As the bi-weekly Estes Park Town Council meeting commenced this past Tuesday, Oct. 25, the boardroom stood full of community members awaiting with anticipation. The cause for this uncommon crowd was a public hearing over a proposed ordinance to rezone 21.8 acres of land for the Fish Hatchery Workforce Housing Project.
Before this public comment portion of the hearing could officially get underway, Town of Estes Park Senior Planner Jeff Woeber gave specifics on the ordinance.
This amendment looks to rezone the 21.8 acres located off of Fish Hatchery Road from A-1(Accommodations) zoning to RM(Multi-family residential) zoning. Concept-level plans for the property are to establish approximately 190 workforce housing units.
Woeber explained the reasoning behind this specified number of units saying, “190 units is all that is feasible at this point in time due primarily to water and waste-water, sewage constraints. There would be major system and capacity upgrades needed to serve more than this amount of units.”
In addition to this rezoning request, Woeber clarified that additional review and approval processes through the town would be required before any construction could be done.
Once Woeber concluded his presentation, the floor was open for members in attendance to address the board.
This open floor yielded over a dozen members of the Latino community of Estes Park. These individuals spoke of their time spent in Estes Park and the struggles they have all faced in trying to find affordable housing. Some of these individuals have been residents of Estes for over two decades and some are brand new, but all detailed the lives they were trying to create here in town and all voiced support for the rezoning.
Being from the Latino community, the majority of these members primarily spoke Spanish and used a translator to speak to the board. As a result of this factor, many names went unspecified, nonetheless, these were some of the stories shared –
“I have been living in Estes Park for 22 years, I am a member of the workforce community and my kids are a part of the school district. My family is basically working just to pay the rent. We support this new initiative the town is trying to start because, for us, it is common sense, we live here and we want to stay here.”
“I am trying to help to give my voice to this workforce community because to us, this initiative is very important. Housing is a problem, this is nothing new, I am asking all of you [the board] tonight, as members of the community, to offer a solution.”
“My family thinks Estes Park is a very nice community and I want my children to grow up here, but we are constantly living under this cloud of fear that we will need to leave at any moment.”
Among these individuals who shared their stories, some town residents seemed to hold some issues with the specifics of this new housing plan.
Fish Hatchery Road residents Karen and Sandy Cherman voiced their support of workforce housing in Estes Park but shared some areas they believed should be further looked into as the town progresses with this initiative.
Karen Cherman called for transparency from the board, stating that she has several questions that have yet to be answered. One of these questions pertained to the added traffic flow that would result from this new housing. Cherman explained that during the last wildfire evacuation, she had to wait over two and a half houses to get out of town and that she would hate to see any residents’ safety become jeopardized because the town overlooked the factor.
Sandy Cherman took to the stand with concerns over the anticipated cost of rent that would be charged to residents of these units.
“One of the keywords that has been paired with this workforce housing is affordable,” Cherman said. “It was recently found that the median income in Estes is $55,000 a year, which nets down to about $3,600 a month. If the price is $1,600 to $1,800 a month for rent, that means these members need to spend 50% of their income per month on rent alone.”
Karen and Sandy Cheman expressed that these concerns, along with others, should be discussed by the board and resolved before things officially kick off with the project.
At the conclusion of these statements, the board voted unanimously to approve the rezoning of the Fish Hatchery acres.
The other key items covered throughout the board meeting were budget appropriations and a discussion over a fine arts guild land request.
Town of Estes Park Finance Director Duane Hudson led the discussion on supplemental budget appropriations to the 2022 Town of Estes Park budget. Hudson requested that the board amend the current budget to include expenses concerning the US 36/Community Drive roundabout, the American Rescue Plan Act(ARPA) for Trailblazer and additional funding for the town’s trolley barn. The amendment totaled $1.3 million in added funding for these utilities, which the board approved unanimously.
Fine Arts Guild
In a lengthy discussion, members of the Fine Arts Guild of the Rockies asked that the board consider the guild’s request to grant a long-term lease on the parcel of land in Estes Park for the express purpose of building and maintaining a performing arts complex.
The parcel of land in question totals two vacant acres of land that sit at the NorthWest corner of Elm Road and Moraine Avenue in downtown Estes.
The land would include room for 60 parking spaces, a 150-seat auditorium, cabaret, lobby and show support area. Also planned would be a restaurant and possible rock climbing area in order to drive extra economics.
This project is estimated to cost roughly between $7 million and $8 million, which the guild would request five years to raise funding for.
While most of the board members showed support for this complex, there were still a number of possible issues they noted with the plan and appointed property area.
Due to the property being in the direct range from the town waste management facility, it was said that several infrastructure challenges could arise, while Trustee Cenac stated that the upcoming Downtown Estes Loop project could result in Moraine Avenue’s roadway widening and in turn impact the proposed piece of land.
Mayor Pro Tem Webermeier suggested that Stanley Park may be a plausible area for the construction of the complex, which members seemed to agree with. Trustee Hazelton did reiterate that this discussion was preliminary,however, and that this discussion was simply to talk about future possibilities.