about phasing east to west. With Steamboat II, Silver Spur and Heritage Park farther west, Evans said, their development would just be infill.

Although the developers think phasing is the worst idea in the plan, they said there are many other flaws: dictating the styles of housing, requiring alleys, having commercial pods in the center of residential areas and requiring too much density on rolling land and not enough in flat areas.

Planners defend the plan, saying such requirements were put into it for good reason, but also stress it is not the absolute word in the planning process and that the county and city could be flexible.

Stamey said the intent of the plan was to reflect the pattern of Old Town and build neighborhood quality and character, a wish supported in this year's area plan update.

County Planner Chad Phillips noted that, at the time the plan was developed, residents wanted to get away from 1970s-style subdivisions with garages as the main focus on street fronts and endless cul-de-sacs. He also said the plan was designed so that density would decrease farther away from the city limits.

Fox said the idea of bringing stores and businesses into the plan was to create a self-contained community "where people didn't have to leave to work and recreate."

Those utopian goals are part of the problem with the plan, developers said. The plan should simply provide loose guidelines; dreaming of a possible perfect world is one thing, logical implementation of a proper plan is another.

"The No. 1 problem is they took a small piece of ground and put unreal expectations on it," Evans said.

-- To reach Christine Metz, call 871-4225

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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