Pipes pose problem at Gibson Heights
BRECKENRIDGE – Southern Ute Indian Joseph Winterhawk chanted a blessing on the Gibson Heights property in Breckenridge at its grand opening earlier month, but some homeowners there don’t think it will be enough to overcome problems they’re finding.
Others, however, say they couldn’t be happier with their new homes in the affordable housing project.
“We’re a family of five, and if it hadn’t been for this project, we’d have to relocate or go to Fairplay,” said Sandy Anderson, whose family moved from a 1,100-square-foot townhome into a 2,400-square-foot house. “This was the only chance for us to stay in Breckenridge where we love to be. Our goal was to get a house, and Summit Housing Authority’s goal is to get us a house. We have nothing but good to say.”
Some, however, are disgruntled.
For Gerhard “Dutch” van Andel and possibly a dozen other homeowners, the primary problem is gas and electric lines that lie beneath the ground on which their garages are platted to be built. Codes don’t allow structures to be built atop utilities, because if the utilities were to develop a problem, the building would block access.
Than means van Andel must wait another building season until the gas pipes can be relocated before he can build his garage.
“The town won’t let us dig,” said van Andel, who bought a single-family home this summer. “It’s a mess.”
“They definitely made a mistake in putting gas lines in the wrong place,” said Shawn Butler, whose garage is platted to abut van Andel’s. “Homeowners may not know about it, and they won’t find out until they go to get their building permit. They came and did locates, and it was obvious the utilities were right under the foundation.”
Summit Housing Authority (SHA) Executive Director Gordon Ferris said problems at the site are typical of those found on any construction project, and all of them will be rectified before Gibson Heights is deemed complete.
The project includes 40 attainable-housing units: 20 townhomes, 10 duplexes, eight single-family homes and two Habitat for Humanity single-family homes.
Van Andel said he thinks SHA should stick to managing, not building, affordable housing projects. It’s an issue to him because voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve a sales tax increase to fund the organization.
Who’s at fault?
Fingers point in all directions regarding the improperly placed gas pipes.
According to minutes from the SHA’s Sept. 17 meeting, then-project manager Mark Sabatini directed the installation of the gas lines. SHA board member Doug Sullivan said in that meeting gas lines were not built to specifications.
SHA hired Sabatini as project manager in November 2001. He left in July 2002. Ferris declined to say whether he left on his own accord.
Sabatini maintains he did everything by the plans.
“I installed the gas lines per the plans provided to me by Baker+Hogan+Houx,” Sabatini said. “They give the contractor a set of plans, and the contractor does whatever is laid out. They were all built to the plans that were provided.”
Ferris and Breckenridge town planner Mike Mosher said the plans don’t show any gas lines under garages.
“The plans were really clear,” Ferris said. “We sold these houses off plans and specs, and if the plans and specs say “here’s where a utility trench should be’ and it’s not, we’ll fix it. We’ll take responsibility for any errors that happened out there.”
Eric Cole of KYPY, the contractor in charge of erecting the houses, said he believes Grant Miller’s excavating firm, which dug the utility trenches, should shoulder some of the blame, as well.
“They’re in the utility business,” he said. “But ultimately, the responsibility falls on the housing authority to have the plans to the contractors and plot it where it needs to go.”
Ferris said he plans to order new locates next spring on houses along Reiling Road to see if other pipes run under garage sites. He estimates it will cost about $2,000 to $3,000 per home to relocate pipes – if needed.
The project has had its fair share of challenges.
Town officials told Ferris in April to repaint some triplexes because the colors were brighter than those indicated on the plans.
Later, officials said they were dismayed to learn on a site visit that foundations seemed to be “popped up out of the ground.” Gene Baker of Baker+Hogan+Houx architects, which designed the project, said that would be addressed later when the property is graded. Some town officials say homes still seem to be above the grade of Reiling Road.
Ferris said he’s proud of the project.
“If this was easy, everyone would be doing it,” Ferris said. “What we’ve done is nothing short of a miracle in controlling the costs like we have.”
Breckenridge Town Manager Tim Gagen said the town will consider carefully any future projects with the housing authority.
“The housing authority does a great job of managing stuff after they’re occupied,” he said. “I think if we have another construction project like this, we’ll look at it a different way. The housing authority thought it could handle it, and, generally, it did, with the exception of a few of these issues that are coming up. They’re a good partner that got in a little over their head.”
Cole agreed. “This is why government doesn’t do these types of things,” he said. “A government agency should have influence and say and not actually carry out the work.”
Many, however, say they are pleased with their new homes and that construction delays and other minor problems are to be expected on any project.
“The construction is sound, the furnace, the hot water heater work great,” Butler said. “We’re grateful for the opportunity. We never believed we’d be able to buy here, to afford a house.”
Ferris said he knows not everyone will be completely satisfied.
“I take solace in the fact that the vast majority of our clients are happy,” he said. “Our goal is 100 percent.”
He added that SHA plans to continue its work in the affordable housing construction arena.
“That’s what our mission is here,” he said. “If we don’t build to this market, nobody else is going to. We’ve learned lessons in this project. We’re very proud of that project. That is a quality housing project out there. We stand behind our product and our work. We’re in it for the long haul.”
“In the big picture, we’ve produced a project in a year’s time that I think is phenomenal,” Cole said. “We’ve transformed a rock pile to a living community.”
“It’s fantastic,” Anderson said, adding that she will support SHA’s sales tax initiative. “Every day I look out window, and I’m amazed what a beautiful home we have here. We never thought we’d be able to have a home here in Summit County. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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