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Cohousing project clears planning review

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Image courtesy 3cycle Studio The Silver Leaf Cohousing Development proposed for Third Street between Clark and Minnesota Avenues received conditional approval from the Paonia Planning Commission last Thursday. The proposal will come before trustees for fi

Paonia resident Paul Millermon often wondered what would become of a vacant lot located a block from his home. Millermon, who served more than 24 years on the town planning commission, spoke at last week's public hearing for the proposed Silver Leaf Cohousing Development proposed at Third Street and Clark Avenue.

Following the hearing, the planning commission gave conditional approval of the project, the first the commission has reviewed in about two years and the first of its kind in Delta County. The Thursday afternoon hearing attracted about 25 members of the public.

In the 1980s, said Millermon, "We had a big fight over that piece of land," involving a proposed industrial project. Thankfully, said Millermon, the project was rejected. In considering the Silver Leaf proposal, Millermon said he looks forward to its completion.

Circle Development Corporation, a not-for-profit established specifically for the project, submitted the Special Review Application. It calls for no more than 13 units -- at least 10 attached 950-square-feet units and one duplex, and a community building. Low-maintenance landscaping would be watered with existing shares of Stewart Ditch water.

Rob Dick, one of four principals, made his career as an affordable housing developer and housing financier. He developed two cohousing projects in Steamboat Springs, where he and wife/principal Kathy Crawford lived for 22 years, and Boulder's first cohousing community.

"Everything I know has gone into this project," said Dick.

The town first met with developers about nine months, said town manager Jane Berry. Town staff, engineering consultant Brandyn Bair, and attorney David Marek have reviewed the application and recently met with developers.

"I am very pleased to say that every single issue of criteria requirement and provision has been met or exceeded," said Berry, calling the review process "straightforward." Many of the concerns raised were addressed prior to the hearing, and developers have agreed to all of the conditions recommended by the town.

The application is in compliance with town site plan and review criteria and performance standards, as well as special review requirements, said Berry. The proposed site is zoned R-2, medium density residential and does not require variances or rezoning. The plan also fits well with the town's 1996 Comprehensive Plan, which recommends the creation of affordable housing and development of senior housing.

The engineer recommends that developers install a 2-inch and a 3-inch water tap to adequately service the development, rather than individual taps. Taps fees will total $127,050, which is $49,000 above the cost of 13 individual taps, which partners agree to. Each unit will be billed as a separate tap.

Two sewer lines discovered on the property lack easements, and developers have agreed to correct the situation at no cost to the two affected property owners.

No one spoke against the proposal, but several concerns were raised, including quality of construction, emergency access, flooding, increased traffic, storm drainage, lack of sidewalks, safety, and setbacks.

Paul Douglas, who served on the commission during Millermon's time, urged commissioners to address all issues prior to making a recommendation to the town board, due to the project's size. Douglas expressed several concerns, including a potential burden to taxpayers.

"Development should pay its way," said Douglas. He also raised the issue of "public open space obligation," and dedication of land for public use, as stated in the town's Land Development Regulations. "I think that should be addressed."

The town agreed to pay for upgrades on the 300 block of Clark Avenue from Third Street north to where it dead-ends after neighbors expressed safety concerns. Callie West and husband John Cowell's property is the only house on the 300 block of Clark Avenue. They aren't against the project, said West. "It's a perfect use for that lot."

West called the section of Clark Street, which she described as having potholes and lacking curb and gutter, sidewalks or other defined boundaries, "dangerous," and said visitors prefer to park on Third and walk down to their house. Town recommendations call for a one-way traffic pattern that will have every vehicle going into the development driving past their house, which West said they understand and accept. "Our position is, we can't support the project unless Clark Avenue is improved."

Speakers also praised the development for its commitment to being a good neighbor. Tom Glor, with Bear Ranch, LLC, which owns two acres and warehouses directly north of the site, called the project "a golden opportunity" that will bring jobs.

If completed, the development is estimated to represent more than $2 million or new housing and associated property taxes. Local companies including 3Cycle Studio in Hotchkiss, Wilmore and Company surveying in Paonia and Paonia-based engineering firm Odisea LLC provided services for the project, and Dick assured the public that wherever possible, they will hire local businesses.

With a total cost hinging on numerous factors, Dick said the project won't go forward if the principals stand to lose money, and they aren't subscribing to the "build-it-and-they-will-come" mentality. While they believe they can do the project affordably, attractively, and have it be an asset to the community, "There are still if's," said Dick.

When asked about quality of construction, Dick replied, "This will either be done well or it will not be done."

Because this is the first project to come before the planning commission in two years, the town has scheduled a planning/board meeting/study session for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26. The goal, said Berry, is to provide a refresher course for trustees and to get everyone comfortable with the process.

The application is scheduled to come before trustees for a final vote at the Feb. 23 board meeting.

Photo by Tamie Meck Paonia planning commission member Barb Heck reviews plans for the Silver Leaf Cohousing Development at last Thursday’s presentation.
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