RTA expands employee housing with another five-unit project

Purchasing more townhomes in Gunnison and looking north

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

As many businesses and organizations across the Gunnison Valley struggle to recruit and retain employees at varying income levels, the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) is working to expand its future housing stock by another 12 bedrooms this year. The RTA has five units coming online in the Lazy K development in Gunnison this summer as construction finishes up, and this week board members approved purchasing another five units at a new deed-restricted development in Gunnison that is expected to break ground next year. The board is also in talks with North Valley municipalities and Gunnison County representatives about how to attain more housing close to Crested Butte and/or Mt. Crested Butte and considering how to be strategic about deed restrictions for maximum impact.

During the June 10 RTA board meeting board members reviewed and approved the provisions of a master lease for the five two-bedroom townhomes it purchased at Lazy K. The RTA will sublease the units to Alpine Express and Alpine will manage the property and rent to employees who work 30 hours per week for the RTA. The rent will be $1,000 for each of the two-bedroom units and is income-restricted; pets will be allowed with an additional deposit and pet agreement. Each unit must be used as a single-family residence, meaning up to two adults and up to three minors or up to three unrelated adults.

At board member Roland Mason’s suggestion, the board added an amendment to the agreement that the RTA may use a unit temporarily if one becomes available, to serve as a “landing pad” for transitioning personnel if needed. The board unanimously approved the agreement and amendment, calling the amendment a “smart addition” to allow for changing circumstances. 

Fading West

The board also met with John O’Neal of Fading West Development, a home manufacturer based in Buena Vista. O’Neal is the company’s development and marketing manager and lives in Crested Butte, and described the 24-unit, deed restricted housing development planned for West Denver Avenue in Gunnison. There will be a mix of townhomes and detached homes, he said, with a common green space, community grills and a community fire pit.  

“We’re going to have live-work deed restrictions on it. So you’ll need to have your primary, and probably your only, residence in Gunnison, and work locally—how many hours per week isn’t figured out yet, but we’re basing them on the City of Gunnison’s deed restrictions,” he said. The City of Gunnison will be awarding the development reduced tap fees in exchange. O’Neal said all units would be built to 2021 building code standards.

The RTA board unanimously approved of going into contract with Fading West to purchase five units, a mix of two three-bedrooms and three two-bedrooms. 

Truex said that although the RTA had previously budgeted $1.6 million for the project, $1.8 to $1.9 million is more likely due to increasing costs. And the pricing is not locked in.

“The difference is these units won’t have income restrictions on them like the Lazy K do,” said Truex.

O’Neal said the townhomes would get built in the factory next summer and likely be ready to go before school starts in 2023. 

“We’re really excited about it,” O’Neal said. “It’s been kind of crazy with supply chain issues…and figuring out how to build homes in a factory.” He said supply chain issues and material costs have contributed to the price increases and have made building slower.

The company has a multi-phase housing development in Buena Vista called The Farm and is building homes destined for projects in Pagosa Springs, Leadville, Fairplay, Poncha Springs and possibly something else in Gunnison County. “We have another project here in Gunnison we are talking to the county about. We’re hoping to get that under contract soon,” said O’Neal. “That project would come before this West Denver project.”

Mason said he has traditionally been in favor of hiring local workers for these projects but he was comfortable with this arrangement. “Right now, that labor force is completely maxed out; a lot of the good builders are [booked] out two or three years.”

Mason said he appreciated that it is a regionally made product coming from western Colorado. O’Neal said he also uses a local general contractor and local dirt mover.

The RTA board authorized the board chair to sign a contract with the company for an amount not to exceed $1.9 million if it is approved by the board attorney and executive director. 

Price structures, said Truex, would be similar to Lazy K rent, and maybe more for the three bedroom units. 

Looking north

The next step is to secure housing for RTA employees at the north end of the valley, said Truex. He said he was particularly interested in housing the RTA North Valley supervisor, who currently lives in Gunnison for lack of other options. 

Truex said the closer to the transit center the better, so Crested Butte or Mt. Crested Butte would be preferable to Crested Butte South but all options are on the table. 

“I’ve talked briefly with Troy [Russ, Crested Butte community development director] about getting something in the Sixth and Butte development,” he said of the town’s upcoming affordable housing project.  The board agreed to budget in 2023 for one or two more units. 

Truex said there are free market condos to consider as well. “They are about the same price as a bus, but there’s no point in a bus if you don’t have someone to drive it,” said Truex. “We need people at both ends of the valley.”

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