An affordable housing development that has incrementally progressed over 16 years may have just come to a stop, due to the current stalemate on Westminster City Council. Years ago, the city bought …
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An affordable housing development that has incrementally progressed over 16 years may have just come to a stop, due to the current stalemate on Westminster City Council.
Years ago, the city bought three buildings in Harris Park with the intention of building affordable rental units that a local nonprofit would ultimately own, develop and operate. The city had recently been taking steps to hand off the properties to the nonprofit, which required council’s approval. However, the current absence of a tie-breaking vote on an evenly split council put the kibosh on that handoff.
“I am very disappointed to feel that this may not pass tonight,” said Mayor Anita Seitz at a May 24 council meeting, prior to council voting 3-3 on a resolution related to the development. Seitz’s comment followed Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott and Councilors Lindsey Smith and Rich Seymour saying that they would vote against the resolution. Seitz and Councilors Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz voted for it. A resolution fails if there is a tie vote.
The resolution was related to environmental remediation of the properties. Though quite specific, it’s a necessary step for the nonprofit Community Resources and Housing Development Corporation (CRHDC) to take ownership of the property. Because that resolution didn’t pass, a second, more significant resolution related to the development on the May 24 agenda was tabled indefinitely.
The Westminster Housing Authority originally bought the properties along West 73rd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard in 2004 with the hope of building affordable housing units there. Then, in 2012 and in 2014, the city received loans from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to purchase the properties from the housing authority. The city received the HUD loan because the money would be used for affordable housing.
In 2018, the city executed a memorandum of understanding with CRHDC for the nonprofit to eventually take over and manage the properties. That memorandum laid out a plan for 17 rental units for seniors.
All the while, the site has had environmental contamination because a former gas station storage tank leaked. Also, two of the three buildings require asbestos abatement and demolition. The city has agreed to address all those issues before CRHDC takes over, no matter what.
At a council meeting on Sept. 28, 2020, council voted 4-3 to approve a purchase and sale agreement with CRHDC, the first step in process to giving the properties to the nonprofit. Former Mayor Herb Atchison, who recently resigned, was the tie-breaking vote that time. The three dissenting councilors asked about financials and environmental remediation at the September meeting, but didn’t mention specific reasons why they opposed the development.
The resolutions that failed at the May 24 meeting would have moved forward the purchase and sale agreement with CRHDC. Like in September, the three dissenting councilors didn’t state at the May 24 meeting specific reasons for voting no.
“I do feel that staff has worked diligently on the property,” Seymour said. However, he added, “In the need to be consistent, I will not be voting in favor of this project as I did in September.”
Seitz protested. The resolution, she said, “would allow us after many years to finally actualize the intended purpose of different dollars we got from the federal government to improve the community and would provide 17 needed senior citizens affordable housing units. It would improve blight in the area, and it would improve a portion of our city that needs economic investment.”
The 3-3 split on affordable housing follows other stalemates on council — one side is all Republicans, and the other is all Democrats — over a gun safety proclamation and selecting the next mayor pro tem.
Since progress of the development’s purchase and sale agreement has come to a halt, it isn’t entirely clear what will happen to the property and whether CRHDC will take it over. City spokesperson Ryan Hegreness said the city is still able to proceed with asbestos abatement, demolition and soil remediation.
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