Breckenridge breaks ground on latest affordable housing complex at Pinewood II
On an otherwise quiet May morning near the south end of Airport Road, spring was in the air. And it sounded like earthmovers.
Two weeks ago, the town of Breckenridge unofficially broke ground on Pinewood Village II, its latest workforce-housing (aka affordable housing) project. Backhoes and dump trucks were busy leveling ground on the 2.9-acre parcel at 837 Airport Road, found next door to the Claimjumper complex.
Come May, crews will transition to construction mode and begin the yearlong build out. Pinewood II is slated to hold 45 rental units, split between studio and one-bedroom apartments set aside for low-income, long-term renters. Officials expect development to wrap up by the fall of 2016, with resident selection beginning as early as January of next year.
“You need to have different projects to make sure you’re hitting all sides of your workforce,” said Laurie Best, the town’s workforce housing manager. “You need to have diversity in terms of housing, and I think when you look at other resort communities, everyone is dealing with how to serve the locals who want to live where they work.”
Along with the Pinewood II project, the two-mile stretch of Airport Road is home to several large swaths of undeveloped land, including the 25-acre Block 11 parcel between Blue River Elementary School and the Colorado Mountain College campus. Both Pinewood II and Block 11 are within walking distance of Valley Brook, a housing development of 41 units completed in 2012, while closer to downtown are the remaining workforce neighborhoods: Gibson Heights, Farmer’s Grove and the town’s crown jewel, Wellington. All serve different segments of the community, Best says, from low-income families at Valley Brooke to young business owners at Wellington.
Yet Breckenridge and the whole of Summit County are still bracing for an inevitable housing crunch, one that officials claim is already near a tipping point. While private transactions like multi-million dollar homes and sprawling commercial properties garner the bulk of attention, town and county officials are busy navigating the tricky waters of workforce housing.
“It seems like housing is almost reaching crisis mode,” said Jim Curnutte, community development director for Summit County. “We have a significant need for both rental and for-sale properties, and there just seems to be a lack of both right now due to a change in demographics and the rental market.”
In 2013, the county sponsored a needs assessment to gauge the long-range impacts a steadily growing population will have on Summit’s affordable housing market. The results were sobering: In the next five years, between 1,035 and 1,785 new workforce units must be built countywide to maintain a steady, healthy population of local employees, the majority of whom earn less than $40,000 per household each year. In Breckenridge alone, the need is 600 to 700 units, and the market is tighter than ever thanks to lucrative vacation and short-term rentals.
“Whether we will actually meet that target, it’s hard to say,” Best said. “We know it’s an uphill battle. Breckenridge has been more successful than a lot of other communities in terms of affordable housing and I think that just comes to us being at it for decades. But we still have many challenges ahead.”
The Pinewood II experiment
Even as dozers dig into the ground, the Pinewood II project is something of an experiment for Breckenridge. It builds off the success of Valley Brook, the town’s first foray into in-house development. That project began with a third-party housing developer, but when contracts fell through, the town opted to take over duties like site planning and project funding. By cutting out the middleman, the town saved roughly $1 million in developer fees on a project originally slated to cost $11 million.
“In addition to saving the money, we also had the ability to control what the project would be, how it would look,” Best said. “We want high-quality units. We don’t want people moving out after only one or two years because they don’t meet the standards of living here.”
With Pinewood II, Best and the town council hope to replicate Valley Brook’s success. The project will cost an estimated $10 million, with about $4 million offset by low-income housing tax credits through the federal government. Along with the tax credits, Councilman Gary Gallagher expects the town-as-developer model to become Breckenridge standard in the future.
“Council found out that building these units isn’t rocket science,” Gallagher said. “We made the decision with this project that, no, we don’t have to attract private developer equity, and because we don’t have to do that the returns come back to the town. Those provide funds for more and more projects, and that’s something we desperately need right now.”
LESS LAND, MORE DEMAND
Creative funding and development aside, Best and county officials both believe that land is the biggest hurdle when meeting housing demands. Dillon has no room remaining for affordable projects, while Frisco and Silverthorne are in the early stages of planning for two parcels in each town.
That leaves Breckenridge to carry the housing torch at the moment, and with four projects spread across town, officials have entered talks with large employers like the county, CMC and the Summit School District. The school district owns a plot adjacent to Blue River Elementary, while CMC owns a plot that butts against Block 11. The county is finalizing details for an unnamed, 1.7-acre development at County Road 450, former home to the county recycling facility and future home to an estimated 30 rental units.
“Pinewood II doesn’t just set the stage and model for us and perhaps others across the county — it’s also a responsibility to the community,” Gallagher said. “We’ve reached out to partners like CMC, another not-for-profit entity, and are really making it a total community initiative.”
For county officials, the 2013 needs assessment also led to a new land strategy.
“Breckenridge and Frisco have been very successful building new affordable housing projects for residents, and we’ve been more focused on land banking,” Curnutte said. “We want to buy that land before it’s developed for other purposes.”
As Best says, there are dozens of challenges beyond simply finding room for new properties. But she’s confident Breckenridge — and neighboring towns — are tackling the issue with future residents in mind.
“It’s a more sustainable thing to have your workforce living in the community where they work,” Best said. “It has all sorts of economic benefits and impacts on the character of the community. Your town becomes a real town — the lights don’t go off at night when tourists go home.”
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