Bobcat Ridge affordable homes face steeplechase

John Scarffe

Representatives of a planned affordable housing development at Bobcat Ridge, west of Nederland, presented preliminary plans for the development during a meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 3, 2017, at the Nederland Community Center. About 30 people attended the meeting and asked numerous questions.

All three presenters, Kayla Evans, Michael Ackerman and Henry Zurbrugg, are Nederland residents and have been involved in the Bobcat Ridge project for some time. Evans started working on this project four-and-half years ago and said they have a lot to get accomplished. “It’s kind of like a steeplechase.”

Evans’ family has Arapaho Ranch west of Nederland, she said, and, when the Boulder Valley School District located the Nederland Middle/Senior High School on the ranch, it cut off the far southeast corner of the property. Her family has a conservation lease with Colorado Open Lands in perpetuity, so they can’t develop it, but the Bobcat Ridge area is not part of the lease and can be developed. When the project was first brought to the Nederland Board of Trustees, it was called Aspen Trails.

Evans is chairperson of Mountain Housing Assistance (MHA) as part of the Bobcat Ridge project. For its housing, the organization can provide a local priority preference system, unlike an institutional developer and can still accept Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 rent subsidies and other vouchers, according to the MHA website.

Kayla began talking to Nederland Residents Carol Handler and Dawn Baumhover and realized the Nederland housing market was going crazy because of marijuana legalization and many other elements. “We are in a bowl, and the only way to expand is to annex this property close to Nederland through Boulder County and build affordable housing there,” Evans said.

Evans has been working with people who care about the community and the project. Potential builder, Zurbrugg, has been on the Nederland Fire Board and has served as chairman. He is a builder and is experienced with multi-family and retail projects. He has been involved in the Bobcat Ridge project for about a year.

Ackerman ran real estate firms in Boulder and developed some government services. He heard that Nederland was looking for a consultant and became involved in the Bobcat Ridge project a couple of years ago.

The Bobcat Ridge boundary is the town boundary, so in most situations this would be an easy annexation, Ackerman said. It would be off the road to Eldora, just passed the Middle/Senior High School.

The buildings will be visible to the right, but a big hillside screens a lot of the view from up the valley, Ackerman said.

According to the MHA website, the Bobcat Ridge model would be built into the hillside valley with 45 units total and 30 apartment units, one to four bedrooms, and 15 townhome units with one to two bed rooms each. The buildings would feature mining period architecture to reflect Nederland’s unique history, based on the idea of a mine camp or mineral processing plant repurposed.

Rent prices would be equal to 30 percent of a renter’s Area Medium Income (AMI). One bedroom apartments would cost between $533 per month up to $1,067 per month. Two bedroom units would cost from $640 to $1,281 per month. Three bedroom apartments would run between $986 and $1,479, according to the presentation.

Each of the two buildings would be three levels with the first level built into the hill. The strengths of Bobcat Ridge would include minimal visual impact and site disturbance, fitting into the existing terrain. The buildings would maximize cost per square foot and minimize rent requirements, according to the website.

The units would feature walk-onto-grade earthen roofs used for food production, energy collection, social and dining spaces and outdoor playgrounds. The plan is inexpensive enough that it may also allow installing an additional 3,600 square foot Nederland Nature Center with a 500,000 gallon water tank foundation.

Bobcat Ridge would be completed in three phases. The first phase would be the construction of a building with 15 rental units. Four years later, during phase two, the second building of 15 units would be constructed, Ackerman said.

“We are trying to provide maximum help to the most people. We will let that sit for four years and then put in another 18 units, a mixture of rentals and buying opportunities, for a total for 48 units, Ackerman said.

Phase three is an important part of the plan, Ackerman said, the water tank on the hill used for a nature building. An investor will provide $1.5 million for that building.

The water tank would provide natural pressure and would be an asset in case of fire.

The 17-acre property would have two buildings, so the density is good, Ackerman said. The enhanced natural trail system would go to the school and would be safe for students.

“We want people up here to experience mountain life. A trail system would be right next door. People spend two to four years with us and then go on to be productive members of our society and own their own homes.”

One objection came from a biologist who said the area was a wildlife corridor. Ackerman has done research and can’t find evidence of a corridor. “Our concern is for the wildlife also. This is all designed to be on half the property, so half the area is still open for wildlife.”

Ackerman said that in 2013, after meeting with then Town Administrator Alisha Reis, he was asked if he was interested in developing affordable housing in Nederland. A community group was organized that still meets. This core group began meeting monthly to discuss the lack of affordable housing in Nederland and its surrounding area.

MHA principals then began considering several local sites, including a 17-acre tract, part of the 650-acre Arapaho Ranch. The site was identified and nominated by the Town as the most viable site to provide affordable housing in the area. The site had to jump major hurdles, however, to be annexed into the Town, due to an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA).

On March 7, 2002, Nederland and Boulder County entered into an IGA for the Nederland Area Boulder County Comprehensive Development Plan. The plan ensures that the unique and individual character of Nederland is preserved and recognizes that annexed and developed areas approved by Nederland are for the preservation of the rural character of surrounding lands within the plan area, according to the IGA.

“The prohibition of rezoning or other discretionary land use approvals by Boulder County and of annexation or development of certain lands within the Plan area by Nederland is intended to preclude unplanned development and urban sprawl which, if permitted in the unincorporated area, requires the provision of urban services by Boulder County, in contravention of provisions of the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan,” according to the IGA.

Designating a portion of the plan area as rural preserves a community buffer that serves the economic and civic interests of their citizens and meets the goals of the County comprehensive plan, according to the IGA. The IGA defines the Plan Area as the Nederland Town Limits and the Rural Preservation Area, which begins at the edge of the town limits, extending west to the Continental Divide, south to the Gilpin County line, north of Sugar Loaf Road and east to Boulder Falls. It also includes the Eldora Townsite.

“The Town agrees it will not initiate nor approve any annexation of any Rural Preservation Area lands unless such annexation is referred for recommendation to the Boulder County Planning Commission, approved by the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners, referred by recommendation by the Nederland Planning Commission, approved by the Nederland Board of Trustees, and approved at an election of the qualified electors of the Town of Nederland, with the applicant for any such annexation to bear all costs and fees associated with such election,” according to the IGA.

In January 2014, the Evans Annexation petition was submitted to the Town of Nederland. The annexation was approved by the Board of Trustees, but they needed one more hearing and, provided the zoning board was onboard, the Trustees would approve, Evans said. The Nederland Board referred it to the Boulder County Board and then to the Planning Commission. The Nederland Trustees said it had to go to a vote of the people in Nederland.

In September 2014, MHA Principals first met with representatives of the Boulder County Housing and Human Services Housing Division to introduce the project. “On December 16, 2014, Boulder County held a Public Hearing for annexation. At the hearing, the County Commissioners indicated support of the project, but also stated that, per the code requirements for annexation, the application materials were incomplete, and they placed the project on hold pending delivery of these materials.”

According to Boulder County Planning Commission documents for the Proposed Amendment to the Nederland Area Boulder County Comprehensive Development Plan: Evans Annexation, the Planning Commission reviewed the proposed amendment and recommended a denial to the Board of County Commissioners.

The review regarded annexation of a 17-acre portion of the Evans Property, aka Aspen Trails, at 365 Eldora Road, property owners Kayla Evans, Joseph Evans and Tamara Ann Holmbe. “Annexation proposals, with very limited exceptions, constitute an amendment to the IGA. Both procedures require that the county Planning Commission review the proposals and forward a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners” according to the Planning Commission summary. “The Land Use Department is recommending denial of the IGA.”

“The county commitment to the preservation of the rural character within the Rural Preservation Area (RPA) included precluding rezoning or other discretionary land use approvals which would be contrary to that designation. In other words, ‘No density increase beyond the limits currently permissible under the Boulder County Land Use Code shall be approved for any parcel in the Rural Preservation Area,’” stated the Planning Commission.

“It needs to be noted here that the Nederland Planning Commission received the Board of Trustees’ resolution to initiate annexation proceedings for the annexation proposal in February of 2014. The Planning Commission subsequently scheduled and held a public hearing on the proposal on February 26th. Fourteen people spoke during public testimony.

“After deliberation, the Planning Commission recommended by a vote of four to one that ‘…the Board of Trustees deny consideration of annexation of the 17-acre parcel at 1250 Eldora Road on the basis that the Comprehensive Plan didn’t include annexation of the property, and the Plan is in favor of focusing infill in the town core area.

“The Town Board of Trustees held a public hearing on the matter March 18. At that time, the Trustees continued the hearing to May 6th, 2014 ‘…to permit the collection of additional evidence the Board deemed relevant to the proposed annexation, including Housing Needs Assessment;’”

“This assessment had been requested by Boulder County in conversations with Nederland staff. Extensions to the hearing continuation were granted two more times over the summer and early fall of 2014 as the Housing Assessment proceeded, ending with a hearing on October 7th after the Assessment was completed and presented,” according to the Planning Commission.

The full Assessment, conducted by Bowen National Research (BNR), concluded that a significant shortage of rental opportunities existed within Nederland and the region for those with incomes of less than $60,000 a year and especially for those earning under $30,000 a year. “Their conclusion was that the regional needs would support an additional 210 rental units in the $750 to $1,500 per month range with the vast majority (172) being in the $750 range.

“BNR also concluded that opportunities for improving the lower income housing market inventory did exist within the Town of Nederland (vacant land, upgrades/redevelopment of existing dwellings), and that development of the Evans parcel under consideration for annexation be kept to 40 units or less, two-thirds of which ought to be in the $750 range,” according to the Planning Commission.

The Commission received 20 comments for support of the annexation and 20 comments in opposition to annexation, according to the Planning Commission. Boulder County staff thinks it is evident that both opponents and supporters of the annexation are at odds more over the location and the requirement that the site be annexed than they are over the development itself, principally the real needs and reasons to increase affordable and senior housing.

While county staff have also looked at the specifics of the concept plan and the site, their primary attention has been discerning whether the proposed annexation is in harmony and compatible with the intent of the Boulder County and Nederland comprehensive plans, according to the Planning Commission.

“Our conclusion is that it does not. The IGA is quite explicit in describing the larger benefits to be gained by maintaining a unique, compact community in a surrounding environment where competing or inappropriate development would not be allowed to occur without the consent of the Town, the county, and residents. . .The county is very aware of the housing needs and aspirations described by the plan, the assessment conducted by Bowen National Research, and indeed by the designers of the Aspen Trails concept plan.”

During their presentation, Bobcat Ridge representatives said than on May 20, 2016, Evans, on behalf of her family, sold the 17-acre site to MHA for $1, and in June, MHA submitted the Bobcat Ridge project to the Colorado Housing and Finance Administration (CHFA) for consideration, seeking Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits for the financing of its first phase.

Ackerman said there came a point when the technical aspect of development became important, because they were competing for tax credits. If you have tax credits, funds from the project are not taxable from the federal government. Zurbrugg said the bottom line is that a development could not afford to build without tax credits.

Zurbrugg said that it’s easy to see that it’s somewhat unlikely they would award tax credits to two applicants in Nederland in the same year. Before the meeting started, Zurbrugg said that both the Bobcat proposal and a BCHA proposal for affordable housing near the Calvary Chapel would be applying for a CHFA tax credits. If BCHA gets awarded the credits, Bobcat wouldn’t be able to continue.

The next step is for supporters of the project to talk to Nederland Trustees and staff, Ackerman said. Ask town government why the project was stalled and tell them it’s not too late and you’d like to support a Nederland community.

“We want to create our own set of rules, and we’re able to do that, but BCHA isn’t. We can create a local priority preference system. We can negotiate an exemption to the IGA,” Ackerman said. “Anything we want to do to expand Nederland has to go through Boulder County.”

They could renegotiate the IGA with the County. It’s necessary for annexation, or they need an exemption for annexation. “We want help in tax relief, and we’re offering consideration and shares in the entity so the town has a share of that for the future,” Ackerman said.

Zurbrugg pounted out that the County and Town want to renegotiate the IGA. “We need annexation and we need an exemption to the IGA. Boulder would have to agree to the exemption, but that would be giving hypothetical value and getting nothing in return.”

Ackerman said: “I’m proposing we suggest to the County they annex the ski area. We would prefer for an annexation exemption, and we have the perfect property. We had 135 points out of 160, and Boulder wouldn’t do it because they are in competition. We feel more strongly than ever that private development is going to be better than anything the government can do.”

Zurbrugg said that if they should be successful getting tax credits it would take a year to finish construction — a two-year process before units could be available.

Ackerman said they will make the presentation available on their website and Facebook. For more information, go to the Mountain Housing Assistance Trust Facebook page.