With rejection of controversial 2B plan, Frisco’s affordable housing conundrum deepens
April 4, 2018
Frisco voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot question clearing the way for workforce housing on the site of the old community center on Third Avenue, defeating Ballot Question 2B by a nearly three-to-one margin Tuesday.
The vote scuttled anywhere between 12 and 25 units on two sites, a setback for those hoping to ease worker shortages with affordable housing, an area where Frisco has fallen behind other local jurisdictions despite a housing tax approved by voters in 2016. Land scarcity, build-out and neighbor opposition all play a role.
Opponents to 2B said they wanted to save Frisco's old community center — which has fallen into disrepair and hasn't been a community center in more than a decade — and a quarter-acre pocket park between the 50-year-old building and Granite Street. They also argued that a dense pocket of townhomes would hurt Frisco's charm.
Pam Brodt, who helped organize the resistance, said she and her cohorts were looking forward to fixing up and finding new uses for the community center and pocket park. She and several members of her group are set to meet with the town next week to discuss housing, as well.
"We all have questions around how this decision was made and what are the other ways we can provide affordable housing," Brodt said.
The group's efforts, including a small protest outside the post office, yard signs and a direct mail campaign, eclipsed efforts of business owners, who argued that the town's housing crunch demands immediate action. The question was defeated 522 to 192.
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"I think everyone is afraid of change to some extent," said Mark Sabatini, a member of the town council's Housing Task Force, which recommended the plan. "The argument against 2B was well-orchestrated and it prevailed … the only thing we can do now as a community is regroup and ask ourselves how we're going to address this."
Governments across Summit are planning to build more than 1,200 sorely needed workforce-housing units in coming years. Frisco's current contribution is practically a rounding error, even if those numbers are overly optimistic.
The county government is set to begin work on more than 100 units and is planning another 430. Breckenridge added 56 units last year, will add another 70 by September and plans to build 350 more by 2022. Silverthorne has 200 units planned for its ambitious Smith Ranch project. Dillon, the county's smallest incorporated town, has inked deals with developers for 39 units.
Frisco, meanwhile, has eight units slated for construction, with a pending purchase of four privately held units. The Basecamp Center is building 18 condominiums reserved for local workers, a business decision by the developers that will not tap into the 5A housing tax fund.
"The housing that we build in the town of Frisco is going to have to be re-development and in-fill on existing neighborhoods," town manager Randy Ready said. "There aren't any vast acres of empty land that can be used for housing. So there need to be smaller projects in neighborhoods, and they'll have to be compatible with the community character."
Unlike other jurisdictions, Frisco doesn't have big tracts of land on its periphery to develop.
"We have a shortage of available land in Summit County, and thus we have an affordable housing issue," said developer Tim Crane. "Frisco has the greatest challenges of all the communities because they have so little available land to use for affordable housing."
Crane's company, Summit Homes Construction, was tentatively slated to build the community center project, along with another 13-unit workforce project on the backside of the Frisco Historic Park and Museum. Tuesday's vote imperiled that plan because the two projects were seen as a package deal.
"When we were penciled in on those projects it was for the combination of the two," said Blake Shutler, one of Crane's partners. "The economy of scale achieved by combining two small projects was a benefit, and it will be up-in-the air as to whether or not everyone wants to move forward now."
Since Frisco is unable to emulate the large, dense developments being built by other jurisdictions, it has to get creative. The town is finalizing a deal to buy four townhomes from Larry Feldman, which it will "buy down" and reserve for locals.
There are other potential deals on the horizon, including with the owners of the lot adjacent to the Sabatini property, sitting empty across the street from the community center. Another nearby parcel owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation could be used for a project, but reaching a deal with the state agency could be a lengthy process in urgent times.
"There are other lots the town owns, including the Sabatini lot, that can proceed at some point and a number of other possible partnerships," Ready said. "But it will take a longer time to forge those partnerships."
Construction on the Mary Ruth Place, the town's eight-unit project on Galena Street, is expected to begin in two weeks. With the defeat of 2B, it will likely be the only town-funded project to get underway this year.
Dan Fallon, an incoming councilman who served on the task force, said that communication should have been better around 2B. Given the urgency of the problem, he hopes the town can come together around new options — quickly.
"Behind the cute and friendly façade, families and owners are struggling mightily to make sense of some of the life choices they made in terms of running quality businesses on Main Street," he said. "This is the stuff that's threatened, and people need to understand that the need and the issue is acute enough that we need to make some hard choices."