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Developer presents for-profit senior housing project

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

A plan to build a 70-unit senior-citizens housing project on the north side of Carbondale was officially placed in the lap of the town’s board of trustees on Tuesday night, though a lengthy discussion of the topic focused mainly on how to get to the project, if it ever is built.

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No actual land-use application has been filed for the project, and scant details were mentioned during the discussion at the Tuesday meeting.

The main spokespersons at the meeting about the project, proposed by a for-profit company called Sopris Lodge LLC, were Terry Claassen, one of three managers of the LLC, and local real estate agent Lynn Kirchner, who is the broker for the sellers and the buyers of the property where the senior housing complex would be built.

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Claassen acknowledged on Wednesday, in a telephone conversation with The Sopris Sun, that he had previously been part of a group that won approval for a separate senior housing project, on a site along the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood Springs adjacent to the 27th Street bridge.

That project, Claassen said, was sold to a development partnership from Wisconsin, and is due to break ground soon.

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The Sopris Lodge site, on the northern side of the Rio Grande Trail, is in an area now occupied by a storage-unit business and other buildings, on land owned by a group of members of the Nieslanik ranching family.

Some Nieslaniks were in the audience at the trustees meeting Tuesday night, along with a few dozen of the town’s senior community, who presumably were there to provide support for the project, although most did not take part in the discussion.

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Town officials have been working with Claassen and his partners since January, mainly on the access issue, which at one time involved a plan to run a driveway to the site from the junction of North 4th Street and the Rio Grande Trail, along the north side of the trail.

But negotiations with a group of landowners who own property on that side of the trail, a group that includes former Carbondale Trustee John Foulkrod, went nowhere, according to Claassen and town officials.

Town officials at one point offered to swap land with the Foulkrod group, trading a strip of ground the town owns next to the bluff that drops down to the river level, but the property owners were not interested.

The owner of the trail right of way, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, told the developers it could only give up a 10-foot-wide easement along the trail and still have sufficient width of the trail for its own needs, which would not be wide enough for what Claassen estimated should be a 50-foot-wide access drive to the project.

So now, Claassen told the trustees, the access plans are aimed at North 2nd Street where it meets the Rio Grande Trail.

“We need the city’s help with 2nd Street,” said Claassen at one point in the meeting, “because without 2nd Street access we have nothing right now.”

Using 2nd Street as the main route for getting to the project, however, would involve widening the street to 24 feet or more, possibly rebuilding the road base beneath the pavement and then repaving the street, and possibly rebuilding the water lines that run under the street, according to town planner John Leybourne and public works director Larry Ballenger.

No estimates were given for the cost of such a project, although there was some back and forth between town officials and Claassen about who would pay those costs — the developers or the town.

Claassen indicated that the development team is facing its own high-cost street project — building a driveway between the Rio Grande Trail/2nd Street intersection and the project site — and hoped the town would absorb the costs of upgrading 2nd Street.

But Town Manager Jay Harrington and Mayor Stacey Bernot both explained more than once that the town currently has no capital improvement budget equal to the task of paying for such a project.

In order to come up with that kind of money, which could be in the millions of dollars, the mayor said the town would need to apply for grants from the state of Colorado and Garfield County’s Federal Mineral Lease District, among other potential sources.

Bernot acknowledged that “2nd Street has been an issue for a long time,” and that the town might end up picking up the tab for rebuilding the street, but added that it would not look right for the town to “leap-frog” the street’s reconstruction over “other priorities” that have been languishing for lack of funding.

But, Bernot also said, the town needs to know what the target group of possible residents would be for this project, as well.

Early in the discussion, Claassen had assured the trustees that the units would range from “very small units, affordable type units,” to larger, more expensive apartments at higher prices.

Bernot and others on the board indicated they would feel more open to working with the developers if they knew that the senior housing units would be offered to low-income residents as well as to wealthy ones.

“If it’s going to be a large expense to the town,” the mayor said, “I don’t want to run the risk of looking like … we’re serving what looks to be a very high-end group of folks.”

Other trustees expressed similar sentiments.

Trustee Katrina Byars called the need for good quality, affordable senior housing “an emergency, at the top of the list” of projects the town should pursue.

But, she added, any such housing must be open to “all of our senior who want to stay here,” not just the well-to-do.

Town staff recommended that they be authorized to hire engineers to give the town a better idea about the costs involved in rebuilding 2nd Street and working with RFTA on the crossing of the Rio Grande Trail — an engineering study that was estimated to cost approximately $5,000 to $10,000

“That’s about as far as we can go, other than saying about the concept that we are in support,” the mayor told Claassen.

In other action, the trustees:

• Proclaimed July 24-Aug. 1 to be Carbondale Compassion Days, in honor of the current visit by the Gaden Shartse Buddhist monks. This is the monks’ third visit to Carbondale since 2008.

• Approved a liquor license renewal for Mary’s Main Street Liquors, and special event liquor licenses for a Mount Sopris Historical Society event on Aug. 9 at the River Valley Ranch Barn, and for the KDNK Blues and BBQ party, on Aug. 15 at the 4th St. Plaza downtown.

• Approved a plan to expand the premises of the White House Pizza restaurant, at the corner of 8th and Main streets.

• Approved a request by the Environmental Board to use up to $1,800 of the town’s disposable bag fee fund, for an educational campaign to inform residents of programs aimed at recycling, waste reduction and other environmentally oriented activities. The bag-fee fund currently stands at slightly more than $29,600.

• Approved creation of an ordinance aimed at keeping domestic cats under better control, to prevent them from killing off the town’s bird population, following a request from local resident Mary Harris, president of the Roaring Fork chapter of the National Audubon Society.

• Appointed local residents Gwen Garcelon and Stephanie Syson to serve on the newly created Noxious Weeds Task Force, along with Trustee John Hoffmann, Parks and Recreation Committee member Rob Comey, Tree Board member Dan Bullock, E-Board member Jeff Lauckhart and a yet-to-be-named, non-voting liaison from the town’s staff.

Published in The Sopris Sun on July 30, 2015.

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