After 20 months and $100,000 spent on architects and engineers, the fate of a plan for multifamily housing on the former Boker Lumber site was being debated before the Durango City Council late Tuesday night.
Emil Wanatka, the developer with Airview Holdings-Cadwallader, complained he was “emotionally and financially spent.” He had requested a rezone to ensure some certainty for the future of the project rather than subjecting it to more public hearings as required for a new planned-use development.
His lawyer, Denny Ehlers, noted the project has been revised many times in a futile attempt to satisfy concerns of neighbors and city staff members.
“We’ve gone through three iterations, and we’re getting nowhere,” Ehlers said.
Ehlers said his client is “caught in an infinite loop” of demands. Ehlers said there is no intention of coming back with a planned-use development.
Neighbors have raised concerns about population density, neighborhood compatibility with the construction of tall buildings and traffic safety because the property at 960 E. College Drive near Ninth Avenue is located at a sharp curve on a steep hillside. Staff members worried about the visibility of traffic making left turns in and out of the property.
“The traffic is already too much,” said neighbor Matthias Holladay.
A zoning change would have allowed up to 24 units per acre or 40 units on the 1.68 acres on the level section of the property, which is 5 acres altogether.
Holladay also was worried about the “wildlife there. We see a lot of critters.”
Cindy Smith opposed the request for a rezoning because it would preclude public hearings on the project.
“The public wouldn’t get a say-so,” she said. “There are a lot of safety issues. We just want to have some input.”
Neighbors urged the City Council not to base its decision on individual opinions of Wanatka, who a neighbor acknowledged was a “great guy.”
Because capitalism is a gamble, it was not the city’s job to protect the developer’s interest, said neighbor Sandy Burke.
“All of us are a little grumpy about not getting what we want,” added neighbor, Matthias Holladay.
A proponent of infill development, or revitalzing urban space, Wanatka argued the project was essential to economic development.
Housing and job retention are interrelated, Wanatka said. “You don’t get one without the other.”
“If we don’t build this, where do we build it?” Wanatka said.