Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jesse Murphy

Church looks into building habitat homes


The Niwot United Methodist Church has been looking for ways to utilize some of their land on Lookout Road and Mt. Evans Place in Gunbarrel, and Habitat for Humanity homes have been considered.

A meeting was held in late May to discuss the proposition with neighbors and members of the church.

Some concerns raised during the meeting included impact on water and sewer services and local schools, construction time-line, lot sizes and potential for loss of the view.

Dave Emerson with Habitat said that the process began as a way for the church to benefit the community, and that they have taking their time which may have resulted in some miscommunication.

“Most of the time when I’m working with owners we have to work quickly,” Emerson said. “In this case there isn’t a timeline, it’s just exploratory. We took our time, we met with the county and City of Boulder to determine if anything was possible.

“There were a lot of misconceptions about what was happening. Unfortunately by going slow I think snippets of information were out there and created some confusion before we were able to have this meeting.”

Bruce Warren said during the meeting that the church and Habitat met with both the City of Boulder and Boulder County planning officials last summer, and they seemed to generally support the proposal.

Emerson said that this is a very detailed process with a complicated answer regarding land use, zoning and codes — in this case it’s not entirely clear what the church would have to go through to get it approved.

“It’s not as formulaic as you might think,” Emerson said. “There is a substantial process that any developer has to go through in Boulder County. We would be no different, but it is a very thorough process.”

The concept is to build up to seven single-story, single-family homes along the east side of Mt. Evans Place, which runs to the west and north of the church itself.

Emerson said that people were worried about having seven houses there, the length of time to build (which he said Habitat would control and try to accelerate) and the area being annexed into the city.

“For us that’s not a viable path, we would want to stay in the county if we went forward with this,” Emerson said in regards to concerns. “We explained that with our program we design the house for the size of the family. There are restrictions that it can’t be rented, and other rules that could be put into place, but that’s further down the line.”

Property values were a concern as well, Emerson said that it’s hard to predict how it would affect values positively or negatively, but stated that research shows that there is little to no impact. He mentioned that locally they have seen more appreciation in neighborhoods with Habitat homes.

“Our goal is when you drive down a street you have no idea which are Habitat homes or which ones aren’t,” Emerson said. “They’d be the newer homes, but they are designed to look equivalent to homes around it.

“We just want to reiterate that we’re going slow here, final decisions are going to take time. We want a dialogue with neighbors, we are listening and adjusting as we go. It would be a huge benefit. The need is overwhelming for the people that are working in this community to find housing in this community. We hope people can have an open mind as we go forward and create something that we think would be low-impact for that land. The church does have other options.”

He added that the state has lost roughly 65 percent of affordable housing the last five years due to appreciation, and wants residents in the area to know that people in their program have to go through a long process before they’re approved.

“The people that are part of our program are thoroughly vetted,” Emerson said. “There is a bit of a misconception that they’re nearly homeless. These are folks who are working in the area that have steady jobs with a steady income, it’s just not enough to have new housing. Once they’re selected, they have to put in a ton of sweat equity to build the home and they have to take a bunch of classes.

“That process can be anywhere from 12 to 18 months, so when they’re ready to move into the home they are very prepared to fit in well within a neighborhood and for home ownership.”

Property values in the area make it difficult for those with lower incomes, such as teachers.

“The people we serve are often living in housing that is way too expensive compared to what they can afford,” Emerson said. “They’re making hard decisions between a lot of basic needs because they’re spending too much on housing.”

Frank Landis, chair of church’s board of trustees, mentioned during the meeting that he drives from Erie because he can’t afford to live closer.

“As disciples of Jesus Christ, we want to be of service to the community,” Landis said.

Gunbarrel Estates resident Gary Keschl volunteers for habitat.

“If you could see single moms with their families out there, working their butts off…” Keschl said in his support of the project. In spite of the impact, he added, “It’s a small inconvenience to the community.”

But not everyone in attendance was in favor of the proposal.

Single mother Anne Oberg prefers that the church land remain as it is, and said “I don’t feel like this is the place. I feel like the rug is being pulled out from under me.”

There are other stipulations including controlling the price of the homes, restrictions on who the homes could be sold to, and a no-rental clause.

“We have the benefit of time, it probably will take years if it becomes a reality,” Emerson said. “There’s time for us to look at resources so we can talk to the neighbors and answer questions about those things.”


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