Idaho Springs denies Habitat townhomes project

Corinne Westeman
cwesteman@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/21/21

Despite staff recommending approval, the Idaho Springs City Council has denied Blue Spruce Habitat for Humanity's application to build eight townhomes in the 1600 block of Virginia Street. The …

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Idaho Springs denies Habitat townhomes project

Posted

Despite staff recommending approval, the Idaho Springs City Council has denied Blue Spruce Habitat for Humanity's application to build eight townhomes in the 1600 block of Virginia Street. The council voted 4-3 at its June 14 meeting to deny the project's final development plan.

The public hearing for this case was continued from May 10 to allow the City Council time to investigate and consider residents' concerns about the project worsening nearby road conditions.

At both the May 10 hearing and at the June 14 continuance, those living along Virginia and Wall Streets once again argued against the project, saying that it would create a blind corner at the intersection of 16th Avenue and Virginia Street, which they said is already a dangerous intersection.

However, Mike Davenport, an interim city planner, said staff recommended approval because the project application complied with all the city's requirements, such as zoning and building height.

“Some of these issues raised are beyond what a developer would be required to do or could do,” Davenport said at the June 14 meeting.

Molly Wheelock, a representative for Blue Spruce, also agreed that the intersection was dangerous but emphasized the community's need for affordable housing.

“We are working within the guidelines of the community and the ordinances that have been set up,” she said. “ … The issue of 16th (Avenue) and Virginia (Street) is real and needs to be addressed by the city. I would ask the council to address that as they can.”

Blue Spruce Habitat for Humanity applied to build eight income-restricted townhomes for workforce housing at 1628 Virginia St. behind the St. Paul Catholic Church parking lot. The designs showed four duplexes with 20 total parking spaces along Virginia Street.

Since the application was denied, though, Blue Spruce leadership is deciding how to proceed. The organization bought the property in December 2018 and has been going through the variance and planning process since then.

During the June 14 hearing, residents stated that, once the townhomes were built, the city wouldn't have the opportunity to correct 16th Avenue. They also worried the townhomes' shadows would exacerbate icy conditions on Wall Street during colder months.

“Just last winter, I slid all the way into Colorado Boulevard,” resident Rick Scott said of 16th Avenue's conditions. “ … It's hard to stop even in the summer because of the loose gravel.”

Christina Wienke, who lives directly behind the Blue Spruce property, said she often sees children and elderly people walking in the 16th Avenue and Virginia Street intersection, and she's worried someone will get hit one day.

“I can't see from my property down to that intersection if (the townhomes) are there,” she said.

Wheelock reemphasized that Blue Spruce has worked to address the community's concerns, such as moving parking from the back of the property to the front and decreasing the density from three buildings of three units to four buildings of two.

Ultimately, Mayor Mike Hillman and Councilmen Bob Bowland and Chuck Harmon voted to approve the project while Councilmen John Curtis, Jim Clark, Scott Pennell and Arthur Caccavale voted against.

Caccavale and others felt that, despite the project technically meeting all the requirements in the city code, it was their responsibility to look beyond that and consider what would make the city better or worse.

“I think we have to be open-minded about what we're doing to the reputation … and the environment of this town,” Caccavale said.

However, Harmon and Hillman stated the application should be approved because the city couldn't throw any more roadblocks in front of Blue Spruce after it complied.

“We have a code that is basically our city bible that gives our developers a path to follow. … Future councils can do what they want,” Hillman said, regarding changing city code to require more of future developers. “But, right now, we have a project in front of us, and they followed the requirements on it.”

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