By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent

Carbondale’s trustees on Tuesday night formally joined into a public-private partnership this week with an organization planning to build a 30-unit apartment building in the Dolores Way neighborhood in northwest Carbondale, which is intended to help fill the region’s need for affordable rental housing.

As part of the deal to create the Red Hill Lofts project, the town’s board of trustees agreed to kick in more than $109,000 to the cost of the project — $50,000 in cash, and more than that in the waiver of fees that normally would be assessed against the development.

The project is being proposed by a  private, non-profit group called Aspen/Pitkin Employee Housing, Inc. (APEHI), which has an approximate 40-year history of building and managing affordable housing projects in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Local attorney Tim Whitsitt, who serves on the board of APEHI, told the trustees that the entire deal depends on whether his group receives financial assistance in the form of low-income housing tax credits from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA).

If that assistance is granted, possibly as early as September, Whitsitt told the board, the project could break ground this year and be ready for occupancy in 2020.

If the CHFA assistance does not come through, said Whitsitt, the town’s commitments to the project would be considered “null” until APEHI comes up with another financing plan and reapplies for approval of the project.

Whitsitt also said the APEHI group expects to build the apartments for approximately $4 million, including the $800,000 cost of the land.

The Dolores Way neighborhood, which sits between the unincorporated residential community of Satank and Highway 133 (and is sometimes referred to as Napa Valley due to the presence of a Napa Auto Parts store), is home to numerous light-industrial businesses and multi-family housing complexes.

Residents of the area came out in force last year to attend meetings about the proposal, known as the Red Hill Lofts. Many were opposed to it, mainly over traffic concerns.

The neighborhood, including the much criticized Dolores Way/Highway 133 intersection, was created when the street was built decades ago as an alternate access route to Satank, when County Road 106 through the Colorado Rocky Mountain School was closed to through traffic over safety issues.

Ever since then, the street and the increasingly dense neighborhood have been the subject of criticism from neighbors worried about traffic congestion, noise and other consequences of increased density.

But APEHI representatives and town officials concluded that the traffic congestion should not be viewed as the fault of the proposed housing project, and should be addressed separately by town and state highway experts.

Some of the trustees expressed concerns about whether the project is sufficiently focused on Carbondale employees, since it would be managed both by APEHI and by the Garfield County Housing Authority, and the Garfield County housing guidelines do not prioritize Carbondale area residents and workers when considering applications for housing.

Whitsitt, who admitted he did not know the details of the county’s housing guidelines, indicated that local workers and current residents would get as much of a priority as was possible while still following the guidelines.

He said APEHI expected to follow the county’s rules, and “under those rules, it’s essentially first-come, first-served.”

When asked about the fee waivers and the cash contribution, Town Manager Jay Harrington told the board that the $50,000 was intended to help defray construction costs, but also could go toward water-tap fees.

The fee waivers for the project — $400 in application fees, an estimated $23,900 in building permit and plan-check fees, and approximately $32,250 in park-development and park-dedication fees — are all “straight out of the UDC,” the town’s Unified Development Code that outlines the give and take between prospective developers and the town government, Harrington explained.

Regarding concerns about giving Carbondale residents and employees more priority for units in the project, Harrington reminded the board that while the county’s guidelines do not have any such priority framework, occupants all must meet income and other regulatory benchmarks in order to qualify.

“The point being, there’s huge demand in this market,” Harrington said, predicting that the apartments will quickly be assigned to appropriate, qualified renters.

After several trustees said they were in support of moving forward with the deal, Trustee Luis Yllanes moved, with a second from Trustee Lani Kitching, to adopt the agreement with APHEI, and the motion passed unanimously.

In other action, the trustees:

  • Approved a liquor license for a fundraising event for the Roaring Fork Pickleball Association, to be held June 29 at the Third Street Center from 5-8 p.m.;
  • Agreed to donate a “retired” 2004 Dodge Durango police vehicle, with more than 121,000 miles on the odometer, to the Spring Valley Police Academy, a program at Colorado Mountain College that the Carbondale police department uses frequently for police training needs.