West End Village passes first test

— After Chuck Donley of the Orton Family Foundation gave a virtual-reality presentation of what it would be like to walk through the West End Village project, or to fly over it in an airplane, or to drive by it on U.S. 40 at 40 mph in a red convertible, the excitement in the room grew palpable.

It's hard to say if the presentation is what pushed the affordable housing project over the top; but, one way or the other, West End Village passed its first test Thursday night when the city Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve it.

West End Village, a 137-unit residential project on about 30 acres off Downhill Drive, is the first project to be approved under the West of Steamboat Area Plan.

The Planning Commission spent four hours weighing comments from city staff, community members and representatives of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation before approving the project, which received a number of concessions because of its affordability factor.

The project is seen by many, including both the Steamboat School Board and the Steamboat City Council, as one of the few viable sources of affordable housing for local employees.

RALF is currently working with Steve Cavanagh, whom the organization believes to be dropping off the project as of last week.

"We found a way to work together and it is for the best," said Rob Dick, the executive director of RALF. "Steve brings a tremendous amount to the table."

RALF will offer 50 percent of the homes to low-income families who make less than 120 percent of the median income in Routt County. The other homes will be offered at market value, although RALF hopes the developer will keep the market homes small and affordable. The West of Steamboat Area Plan requires that 33 percent of the homes be affordable because RALF is going beyond that requirement, the Planning Commission was especially receptive to issues of affordability in its proposal.

For instance, although the commission required RALF to build a sidewalk down the project side of Downhill Drive, it asked them to construct only one sidewalk throughout the interior of the property.

RALF had estimated that if it were required to build sidewalks throughout the entire property, it would cost the organization about $1 million.

The site, which rests on a hill bordered by a steep dropoff near Downhill Drive, is a particularly difficult site to service.

Because the city will likely maintain the roads and offer city services in the project as decreed by the West of Steamboat Plan, city officials have been heavily involved in the project.

City Transit Director George Krawzoff expressed his concerns that the project as proposed presented too many obstacles to provide transit service. If the people who live at West End Village need to buy cars to get around, he said, that will impact the affordability of living there.

The city currently maintains a bus stop on U.S. 40 near the project, but the developers have not provided what Krawzoff believes to be a viable access route to the stop.

Public Works Director Jim Weber said certain facilities and engineering issues need to be mitigated, including the ability for vehicles to plow the area.

City Manager Paul Hughes also spoke at the meeting, relaying information from the fire marshal to make sure the project instituted a turnaround that the fire department can use in the event of an emergency.

The Planning Commission allowed RALF to go ahead without specifying how the residents would get to the bus stop, though they did make sure the project included an adequate turnaround for fire trucks.

Donley, who projected his hi-tech presentation on a screen at the back of the meeting room in the Public Safety building, was testing software that the Orton Foundation will help put to use in the new multimedia-friendly Centennial Hall building.

He offered the service to RALF free of charge.

The simulation allowed commission members and the public to see what the project might look like when it is completed, showing how it could impact the skyline and the residents of the project itself.

Donley spent about 150 hours working with the Townbuilder3D program, which he overlayed on top of another program called Arcview to get the intended effects.

"Townbuilder3D fills a niche we have all dreamed about the capacity to visualize proposed changes to the built environment," he said.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203

or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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