When it came to deciding whether to approve a Habitat for Humanity housing development plan along Virginia Street, there was not much debate among Idaho Springs City Council members. “To be honest …
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When it came to deciding whether to approve a Habitat for Humanity housing development plan along Virginia Street, there was not much debate among Idaho Springs City Council members.
“To be honest to you, we have no grounds for denial,” Mayor Michael Hillman said.
The developers had done all that the city’s development code asked of them, meaning the city would have little to no legal defense if the developer sued the city for denial.
The council voted 4-3 at its June 14 meeting to deny the project’s final development plan, triggering the threat of a lawsuit from the housing nonprofit Blue Spruce Habitat for Humanity. Councilors John Curtis and Scott Pennell changed their votes for the July 26 meeting, to approve the development plan.
“I don’t want anybody to think that we aren’t listing to the folks that have concerns,” Hillman added though, speaking directly to the in-person audience, which included several residents who would be neighboring the new development — most of whom oppose the Virginia Street development due to safety concerns about road conditions.
Wall Street residents, speaking against the Habitat for Humanity development plan both in person and through Zoom, reiterated again and again that the unsafe road conditions on that section of roadway would only be made worse.
“Today we have to weigh affordable housing at this site against the safety of affected residents and their families that have no choice but to drive down Wall Street,” said Rick Scott, one of those affected residents. “Habitat could build elsewhere, but we don’t have a choice.”
Blue Spruce Habitat for Humanity, which built some affordable housing units in Empire, has proposed eight income-restricted townhomes for workforce housing at 1628 Virginia St. behind the St. Paul Catholic Church parking lot. The four duplexes with 20 total parking spaces would be along Virginia Street. The exteriors would be mostly pre-fabricated
The development would increase traffic, and decrease sun exposure and visibility right where the washed out and overly steep Wall Street turns into 16th Avenue.
“Shame on Habitat for not wanting to make this project perfect. Perfect in the way that everybody is safe in the community, everybody is uplifted,” said another Wall Street resident, Christina Wienke.
But as Mayor Hillman had alluded to, there is a limit to how much surrounding infrastructure conditions can be made the responsibility of a landowner who has already met all development code requirements.
“It doesn’t sound like anybody has any idea how to fix the worst street. That’s always been the worst street,” said Andrew Yard, who helps operate Smokin’ Yard’s BBQ in Idaho Springs.
Yard said he could sympathize with the safety concerns of neighbors but said the lack of affordable housing in the area was also a major concern for businesses trying to maintain business hours.
“This is as hard as it’s ever been,” to find and keep employees, Yard continued, in significant part due to the difficulty in finding housing in Clear Creek County. He added that he’d actually bought property to rent out to his employees to help fill the need.
Wall Street remedy
Hillman reiterated that the city was not going to ignore the existing safety issues at the Wall Street and 16th Avenue intersection.
The corner is a 90-degree turn that plunges at more than a 20% slope, with additional turn-offs to the eastern portion of Wall Street and Virginia Street as well. Washed out gravel in the spring and summer, and ice in the winter help complicate the slope even more.
Prior to the regular meeting of July 26, the City Council met with JVA Consulting Engineers to discuss possible options for improving the situation.
Hillman warned the audience at the regular meeting that not all the potential solutions the engineers came back with were very practical, including the potential need for some homes and properties to be bulldozed to allow for new road alignments, or for many Wall Street residents to pay thousands in out-of-pocket costs to help build and maintain soaring new retaining walls.
None of the engineering options reduced the severe slope of the roadway to acceptable levels. That, combined with the steep costs associated with destroying home lots and building massive retaining walls led the council to support the least invasive of the options JVA considered — keeping the current road orientation but building drainage channels along the edges of the corner to avoid so much wash-out and applying a “high traction” asphalt surface treatment to the sloped area.
JVA estimated the cost for those improvements at $15,000-$20,000. The councilors asked JVA to formally develop that project plan and return to the council in the coming weeks.
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