If you build it
City Council approves latest project on Boker Lumber lot
The fourth time might be the charm for the old Boker Lumber lot east of downtown Durango. For almost nine years, the property has sat vacant with development ideas ranging from student housing to single-family homes, from apartments to townhomes.
No matter the proposal, though, developers and landowners have been consistently turned down by City Councils and concerned neighbors. Until last night.
The latest plan, which consists of seven duplexes and four single-family homes, squeaked by the current Durango City Council on a 3-2 vote. Councilors Dean Brookie and Sweetie Marbury voted against the project, while Chris Bettin, Melissa Youssef and Mayor Dick White all voted for it.
“I think it’s been tainted by projects in the past,” developer Brad Ash, of Reynolds, Ash and Associates, an architecture and engineering firm, explained.
Other plans over the years have included high-density buildings with 88 apartments and under-ground parking, and 40-plus apartment buildings without any parking – all designed to fit on less than half of the property’s 5-plus total acres.
Ash said the 18-unit development, called Creekside, approved Tuesday night really is a pocket neighborhood similar to the surrounding area and will blend in nicely.
“I think the neighborhood has just seen a lot of challenging projects,” Ash said. “Naturally, they’re going to start to defend (it).”
Construction is still contingent, though, on one sticking point for the landowner, Steve Cadwallader from Michigan. It’s over what’s being called the “upper bench.”
The entire property is divided by both natural features and land-use designation.
The “lower bench” is the concrete pad off College Drive where the old Boker Lumber business was located, and it has a Mixed-Use designation. Then there’s a steep slope heading to the “upper bench,” which is a flat spot on the hill above. It has a rural/agricultural designation.
The lower bench is where building for this latest proposal would take place. The upper bench not only isn’t zoned for development, but is not ready for it. There’s no access from nearby roadways, no utilities – and adding all that in wouldn’t be worth the cost. That may not always be the case, though.
Because things could change and make future development possible, Cadwallader wanted the city to leave the door open for development on the upper bench.
But the city isn’t willing to do that. “This idea about a reservation of something that’s unknown in the future is something we’ve never dealt with, quite frankly, in any of the projects I’ve been dealing with as long as I’ve been with the city,” Craig Roser, city and Durango’s staff liaison for the
project, said during Tuesday night’s council meeting.
Roser, who’s been with the city for decades, said Cadwallader’s lawyers sent city staff options for how it could be handled based on state statutes. But staff still did not support the idea.
Tracy Reynolds, who co-owns Reynolds, Ash, and Associates with Brad Ash, said even if the door was left open for construction on the upper bench, they would still need to get City Council’s approval on several items, including the creation of a subdivision, planning concepts and changing the land-use designation from rural/agricultural.
“There are so many safeguards in place,” he said at the meeting. “Things would have to come to you multiple times. I feel like it’s just throwing a bone to Steve so we can proceed right now with no future downside at all.”
In the end, City Council decided not to support the idea of leaving development options open for the upper shelf. Once half the units are sold on the land, Cadwallader loses the right to develop the upper shelf and hillside, which will instead become open space controlled by the Homeowner’s Association.
Although everyone agreed the city needs additional housing – and projects like Creekside would certainly fill some of those needs – disagreements arose when it came to the design of the project.
In a marathon four-hour meeting, council members and neighbors raised concerns with how the new development would increase traffic, how stormwater would be handled when it rushes down the steep hillside, and the visual impact it would have on its neighbors, who aren’t keen on turning their back yards into fishbowls.
One aspect of the design became a point of contention for both officials and neighbors – the slope of the driveway.
The Creekside development has two entry points: one on College Drive, which would allow only right-in and right-out turns, and one at the intersection of E. 9th Avenue and E. 5th Street. The entrance/exit at 9th and 5th would have a 12 percent slope, which exceeds the city’s 10 percent limit.
Neighbors felt the 12-percent slope would mean a safety issue in the winter months – for which a proposed solution was to require a sand and salt bucket.
Councilor Dean Brookie agreed with safety concerns. “All of a sudden we’re opening up a huge can of worms,” he said. “For the public to know that we’re allowing this to move forward because there’s a sand bucket option is just ludicrous.”
Because building any housing on the lot would have a significant impact on the roadways near the intersection of 8th and College – an already high-traffic area – Creekside’s developers opted to take their conceptual plans to the city’s Planning Commission and City Council, even though is wasn’t required.
The land-use designation of the site – Mixed-Use Neighborhood – allows for development with a limited number of units, which the current plan falls under. However, the developers chose to come to the city and open it up to the public anyway.
Ash said throughout the process, Reynolds has been in contact with the neighbors. “He took a lot of personal time and walked the property with the neighbors, responded directly to neighbors. Not everything went through city staff,” he explained.
Whether it involved additional traffic studies or personally addressing concerns about soil stability on the hillside, Ash said they did their due diligence and went the extra mile to address concerns.
“You can’t make them all happy (but) we did our best,” he added.
If Cadwallader decides to move forward with construction – and Ash said they’re pretty confident he will – they could start breaking ground right away. Once the initial infrastructure needs are addressed, half the units could be built this year and sold just as fast.
“We imagine it filling up pretty quick,” Ash said.