Tuesday, January 29, 2008

First Tracks - Affordable Housing at Wildhorse

Wildhorse announces First Tracks
Deed-restricted sales could test demand for affordable housing
By Tom Ross (Contact) Steamboat Pilot/ TODAY
Sunday, January 13, 2008

The condominium project is the result of the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, which requires developers to provide deed-restricted, affordable units in addition to market-rate resort housing. First Tracks sales could indicate whether the gap between market-rate homes and subsidized affordable units is sufficient to attract moderate income buyers to purchase a home that will never appreciate as fast as the market.

Resort Ventures West Vice President Brent Pearson said his company decided to be very proactive in marketing the deed-restricted housing and is intent on providing a high-quality product.

“Hopefully, we’ll soon get an idea of how well this experiment works,” Pearson said. “There has been a lot of excitement from individuals and brokers without us releasing anything. The gap would not have been large enough two years ago. We’re not certain where the gap is now.”

For homebuyers, it’s not yet time to make a commitment, just the first opportunity to register with the developers and begin a pre-qualifying process. That could lead to a purchase agreement this summer and a move into a new condominium sometime in the first half of 2009.

The cost of the project’s first 47 units, which will average 900 square feet, has not been determined.

“This is an invitation to register and allow us to educate people about what to expect and assess their ability to pre-qualify,” Mariana Ishida said. She is the development manager for Resort Ventures West, developers of the broader Wildhorse project, which includes The Range single-family neighborhood and Trailhead Lodge, currently under construction.

Ishida stressed that the registration process beginning Tuesday does not involve reservations, nor will it result in a first-come, first-served priority list.

Before families move into a new home at First Tracks, they’ll have to demonstrate their ability to close on a mortgage but also meet community housing guidelines that impose eligibility restrictions based on maximum income thresholds.

Deed dominoes

Resort Ventures West still must clear the final city approvals before it can begin construction on First Tracks. Those approvals are vital to Wildhorse and luxury condominiums at nearby One Steamboat Place, because the certificate of occupancy for the first phase of First Tracks must be in hand before developers for the two independent projects can begin closing market-rate sales.

Ishida and her colleagues will appear before the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission on Jan. 24 for consideration of the project’s final development permit. A public hearing with City Council follows on Feb. 5.

City Planner Gavin McMillan said the hearings will evaluate the appearance of the buildings and whether the current site plan conforms to the broader ap­­proval for all of Wildhorse that is already in place.

McMillan said this month that tentatively, the elevation drawings for First Tracks meet the expectations of the base area design guidelines that prevail near the base of the ski area.

Architectural renderings produced by architect Scott Nun­nery of Eric Smith & Associates reflect wood and rock exteriors with wooden truss beams.

Smith said his staff has gone to considerable lengths to meet the clients’ goals of making the condominiums at First Tracks livable for full-time residents.

“Every unit will have a large basement storage unit that’s big enough to store outdoor toys like kayaks and bicycles,” Smith said.

The first 47

David Burden, CEO of Timbers Resorts, the developers of One Steamboat Place, said he’s hopeful that First Tracks will fulfill the promise of a family neighborhood close to the base of the ski area.

Pearson said the motivation to make the buildings attractive comes not just from the city design guidelines but from the need to make them fit in well with the luxury, market-rate housing that will be just across the road from First Tracks.

“This is part of our community,” he said. “We need to build it to a level that doesn’t detract from the level of the rest of our product. The owners will be part of our homeowners’ association, and we want them to have a great experience.”

The First Tracks site is immediately east of the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs. Ultimately, Resort Ventures West will build four buildings comprising 96 units. However, the affordable housing requirements of The Range and Trailhead Lodge, plus One Steamboat Place, will be met by the 47 units in the first two buildings, with a handful left over.

The units will vary in size from a 547-square foot studio unit to a single-bedroom unit encompassing 783 square feet and two-bedroom units measuring 1,140 square feet. Of the 47 units, 25 will offer two bedrooms.

Pearson said the final prices won’t be set until final city approvals are won and the updated AMI (area median income) figures for 2008 are released later this spring, by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retail prices will not be driven by construction costs, Pearson added. And although it’s implicit that the market-rate housing at Wildhorse will subsidize the affordable units, the developers cannot quantify that relationship, he added.

Team effort

Pearson said RVW has formed a development partnership with Wintergreen Homes of Edwards to build the housing. Wintergreen has a long track record in Steamboat, having completed the Villas at Walton Creek, Quail Run and Sunray Meadows.

Ishida said Resort Ventures West has assembled a team of staff members and outside contractors to help identify qualified buyers and then qualify them under the housing guidelines. City Planning Director Tom Leeson has approved the process, she added.

Resort Ventures West’s Prop­erty Specialist Abby Varner will manage the registration process that begins Tuesday. Beginning in February and continuing into March, the company will host a series of homeownership and financing seminars so that prospective buyers understand the criteria they must meet.

Ishida said that process also will help buyers understand how deed-restricted housing, in spite of limits that prevent it from realizing the full rise in equity offered by the open market, can work out as a business proposition.

“It’s a great first method to create equity,” Ishida said.