Requirements increase costs for would-be owners

It’s a conundrum of which most people in the Gunnison Valley are well aware — the area with the greatest need for affordable housing is also the place where it is most expensive to build.

Specific neighborhoods in the unincorporated county south of Crested Butte have designated lots for “essential” or workforce housing, yet many of the lots remain vacant.

Critics have cited design standards within the neighborhoods as contributing to the infeasibility of providing such housing on designated lots. Minimum square footage, requirements for exterior finishes and fees for review of plans all contribute to higher building costs.

The situation is difficult for many to navigate. Prospective homeowners don’t qualify for the deed-restricted units if they make too much money. However, they must make enough to afford the costs associated with building requirements.
 

‘It doesn’t add to my living experience’

While minimum square footage for single-family homes on essential housing lots in the Larkspur subdivision is a modest 800 square feet, those homes are required to have a garage. Duplexes and fourplexes in Larkspur do not have minimum square-footage requirements. However, density for those units is restricted.

In the nearby Skyland River neighborhood, single-family homes must be between 1,000 and 1,800 square feet. Multiplefamily units must have minimum of 800 square feet for two bedroom units, and up to 1,500 square feet for units with three bedrooms or more.

In addition, design standards in both neighborhoods specify siding materials and the general external look of homes.

Skyland River standards indicate a “box-like” appearance is discourage, while for Larkspur it’s stated, “Monotony of design shall be avoided” and “building designs with tendency to have parallel, repetitive or ‘barrackslike’ buildings are discouraged.” Additional angles require more framing, which adds to labor expenses.

Design standard specify finishes as well. For example, wood siding is required and vinyl is prohibited in Larkspur and Skyland River. Also, plans for any home to be constructed in the subdivisions must go through a design review and post a fee — $10,000 in the Larkspur subdivision — for a performance review to be held by the homeowners association.

“We were all in a different mindset when these subdivisions were put in,” builder John Stock said of covenants and design standards. “They make all these decisions without understanding the repercussions of them.”

Stock suggested one way to lower the cost of building in specific neighborhoods is to reduce requirements. However, those who have already built their homes may not embrace the change.

“When the first 10 houses go in they have to have all of it, and people start realizing this is really expensive,” said Stock. “But it doesn’t add at all to my living experience. My house would be nice with a metal roof, it doesn’t have to be shingle. And the first 10 people are usually in control of the board.”
 

Other fees add to expense

When Buckhorn Ranch subdivision, east of Larkspur, was proposed, the developer was required to construct 32 affordable housing units with the subdivision’s approval.

However, in the height of the recession, the lots were not selling. As a result, County Commissioners at the time removed deed restrictions on the properties.

Recently, 76 lots in that subdivision sold in an event which was highly marketed online. Buyers were scheduled time slots to purchase their desired properties. Real Estate Agent Channing Boucher noticed a fervor among locals seeking to buy lots at inexpensive prices so they could build.

What Boucher said many did not take into consideration were the fees associated with building at Buckhorn. For example, a buyer could purchase a lot for $50,000, then spend $25,000 on tap fees, $10,000 on a performance review and $15,000 on design fees.

Likewise, county Assistant Director of Community and Economic Development Neal Starkebaum said he was contacted by a new owner of one of the Buckhorn Ranch lots last week.

“He requested an estimate of the building permit and linkage fees for a 5,300-square-foot residence and an 800-squarefoot garage, (which came out to $8,000 and $12,000),” said Starkebaum via e-mail. “I advised him to contact the Crested Butte Fire Protection District for their requirements on fire sprinklering of residences in Buckhorn Ranch. Also, to contact the East River Water and Sanitation District for information on their tap fees.”

Between both Boucher’s and Starkebaum’s estimates, an additional $70,000 could be added to a $50,000 lot before builders ever start swinging a hammer.
 

Financing a greater issue

When Sean Crossen bought a deed-restricted lot in Larkspur a few years ago for $25,000, he paid cash. That’s because at his salary level, which qualified him to buy the lot, he would have been unable to obtain financing to both buy the lot and build.

In fact, it took Crossen a couple years of work to increase his income to qualify for a loan. That, paired with the sweat equity he put into the project by designing and painting it himself, allowed Crossen to build a 1,476-squarefoot (living space) house for about $200 per square foot.

“The mathematics don’t make sense,” said Crossen. “The biggest thing I found that was really hard was after you qualified for the deed restricted lot that a bank is not going to loan you the money to build a house because you didn’t make enough money.”

In addition, Crossen put cash that he had saved into the project, and got a co-signer for his loan.

“It took a full year of waiting to get my 30-year loan,” he said. “That was a struggle.”

Crossen said the design standards didn’t add too much to his costs. He’s a contractor and knows how to obtain wood siding at a lower cost, for example. Inside the home, he used alder wood because it is currently cheaper than pine. He installed a stone patio rather than a deck to save on maintenance. His firstlevel flooring is concrete which extends to the garage. Crossen said the key is sticking to a budget.

“I actually went below my budget,” Crossen said.
 

(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at chris.rourke@gunnisontimes.com.)

 

 

SAMPLE DESIGN STANDARDS

 

 

Minimum square footage

Siding

Design

Larkspur

800 single-family residences (SFRs); none for duplexes or fourplexes

Wood siding, vertical and horizontal with wood corner and trim boards, and stone siding (natural materials) are encouraged for the primary siding.

Secondary siding may consist of “muted earth tone” stucco, non-reflective metal, or other material.

Monotony of design shall be avoided. Variations of detail, form and location are appropriate and desired. Designs which are essentially identical to nearby houses will not be permitted. There must be significant individual variations, making each unit unique.

Skyland River

1,000 for SFRs;

800 for two-bedroom multifamily;

1,200 three-bedroom multifamily

Wood shingles, vertical and horizontal boards with wood corner and trim boards, and stone siding are encouraged.

Monotony of design shall be avoided. Variations of detail, form and location are appropriate and desired. Building designs with the tendency to be parallel, repetitive or "barracks-like" buildings are discouraged.

Buckhorn Ranch

1,800 for SFRs;

800 for two-bedroom multifamily;

1,200 for three-bedroom multifamily

Permissible exterior materials are appropriate woods, stuccos, timbers, metals, brick and natural stone masonry.

(Structures) within Buckhorn Ranch shall be original and distinguishable from other structures in Buckhorn Ranch, while being harmonious with the surrounding environment as a whole.