EDITORIAL: Downtown Development, Beyond Your Wildest Dreams, Part One

At their Tuesday, January 2 regular meeting, the Pagosa Springs Town Council was treated to a conceptual proposal presented by local developers BWD Construction. (BWD stands for “Beyond your Wildest Dreams.) The presentation, delivered by company representative Ryan Searle, concerned a potential multi-use development on Hot Springs Boulevard just north of the Ross Aragon Community Center.

From the proposal we heard on January 2:

Phase 1 includes 40 units of workforce housing, 19 townhomes, 5 single family homes and a 16,000 sq. ft. office building with 4,034 sq. ft. for a convention center on the 3rd floor, 4,700 sq. ft. of co-working space on the 2nd floor, and a 916 sq. ft. retail space on the 1st floor.

The property in question is a corner of the proposed 27-acre Springs Village subdivision which ran into considerable controversy when two of the Springs Partners — Bill Dawson and Matt Mees — participated in an closed-door executive session with the members of the Town Council, to propose that the Town taxpayers pay for a $7 million bridge and connecting roads that would directly benefit the subdivision. (Read more about that controversy here.)

The Council eventually declined to move ahead with the proposed taxpayer investment, and the Springs Partners declared their intention to develop the property without the bridge-and-connecting-road subsidies. BWD Construction principal Jack Searle is also one of the Springs Partners.

At the January 2 meeting, BWD presented its development as “Phase I of the Springs Development Major Subdivision.” Folks who have lived a while in Pagosa Springs understand that these 27 acres of geothermal travertine, centrally located just south of downtown’s main commercial district and tucked into the armpit of the San Juan River (so to speak), have been waiting to be developed since the town was founded in 1891… despite a community that has quadrupled its population since 1975.

The “Phase I” parcel is at the south-eastern corner of the proposed subdivision. On January 2, BWD had not yet submitted a land use application for development of the property, so the Council meeting discussion was merely “conceptual.”

A chance to test the waters, so to speak? And answer a few questions?

An unimproved gravel road leading from Hot Springs Boulevard onto the vacant 27-acre parcel owned by the Springs Partners LLC.

The proposal was of special interest to this particular Editor because — in its current form — it includes four 10-unit apartment buildings that the developers are representing as “workforce housing.” Much of the recent conversation about the housing crisis here in Archuleta County has centered on the lack of rental apartments for working class families who don’t qualify for, or are not interested in, single-family home ownership.

From the Town packet for the January 2 meeting:

Town [Land Use and Development Code] currently allows for a deferral of impact fees for up to ten years, for projects that demonstrate a “public benefit.” This would need to be demonstrated. Impact fees can be waived for low and moderate income housing, as permitted in the town’s code and in state statute. It is unknown at this time what percentage of AMI these units in Phase I will be provided at and whether they will be managed through a deed restriction or other mechanism to ensure that the units are being rented to income-qualified individuals.

Council has also not yet determined what percentage of the fees will be granted for the housing units at various price points. In addition, a developer may be able to get credits toward impact fees for making off-site improvements.

You can download the full presentation packet here.

We are now listening to BWD’s Ryan Searle:

“I really want to give a vision for what we want to build in Phase I of the Springs Development Master Plan… and as your attorney has pointed out, I really don’t want you to feel any pressure to make any decisions tonight… So feel free to ask a lot of questions, because I want to get those answered.”

Mr. Searle referenced a “Smart Growth America” study that was recently done for the Town of Pagosa Springs. That study promoted the idea of high-density residential construction, rather than “sprawl development.” (You can review that “Smart Growth America” study here.)  Mr. Searle suggested that BWD proposal is aligned to that study’s design principles.

“The other huge principle, I think — for my generation in particular — is the walkability of communities. And that’s a huge item that we looked at… and we feel like we’ve come up with a nice plan that provides some real walkability.”

BWD Construction has been active for a few years now, primarily with their 16-unit Cobblestone Community development near Yamaguchi Park — not exactly an “affordable housing project.” At least one of the 16 units is currently functioning as vacation rental, at prices of up to $330 a night… and one of their two-bedroom town home units was recently offered for sale at $356,000. Other projects featured on the BWD website are priced at between $287,000 (for 1300 square feet) and $446,000 (for 2073 square feet.)

A lot of the local conversation around workforce housing tends to focus on what, exactly, constitutes an “affordable” residence in 2018. Research into the Archuleta County housing crisis shows a dearth of housing in the $500-a-month to $700-a-month rental range — prices that are affordable for working class families here. But that same research has suggested that it’s nearly impossible to build new homes or apartments in Pagosa that can be rented out at those kinds of monthly rates — unless the developer receives significant taxpayer subsidies.

BWD doesn’t yet have a complete plan assembled… but they have an idea about the taxpayer subsidies they would need to make this project fly. From the January 2 presentation:

What we are asking for:

  • Waiver of impact fees on phase 1 entirely (approx. $250,000)
  • Waiver of building permit & design review fees on work force housing (approx. $36,000)
  • TOPS to finish Hot Springs Blvd with on street parking…

Read Part Two…

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.