Dear City Council — Please Vote No On “Fox Hollow”
Our Fire Department and our Police Department have voiced serious concerns about the emergency access to a proposed housing development at 2225 Midland Avenue. Our Planning and Zoning Commission considered it very carefully at two meetings and didn’t approve it. Nonetheless, I gather that staff is advising you to approve, apparently in the belief that it fits sufficiently well with the goals of our Comprehensive Plan. They have recommended that you overturn the Commission’s decision and ignore the valid concerns of our Fire Department and our Police Department. I am not alone in disagreeing with staff’s recommendation. Please allow me to mention a few reasons why I think you should not approve this project.
The developer wants several variances from important provisions of our city code for this aptly named “Fox Hollow” development. Nonetheless, the developer does not offer to build any affordable housing….. Not any, as in “none” - even though they expect the City to approve multiple variances…. Your approval of said variances would enable the developer to build even more housing units at this location than they proposed in concept last September. Presumably, the developer thinks this will allow them to maximize the profit they can derive from these 5.876 acres, and perhaps it would. However, it’s also possible that a developer could derive a similar total profit from the construction and sale of fewer but nicer units that are less closely spaced.
The developer also has at several points in time asked the City to reduce its customary fees, and to perpetually maintain his non code-compliant private streets, as well as an expensive utilities and storm-water management infrastructure for this project. Staff have since written that the developer “ultimately” “wants to” rescind some of these requests, but not all of them (e.g. the proposed sewer link to the Cottonwood Landing sewer system which, by the way, I am told by a resident there, already backs up). I have requested clarification of the relevant language in the staff report; but, as I write this, it’s not yet clear to me what requests for special treatment the developer has actually rescinded in writing.
The location of this proposed medium density development is presently bordered on three sides by single-family homes on roughly 1 acre lots. The fourth side is about a stone’s throw from a steep hillside with at least some rockfall and mudslide hazard. This location earns an extremely low “Walk Score”, and is far from public transportation. It also lies squarely in the path of the last best wildlife route between Red Mountain and the Roaring Fork River.
Because of the distances to shops, services, places of employment and public transportation, the website “Walk Score” says that all errands from this location will be done via automobile. Hence, it would make environmental and city-wide traffic control sense to approve only a low density development at this location. Low density development at 2225 Midland Ave. would also be in keeping with the current character of the immediate neighborhood. Furthermore, it would provide at least some reasonable space for wildlife to continue moving between Red Mountain and the Roaring Fork River. Higher density development at this location, on the other hand, would be inconsistent with environmentally sound city planning principles which are set forth in our Comprehensive Plan.
To date, the only neighbor who recommended approval of this project did so because he said he feared that otherwise the City would allow developers to build a 200 unit apartment complex on these acres. However, according to existing City zoning, such a gigantic and entirely out of place complex would not be allowed there. Hence, the fears of this neighbor are unfounded. In point of fact, the proposed development is close to the maximum number of units (43) that current zoning would allow on a flat rectangular plat of this size. But the plat is neither flat nor simply rectangular. Hence, it is clear that even the largest feasible development to construct and provide access, parking etc. there would necessarily be smaller than that theoretical maximum of 43. My guess is that the developer has done his best to propose the most houses that anyone might be able to place on this particular acreage, provided they got all the variances and other concessions he is seeking.
At the present time, this location is part of one stretch of Midland Avenue where pedestrians and automobile passengers can enjoy views of Red Mountain. If City Council were to approve this project, the resulting long lines of three story buildings (one line above the other) would greatly obscure those views. Moreover, this tightly packed, “slot house” design is already being deemed quite ugly in it’s own right in some other residential neighborhoods in Colorado (see “Concessions to slow row homes”, Denver Post, 8/15/16). And have I mentioned that these unlovely long double rows would also cut off the last best wildlife passageway from Red Mountain to the Roaring Fork River? (Yes, of course. I know I have.) Who cares, you might ask? Well, many locals as well as many tourists, to mention maybe only a few thousand people. And then, of course, there are the other animals themselves….
This project will add more than two acres of impermeable surface area to this ~five acre plot. The storm water runoff from these roofs and streets will not always be handled by the proposed inadequate water retention system. Instead, as the developer’s own drawings show, it will flow through existing residential properties into the Roaring Fork River. That will not only be a problem for the owners of these existing properties, it may also pose some pollution problems for the fish in the Roaring Fork River. Consequently, if you approve this project, the Environmental Protection Agency almost certainly needs to take a look at this project before it gets built. And how is such an EPA review going to turn out? For that matter, when is it going to occur, and is the developer ready to pay for the costs of such a review?
The developer appears to be willing to take some risks. First of all, he wants to begin construction next summer. That’s right about when traffic in the city, including on Midland Avenue, will be most seriously impacted as a result of the construction of the Grand Avenue replacement bridge. Also, does anyone know for sure when the construction of the new retirement complex on Midland Avenue adjacent to the 27th street roundabout will be completed? It is also impacting the flow of traffic on Midland Avenue, and (like the Grand Avenue Bridge) could complicate things for the delivery of equipment, supplies, and workers to build Fox Hollow. Second, he says he expects to sell the closely packed slot houses for what sound to me like some rather high prices ranging from about $450,000 to around $650,000. What is the market in Glenwood Springs for such closely packed in your face housing at those prices? Does anyone know? Who can afford those prices who would want to live in such inconveniently located almost apartment-like circumstances, and also pay outrageously high HOA fees for what is likely to be some very expensive snow removal, etc.?
The developer has stated that he can’t afford to put more money into addressing the Planning Commission’s concerns. He has also requested the citizens of Glenwood Springs to partially cover substantial costs of the project; and if we don’t do so, he has noted that HOA fees will make it difficult to sell his properties. If City Council approves this project, you will be gambling that the developer will indeed be able to carry through this project to completion, and that there will be a market for such housing at high prices and with high HOA fees. In one potential scenario, we could see a partly built development sitting for years as a sort of monument to our collective failure. In another, we could see an ugly project with unsafe emergency access completed and occupied via multiple families sharing units in order to afford them. (Luckily for them, the developer is providing twice as many parking spaces as required by code —What does that tell you about his expected marketing plan as well as the potential impacts on traffic?). Given all of this, if the City Council still approves this project and it turns out badly (which I think is more likely than not), I wouldn’t want to be a former or current City Council member explaining over and over again why I voted to approve.
These are just some of the reasons that the far better thing for you to do, dear City Council, is to support the wisdom of the Police, the Firefighters, your Planning Commission and common sense by voting no on this very sketchy and out of place project. Yes, more housing does need to be built, somewhere. But, due to its low walk score, as well as many other factors, this is definitely not the right place in our wonderful town for a housing development of this density. Moreover, this developer is asking for many variances and financial concessions from our city, while simultaneously expecting to sell these units at high prices. I don’t know about you, but this does not seem at all reasonable to me.
For more concerns about this project, please see “Glenwood Springs Can Do So Much Better Than This, With Your Help”. Also, if for some strange reason you remain inclined to approve this project, I strongly recommend that you first read and consider all of the emails and letters that have been sent in to you and to the Planning and Zoning Commission opposing it. The authors of those may well inform your decision far better than I have. Thank you, and thanks for your service to our city.