Willows project shifts to condos to town leaders’ dismay

A rendering of a planned building in the Willows in Grand Park. On Wednesday, Grand Park's developer told Fraser the planned apartment project is changing to condos for financial reasons.
Grand Park presentation / WebEx screenshot

News that a planned 204-unit apartment complex in Grand Park will actually be built as condominiums has further delayed approval for the project.

On Wednesday, the Fraser Town Board voted to continue discussions on a final development plan and preliminary plat for the Willows in Grand Park after developer Clark Lipscomb shared that the project’s plans had changed.

The Willows were originally designed as a market-rate apartment complex, financed in part by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, Lipscomb said on Wednesday that even with those funds, the project would not be financially feasible as apartments.

“It’s unfortunate and it’s frustrating,” he said. “(There’s been) about a 50% cost increase from April to last Thursday. The product will be a for-sale product because it’s not feasible for HUD and it’s not feasible for anybody with the numbers we just got.”

The board appeared ready to approve the preliminary plat for the apartments after Lipscomb resubmitted designs addressing concerns raised by town staff during a planning commission meeting last week.

The plat the planning commission reviewed on Oct. 27 included areas of Cozens Meadow and markers for future development that staff felt were inappropriate, especially considering the town’s ongoing litigation regarding a conservation easement over the meadow.

Last year, Grand Park submitted a conservation easement for Elk Creek Meadow, which declared the development met all of its easement requirements. However, Fraser officials disagreed, said the agreement wasn’t approved by the town attorney and then declared the easement null and void.

Earlier this year, the town stopped processing Grand Park’s entitlements in an effort to get an easement for the whole of Cozens Meadow. This prompted Lipscomb to sue Fraser, claiming the decision to pause entitlements was costing him millions.

The town argues the Grand Park annexation agreement and final development plan require an easement on Cozens Meadow, while Lipscomb claims the meadow’s status as open space fulfills the development’s requirements.

In September, a judge ruled that Fraser must resume processing Grand Park’s entitlements but didn’t rule on the future of the meadow.

At the Oct. 27 planning commission meeting, commissioners were split on the project, saying it’s needed for the community but also wanting to protect Cozens Meadow and a potential easement. Ultimately, the commission voted to pass the Willows plat on to the town board with no recommendation to approve or deny the project.

Between the planning commission meeting and the town board meeting, Lipscomb resubmitted the preliminary plat, addressing the concerns about the Cozens Meadow and future development areas by removing them from the plan.

Two other points raised by staff at the Oct. 27 meeting regarding dedication of a right-of-way on Old Victory Road and constructing a sewer crossing were made conditions of approval on the resubmitted preliminary plat.

“Some of the technical issues that we talked about with the planning commission briefing on the final plan have been corrected,” Town Planner Catherine Trotter said.

That recommendation changed after hearing the updated plan for the Willows. Fraser’s attorney Kent Whitmer cautioned the board about approving the plat with the change.

“This whole application and review process has been geared toward an apartment project, and I don’t know without doing some research in the code whether that changes the complexion of how this would be viewed by staff,” Whitmer said.

Since both condos and apartments fall under multifamily zoning requirements, Lipscomb believes the plat can be approved as is.

“It doesn’t change what we’re doing. The zoning is the same. The entitlements are the same. There’s no classification differential,” he said.

While acknowledging the realities of building costs and the developer’s entitlement to develop the area, multiple board members expressed their dismay with the change.

Further discussion on the Willows final development plan and preliminary plat is scheduled for the Nov. 17 town board meeting.

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