Paonia okays cohousing development

By Tamie Meck

Paonia okays cohousing development  | Paonia, Cohousing,

Photo by Tamie Meck Marjorie True addresses the Paonia board of trustees last week regarding the application for the Silver Leaf senior cohousing project. Trustees voted 4-1 to approve the application. While few concerns were expressed about the merits of

At the Feb. 23 board meeting, Paonia trustees voted 4-1 to approve the special review application and site plan for the Circle Development Corporation's Silver Leaf Senior Cohousing Project. Trustee Eric Goold was absent, and Suzanne Watson cast the dissenting vote.

The plan allows for 10 roughly 900-square-foot, universally designed housing units, one duplex, and a 1,200-square-foot community building to be located on a subdivided 2.86-acre parcel on Third Street between Clark and Minnesota avenues.

Silver Leaf is the first cohousing development approved in Delta County, and was the first development project to come before the town planning commission in at least two years. The project received conditional approval from the commission following a Jan. 14 public hearing. Among those conditions, developers agreed to pay to move two unrecorded sewer lines found on the property, and to pay $127,050 to install a 2-inch and a 3-inch water tap rather than 13 individual taps. The fees represent $49,000 above the cost of individual tap fees.

"The fact that it's approved goes a long way," said Rob Dick, president of Circle Development, a nonprofit created solely for the project. "One more major hurdle has been overcome."

Dick, a retired housing developer and financier, said developers have worked with the town for about nine months, and considered other sites prior to selecting this property. They chose this site "because we could develop it. It was already subdivided into lots," said Dick.

In asking for full support from trustees, Dick, 66, asked them to view the project from a psychological rather than a housing standpoint. The project's amenities and shared living concept allow residents to remain at home, well-supported and active citizens for the remainder of their lives. "We are all, all here to walk each other home," said Dick, who along with his wife plans to live in the development. "And that's what this project is about."

During the presentation Paonia residents Trudy Welty and Marjorie True, whose families have roots in Paonia, explained to trustees why they chose to invest in the project. "We are not selling homes; we are building a community of elders," said Welty.

While more than 40 citizens were in attendance, few spoke, and no one spoke directly against the development. However, trustees and town manager Jane Berry were harshly criticized for putting the application through the special review process (SRP). In often contentious discussion, critics argue that had it gone through the subdivision or PUD process. Per existing land development regulations (LDR), developers would be required, in part, to pay for improvements to Clark Avenue located on the west side of the property. Plans call for a one-way traffic pattern accessing the development through the 300 block of Clark Avenue, with egress on Minnesota Avenue.

All incoming traffic will pass by Callie West and John Cowell's Clark Avenue home. West told the board they will be most impacted by the project and are concerned about the condition of the street, which she described as "unimproved and unmaintained" and which dead ends just past their house where it accesses private property containing warehouses and is zoned light industrial. West noted that the 200 block of Clark is "paved, is ... at least 40 feet wide, and it has curbs." The 300 block is "unsafe, and certainly not the width of two cars," said West.

The town acknowledges that the road needs upgrades, but funds are lacking and it's considered low-priority at this point, which Watson noted during discussion. "It's really a big deal breaker for us," said West. She told the board she and Cowell will "withhold our support for the project until there are solid plans to improve Clark Avenue."

Two former town officials have been critical of the SRP. Former trustee Bill Brunner, a current board candidate, questioned Berry's interpretation of the LDR. "I'm just curious how this could happen without going through subdivision regulation," said Brunner.

"This is not a request for a new subdivision," explained mayor pro tempore Charles Stewart. The subdivision process involves division of land into lots, which on this parcel was done in 1903. "That subdivision already exists," said Stewart.

Brunner noted that the units, arranged in four clusters, straddle existing lot lines.

"That's not terribly uncommon in this town," replied Stewart. "People need to understand that this is not a new subdivision, and is therefore not subject to the subdivision regulations in our code." The main purpose of the SRP, he said, is to address the cluster of units that includes the duplex and community building.

"This is a very simple project," said Berry, who earlier met one-on-one with Brunner to explain why the application was considered under special review. With the exception of the duplex and community building, which are clustered together, "I could issue building permits for all of these homes tomorrow."

The plan meets the goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan, includes no subdivision regulations, is not a Planned Unit Development, and neither zoning nor the comprehensive plan gets into ownership or title of property, added Berry. "This property meets or exceeds all the applicable sections of our current zoning ordinances."

Former planning commission member Paul Douglas stated that the property, listed in Delta County property records as "Subdivision: HAMMONDS ADD PA," is not listed as a subdivision by the county, and the survey submitted by Wilmore and Associates "is just a drawing. If this is in fact a legitimate subdivision, then I would like to see documentation."

Trustee Watson, who did not attend the Jan. 14 hearing or contact developers with concerns, questioned how the LDR defines a subdivision, the definition of a dwelling unit, and how dwelling units would be owned.

Watson told the DCI the project was pushed through in a manner that didn't allow sufficient time for review and public comment. She said Berry is "broadly interpreting" the LDR, and questions that interpretation. "I am lodging my objection to the process," said Watson.

Watson also said the approval sets precedent for future developments to be submitted under the SRP rather than the subdivision process. "I am lodging my objection to the process. Hopefully the town will address this so it goes a little more gracefully next time."

"We came to have the project evaluated," Dick told trustees. Following the meeting he expressed disappointment in not receiving the full support of the board. He never met or spoke with Watson and called it "unfortunate she took a position. If she has issues with the process," said Dick, she should address that separately.

Due to "numerous unknowns," the project is not a done deal, said Dick. "A lot of variables have not been pinned down yet," including future interest rates and building costs. He is currently working to identify a builder who can complete the project within investors' price range. The approval does allow Circle Corporation to start addressing all of the issues, said Dick. "Now we can move forward with more confidence."