Critical workforce housing project denied variance
On the same day a crucial workforce housing project in Winter Park suffered a setback, four residents requested the town add them to the waitlist for affordable units.
On April 13, the town board of adjustments denied a height variance for the Fireside Creek project, which aimed to bring 66 income-restricted units to the Kings Crossing and Silverado II area. Without the height variance, the project will likely have to shrink by at least 16 units.
“The denial of the height variance forces (the developer) to go back and redesign the buildings, removing the top floor of apartments,” Town Manager Keith Riesberg said.
On Tuesday, town council expressed disappointment with the decision, noting the demand for affordable housing.
“When there’s a group of property owners that don’t understand the needs of the community and the feasibility of these projects and how they’re structured, then we need to do a better job telling our story,” Mayor Nick Kutrumbos said.
The height variance requested an additional 10 feet on three of four proposed buildings, which would make their total height 45.6 feet. The board of adjustments, which is composed of five members from the planning commission, voted 4-1 to deny the variance.
During the meeting, board members heard a number of concerns from neighbors about the project obstructing views and not fitting the character of the area. Other concerns included the density, location and traffic.
Over 130 residents of three surrounding neighborhoods — the Wolf Park Townhomes, Silverado II and Kings Crossing Place Townhomes — signed a petition against the variance. The petition also requested the project density be reduced, parking be increased and open space be preserved.
“We opposed this project, which did not conform to multiple aspects of the town’s zoning code and landscaping code,” said Roger Hankey, a Silverado II resident. “We hope that a not-for-profit developer can be found to develop workforce housing on the Fireside Creek site or elsewhere that will conform with all of the town’s regulations.”
Board chair Brad Holzwarth said a majority of board members felt the height variance was not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood, noting the project would fit the area better at three stories.
“If that extra story is allowed in that district, by changing that, would we be changing the character of the neighborhood? I’d have to say yes,” Holzwarth said.
According to Riesberg, developers are working on adjustments to the project in the hopes that construction can still start this summer. Based on discussions, the adjustments will likely require more financial input from the town to make the project viable.
Previously, the town’s discussed contribution included conveying the land at a low cost, waiving development fees totaling less than $200,000, as well as contributing water and sewer taps.
“We anticipate a gap in their financing from what the revenues will produce versus what the project will cost to build and operate,” Riesberg said. “So we anticipate they will come back to the town to identify ways we can close that delta.”
The project will also need a parking variance because the space needed to fit the appropriate number of parking spots covers more of the lot than is allowed by town code.
Per the development agreement, units can’t be rented out for more than 120% of the area median income and require at least one person on the lease who works 32 hours per week in Grand County. In Grand County, the AMI was $55,200 for one person in 2020.
Fireside units have a minimum of a six month lease, which can’t be subleased or put on the short-term rental market. The developer, Winter Park Partners, will own and operate the building, but the deed restrictions are on the units in perpetuity.
Despite the setback from the denied variance, Winter Park’s council was eager to continue moving the project forward.
“I really think it’s important that the seven of us come up with a solution, whether that’s a change in how we do housing or zoning requirements for town sponsored projects,” council member Jeremy Henn said. “Having the board basically derail something like this, that the town needs and the voters wanted, is really frustrating.”
There are around 450 people on the town’s waitlist for affordable housing and it continues to grow on a daily basis, Assistant Town Manager Alisha Janes said.
Riesberg added that local businesses have recently shared how challenging it has become to maintain employees without housing options.
“One business made a comment that they’ve operated here in the valley for 15 years and never had to close due to labor shortages until this year,” Riesberg said. “I think we’re going to hear more about just how critical the need is for workforce housing in order to operate our basic services in the community.”
Council plans to discuss the Fireside Creek development again at the May 4 meeting.
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