Housing project denied, developer encouraged to try again

Developer encouraged to try again

About a half hour before midnight Tuesday, a weary Durango City Council denied a zoning change for a multifamily housing project at the former Boker Lumber site, but councilors expressed optimism that the long-delayed project could still be salvaged through compromise.

Councilors rejected the zoning request on procedural grounds, saying the project should go through public hearings as a planned development so neighbors could give their input on the project slated for 960 E. College Drive.

But councilors expressed enthusiasm for the project itself, citing the demand for more housing in Durango. An urban infill project “is what we need,” said Councilor Dick White.

But the developer, Emil Wanatka with Airview Holdings-Cadwallader, said after the meeting he was not sure what he was going to do.

“We literally at this point have no idea,” Wanatka said. “We don’t know whether the project is economically viable or not. It’s just changed so much over time.

“We’re going back to rethink the whole thing,” he said. “We will have to consider heavy commercial use on the property, maybe that will be a future application, but I can’t say what it will be at this point. I really have no idea.”

Councilors urged Wanatka to try again with a planned development proposal, noting the neighbors seemed open to compromise, especially on density or residential occupancy.

Mayor Doug Lyon suggested the city could tweak parking requirements so the project would not be saddled with a Walmart-sized parking lot.

The requested zoning would have allowed up to 24 units per acre, or 40 units on 1.68 acres of the level portion on the 5-acre property, which is off College Drive near Ninth Avenue.

City staff and neighbors have raised concerns about traffic safety and neighborhood compatibility. Because the project is on a hillside near a sharp bend in the road, staff has worried about traffic visibility. Neighbors also worry about tall buildings towering over their homes.

Greg Hoch, the city’s chief planner, responded to Wanatka’s assertion that he has invested $100,000 in architects and engineers to draft the proposal. Hoch said that the city did not require Wanatka to spend the money because the early stage of a development process is intended to give the developer guidance on the feasibility of a project.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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