Silverthorne Town Council revives Smith Ranch housing project discussion

Joe Moylan
The Silverthorne Town Council revived Tuesday discussions about a workforce housing development project at Smith Ranch. The 52 acre parcel is located between Kum & Go and Our Lady of Peace, shown here. The property continues to its northern border at the Willowbrook subdivision. It is bordered on the west by Ruby Ranch subdivision. | Summit Daily News

Town of Silverthorne officials may begin to breathe new life into a long-tabled workforce housing project on the north side of town.

On Tuesday, Mark Leidal, community development director for the town, led a Silverthorne Town Council work session discussion to determine whether now is the time to revisit plans to develop a workforce housing neighborhood at Smith Ranch.

Citing the improving economy, Councilmember Derrick Fowler said he thinks now is a good time to get the project moving again.

“The economic indicators are there and we’re seeing development projects all around the county,” Fowler said. “I think it’s time to make a move.”

“The economic indicators are there and we’re seeing development projects all around the county,” Fowler said. “I think it’s time to make a move.”

Silverthorne purchased 52 acres at Smith Ranch in 2008 to address a growing need in Summit County for affordable housing. The parcel is located south of the Willowbrook subdivision and east of the Ruby Ranch subdivision.

Although plans to develop the land were quickly tabled due to the 2008 economic downturn, staff successfully annexed the parcel into the town and rezoned the property in January 2009 to permit the development of up to six residential units per acre.

A housing subcommittee also was created at about that time to address lingering questions about how to appropriately blend market-rate and affordable housing units, how much in subsidies the town could afford to contribute to the project and what might be a realistic return on investment.

In August, after reviewing the 2013 Summit County Workforce Housing Needs Assessment — which calls for an estimated 185 to 310 more housing units in the Lower Blue River Basin in the next five years — the subcommittee decided it was time to bring the project back to the attention of the full council, bearing in mind there would be a minimum of 18 months of planning before a shovel would ever hit the ground.

With a variety of development ideas in hand and considering the pressing need for more housing in Silverthorne and the rest of the county, Leidal requested direction from the council, saying the subcommittee had already written a draft request-for-qualifications announcement and compiled a list of potential developers.

Although the consensus was to move forward, some council members voiced concerns about future economic conditions, not just when construction begins in the spring or summer of 2015 at the earliest, but also when it comes time to start selling the units.

“If you think of market cycles as a circle, I’d say right now we’re trending up in the area of about 10 o’clock,” Councilmember Ann-Marie Sandquist said. “Eventually we’re going to start trending back down, so absorption rates are important and weathering a couple of market cycles is also going to be key.”

Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Butler was more interested in getting the process started and seeing what the town receives through the request-for-qualifications process.

“I’m most interested in probing the financial heft of some of these developers and getting an idea of their track record and the kinds of teams they plan to put together,” Butler said. “I think if we can narrow this list down to three developers we really want to dance with, I think the proposal process will give us a good idea of where this project can go.”

Although no official action was taken due to yesterday’s meeting being a work session, council directed staff members to start the process of advertising for requests for qualifications.

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