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At their joint meeting held Monday, November 12th, the Poncha Springs Trustees and the Planning and Zoning Commission considered a recommendation for the Poncha Town Center Major Subdivision’s final plat; concluding the discussion with a recommendation from the P & Z Commission to approve the project. It was the first of two public hearings on two separate development projects, followed by a presentation on a proposed third major project.

The vote was unanimous, to approve Ordinance #2018-9, addressing Phase 1 of the Poncha Town Center development. It will include Poncha Springs’ first grocery store and a True Value hardware store.

The second hearing laid out the vision for what is called the DeAnza Vista Multifamily Site Plan. It is a revamping of a plan originally developed in 2002, with a proposed addition of another building that would have six, one-bedroom apartments. Approving the plan would require a minor zoning amendment. This hearing ended with a recommendation by P & Z to table any motion to approve it until that amendment is in place.

Jeff Post, of the Salida Housing Development Corp., and County Commissioner Dave Potts then made the presentation on the proposed Poncha Apartments, a multi-family affordable housing unit. Post introduced the presentation by pointing out that Salida Housing Development Corp. runs the RiverBend apartments, another low-income housing development in Salida. Citing the demand in Chaffee County for lower-income housing, he said that he had been working with the state to get money for purchase of property in Poncha Springs, and identifying a developer who specializes in low-income housing.

The property in question is a four-acre lot on the southwest corner of County Road 128 and Tomsland Rd, formerly Crane Lane. The parcel is currently owned by Tom Eve and is zoned T-4 (General Urban). While the proposed development was originally a 50-unit project, the revised plan calls for 66 units. The proposed increase in density would require board approval.

“I’m asking for a nod from the town to approve higher-density (development),” said Post: “A head nod of support for increasing (the density) from 50 to 66 units per acre.”

He noted that the higher density would qualify the project for a nine percent tax credit, rather than 4 percent tax credit the lower density would garner, which would make it easier for the project budgeting to work. Post described the development as long-term support housing, targeting homeless families.

In response to questions from Trustees Tina Perri-Mundy and Thomas Moore, Post clarified that Poncha Apartments was intended to be long-term housing, rather than transitional, that they would be rental units, that “homeless” for this group of tenants meant families with no fixed addresses, who might be living in their vehicles or couch-surfing, who made 30 percent, or less, of the area’s average income. He explained that there would be no employment requirement for tenancy in the units, and outlined the vision, which includes space at the development for services such as mental health counseling and on-site childcare for residents.

“It sounds like an institution,” said Moore.

Post replied that it was not an institution, but that HUD (Housing and Urban Development) regulations for this type of low-income housing required that those types of services be available on-site to tenants. “We are talking about real people in our community,” he went on. “These services are intended to help people go out and get a job and become self-sufficient.”

“I work with people who live in campers now,” said Perri-Mundy, “this would be a great opportunity (for them).”

Further discussion among the Trustees and the Planning and Zoning Commission mostly accentuated the positive, although concerns were raised about both the proposed density and the location of the property. The main concern with the location was access, since the existing roads around it are dirt and not particularly close to existing major roads. Mayor Ben Scanga asked, “Can you move the location of the development?”

Commissioner Potts replied: “We would have to re-apply for grants.”

Trustee Dean Edwards, who serves on the county’s Housing Policy Advisory Committee, summed up the discussion by saying that he liked the look of the proposed buildings, and that the density was not a problem for him. “Right now I am leaning positively towards this, because the need (for affordable housing) is there.” He added that he still thought it would be better to move the development further south, closer to CR 120.

Mayor Scanga concurred, saying “I don’t have an issue with the density,” but that the lack of good transportation corridors was a concern for him in the present location. Post promised to return at a later time with updates on the project status.