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The Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) received a presentation from the City of Salida during its work session this week that came down to a request for $1 million in infrastructure funding to allow the city to proceed with the development of the South Ark Neighborhood area.

“We are asking you all today for the financial commitment toward this project in partnership towards getting it done — to find the best possible solutions to this housing crisis in the county,” ” said Salida Community Development Director Bill Almquist.

Almquist outlined the overarching goal for the development of the South Ark Neighborhood area, formerly known as the Vanderveer Ranch. It would include 400 housing units of workforce housing; with 200 of those units envisioned to be designated as deed-restricted (permanently affordable) affordable workforce housing.

The city is planning to apply for Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grants for the development, and in coming to the county, is looking for match partners to bolster the grant requests.

The 2022 Chaffee County Housing Needs Assessment, the first one since the 2016 Housing Needs Assessment that painted a stark picture of how far behind Chaffee County was at that time in addressing its workforce housing situation, reveals that the county is not making much progress.

“We need another 1,100 units in the county,” said Almquist speaking about the county’s need. “We are already behind this. Almost 700 of those 1,100 new units (or about two-thirds) are needed as rental, and a third needed as for-sale units.”

History Preceding the Plan Known as the “South Ark Neighborhood”

The parcel behind the discussion has been the subject of intense public interest, and often anxiety, for years. The Vanderveer Ranch was purchased by the city in 2004. It was spun off to be managed by a nonprofit created by the city, known as the Natural Resource Development Corporation (NRDC).

Between 2016 and 2018, it was the subject of development including a portion of the ranch on the north side of U.S. 50 developed as the Forest Service headquarters and leased to them. However the development created debt on the remaining parcel. After nearly losing it to some “fire sale” development schemes, a new slate of NRDC board members managed to sell just enough at market rates to hold on to a nearly 100-acre parcel, at the same time paying off the debt and delivered a nearly 100-acre parcel to the city of Salida, debt-free.

Master Planning an Affordable Community

Over the past couple of years, the city has held multiple public input sessions and set about the development of a master plan for the 93-acre parcel. It consolidates the neighborhood to the southwest corner of the parcel while protecting the east, north, and south sides for open space and recreation purposes.

Planners have had a challenge given the topography of the land. The parcel includes a natural spring running through the middle of the area, there are wetlands, and it also adjoins the South Arkansas River. “A gullywash  on the far southeast side of the site ruled out a lot of areas for development,” said Almquist, “So we’re turning [that section] into a regional park.”

The plan would break development into sections with Phase I including the first phases of housing, including housing diversity in various subzones, and rules preventing short-term rental activity.

“We see an opportunity for a small level of commercial out there- properties just to the east and south of CR 104. It is set for mixed use-commercial out there which is a good use,” said Almquist. There will be very little if any commercial use in the neighborhood itself.”

He pointed out that the site includes two county roads: “Right now – there is no connection between CR 107 and CR 104…. that initial connector is anticipated and would be paved in Phase 1. The rest would remain more of a county road – a dirt road until the later phases of development.”

The BoCC had several questions, asking Almquist about the portion of the units that would be reserved for the local workforce, and household income requirements.

“Some 50 percent will be affordable to the workforce, the other 50 percent at market rate,” he answered. This piece is confusing for folks and a bit contentious. But the piece that can’t be ignored is that half the units need to be at market rate to pay for the other 50 percent that are below market. Housing is expensive. There needs to be a financial viability for the city to get the fixed rate housing paid for.” He added, “For there to be significant affordable housing, there has to be free land to whoever is going to develop it, as well as the infrastructure.”

Right now this land has no water, no sewer, no power, and no roads other than existing county roads. The city is asking for collaboration. “If we can get the infrastructure in, we can then keep the affordability of the housing down. We know we need rentals and for-sale units targeted at various household income levels to meet the housing needs assessment and to meet the state’s grant requirements,” explained Almquist. He added that the range of housing prices as envisioned could also begin to address “the missing middle”.

Infrastructure Investment

When asked, Almquist said the cost of infrastructure for the entire development is estimated to be $15 million, broken out in phases:

Phase I  — 200 units; the estimated cost is around $7.1 million, as a baseline: roadways, water lines, sewer lines, and electric that would make each of those lots developable. The other initial cost will be the stormwater drainage/greenway to come off the intersection of CR 107 to carry storm waters off the alluvial fan at the base of Methodist Mountain.

Phase II  — would focus on higher density in the middle of the site and include a higher number of rentals

Phase II — completes the development to the north with medium density.

The city’s ask of the BOCC

The City of Salida is asking for a financial commitment of up to $1 million in the South Ark Neighborhood. Salida itself will put in a minimum of $1.25 million for infrastructure.

“We would like to add up to $1M from CMC (the city is presenting to the CMC board next week) and we hope this will get us a grant from both these sources and Strong Communities,” said Almquist. “We can do applications up to $4 million, plus we’re looking at a grant from More Housing Now and the EIF fund.”

The benefits to the county, as laid out by the City of Salida, include:

  • Emergency access between CR 107 and 104 —  important for long-term flood control and wildfire management planning
  • Affordable housing – this is the city of Salida’s best effort to address that housing need
  • Potential for the county to recoup some of these infrastructure commitments during the later phases of development; later developers could be asked to pay into the proportionate cost of the initial infrastructure partnership ( described as “back of the envelope” calculations that might cut the $1 million ask in half).. the $1 million might turn into half of that.

Almquist noted “Once we have 100 units then we would take over the maintenance on that stretch, and once we have 200 units, or when 50 percent of the properties there are annexed into the city, we take over more.”

Among the BoCC concerns were traffic analysis, what “maintenance on CR 107” means, and whether the city has assessed the bridge.

“The traffic on the county roads now is county traffic,” said P.T. Wood, who wondered out loud about how much it would grow from residents, as well as the creation of a regional park and suggested that traffic assessments should include what this will look like in 15 to 20 years.

“The challenge is to keep deed-restricted units as permanently affordable,” said Planning Director Miles Cottom.

“So when are you expecting a $1 million check?” asked Wood bluntly. He didn’t get an exact answer, only a reminder that the city has a big Fire House construction project going on that limits its borrowing capacity, and was reminded that in that respect, the county does too.

Commissioner Keith Baker reminded the group that “Right now we’re dealing with Poncha Springs with a legacy of questionable  agreements from 20 years ago.”

Commissioner Greg Felt asked about the project language that “says it includes seniors – you meant retirees?”

Almquist noted that the city has talked with the “Places to Age” project leaders, and responded that it is inclusive language to define the target audience.”It’s age-oriented — people over age 60 who have worked four years in the past 10 for a Chaffee County employer or lived here for 10 years. It’s built into the inclusionary housing definition.”

“This next cohort of people entering retirement age, a huge percent won’t be able to retire,” responded Felt. “There’s a big demographic wave heading our way. It concerns me, it’s hard to prioritize that need as high as our actual workforce. I’m concerned about us getting spread too thin from the number one priority.”

Cottom noted that the topic is on the BoCC regular meeting agenda for December 12.

“Right now we’re looking for agreement in principle,” said Almquist.

“I like the concept in general, it’s if we can actually come up with that money,” said Wood.

“We need a list of what is required, all the agreements, and to collect our additional questions,” said Baker.

“We could draft a letter of intent from the county, and include what else needs to be done,” concluded County Attorney Daniel Tom.