Fraser’s FroDo a no go " for now
November 25, 2008
Financial challenges associated with a downtown development project in Fraser, Colorado, have put the brakes on town plans, at least for the time-being.
FroDo, Fraser’s downtown improvement project on 1.5 acres of land connected to Zerex, Doc Susie, Eastom and Fraser streets, would need $1 million to $2 million in subsidies to achieve the desired mixed-use plan of residential and commercial affordable units, Mercy Housing Project Developer Erin Ganser informed town officials last Wednesday.
“It will cost more to build it than what it can be sold for under a deed-restricted, affordable housing community,” Ganser said.
A “scaled-down” version of the town’s planned retail construction ” with concrete tilt-up construction ” came in at $100 a square foot, Ganser said. But the character of the buildings at that cost would end up far from what the town had envisioned.
The town aimed for a more architecturally appealing development with neighborhood businesses occupying FroDo’s retail capacity.
Mercy did reconfigure the commercial and residential ratio to increase feasibility, Ganser said, such as excluding office spaces to allow for more retail.
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Ultimately Mercy analyzed the project at 6,000 square feet of commercial and 31, one, two and three bedroom affordable for-sale residential units.
If residential rental units were also to become part of the design to make it work, buildings would need to become four to six stories, Ganser said, which would greatly alter the town’s original vision.
As a guide, Mercy used 2008 housing needs data for what the local market could support, Ganser said.
“It isn’t that there isn’t a demand,” she said. “People do need affordable housing in that area, there’s no question there is a gap of what is available and what is needed. It’s just that the cost of the project far outweighs what we can achieve for revenue on the project.”
Mercy Housing, the potential developing partner with the town of Fraser, is one of the largest affordable housing developers in the country and is the same organization that owns Wapiti Meadows in Fraser, a neighborhood of low-income housing for family, seniors and citizens with special needs.
The town of Fraser bought neglected downtown lots with Highway 40 frontage last spring for $500,000. It is still negotiating with a group of owners of neighboring property to the south to include those parcels as part of the improvement project. Any future development would have to satisfy their investment interests as well, Town Manager Jeff Durbin said.
But town-subsidized development, produced in a conceptual design study by a Boulder architectural firm last fall, has not made the town’s list of 2009 budget necessities.
“Right now, looking at the budget for 2009, that’s a tough nut to crack,” Durbin said Monday.
“To subsidize a project right now would not be a wise thing to do … The bottom line is we can’t move this thing very quickly, the timing is pretty rotten right now.
“Granted, in a tough economy, affordable housing is even more important. But overall, tight finances makes it harder to do,” he added.
But the town is far from giving up, Durbin said.
“It is still an important piece to the development of the town,” he said.
There are other ways that need to be explored, he said. The town could closely guide market-rate development, or it could aggressively pursue other developing and funding partners.
According to Ganser, the small town was right to purchase the property for a center that could boost the local economy, but agrees timing is less than ideal.
Right now competition is fierce for federal and state affordable housing grants right at a time when agencies are scaling back.
So for now, according to Durbin, the town plans to utilize the property in other, more affordable ways.
The lots may be the perfect site for summertime arts and craft fairs, a farmer’s market or other community activities, Durbin said.
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