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Proposal for ‘bridge housing’ at Adventure Inn in north Durango a no-go

Community Investment Alliance struggled to meet funding requirements, CEO says
The Adventure Inn, located at Main Avenue and 35th Street in Durango, was to be converted to temporary bridge housing before some of the funding fell through. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A project to convert a motel in north Durango to serve housing-insecure residents will not move forward as planned.

Kathleen Van Voorhis, CEO of the Community Investment Alliance, confirmed the nonprofit was no longer under contract to purchase the Adventure Inn located at Main Avenue and 35th Street. The organization began to pursue the project last summer in response to a funding opportunity from La Plata County government intended to solicit independent projects to address the housing crisis.

One of the project’s funders issued what Van Voorhis called “multifaceted requests” that the Alliance could not meet, causing the entire plan to ultimately fall through.

Van Voorhis was not at liberty to specifically identify those unattainable requests, although emails between Alliance leaders and the city’s Community Development department obtained through a public records request indicate that uncertainty around zoning compatibility may have played a role.

The Alliance had secured millions of dollars in grants and loans to fund the project through state and county channels. In partnership with other organizations in Durango, the Alliance planned to use the motel rooms as temporary “bridge housing” for residents at risk of becoming unhoused.

Although much of that funding was linked to the property, Van Voorhis said the Alliance still has money from the American Rescue Plan Act via the state and will pursue a similar bridge housing model in a decentralized form.

Since before the unsanctioned camping site at Purple Cliffs was closed in October 2022, the city and county have grappled with how, and more divisively where to serve a fluctuating population of people in need of housing and related social services.

There is a general consensus within the world of service providers that housing or temporary shelter must be located at least near transit, if not near the city center so that clients have access to places of work and other service hubs, such as Manna soup kitchen. But proposals to offer any services in downtown Durango, or even just the whiff of such a concept, have been met with vociferous objections from city residents.

Durango Community Development Director Scott Shine said the city did not kill the project and confirmed that financing was the primary issue. He did not know what financing requirements the Alliance was unable to meet.

An email exchange between Shine and Jenn Lopez, the co-founder of the Alliance, that took place last fall indicates there was some conflict between the nonprofit and the city over whether the bridge housing still conformed to the city’s defined use as a motel.

On Sept. 5, 2023, a planner working for the Alliance emailed Shine to request a letter on city letterhead confirming the property’s zoning. The letter was needed for an application to the Colorado Division of Housing for a $2.38 million loan, which the Alliance was ultimately able to secure. An attached template letter said the property was zoned as Mixed-Use – Arterial Corridor and read “this zoning is correct to continue operating the property as a motel.”

But the city was not certain the bridge housing proposal qualified as a motel.

On Sept. 11, Shine replied: “There is quite a bit more to this project than just a Zoning Verification Letter and our team looks forward to working with you all on the project. We’d like to understand more about the planned outreach to the neighborhood and the actual uses that will be on the property.”

Shine ultimately asked that the Alliance host a community meeting for all addresses within 500 feet of the property before the department would issue a letter.

Although this is not standard procedure when someone requests a zoning verification letter, Shine said the project was not standard and that he thought “the community should be made aware.”

When the department eventually issued a letter on Oct. 18, it stated the property’s zoning. It also said, “The City of Durango cannot confirm if the proposed use of the property fits within this (’Hotel or Motel’) land use category, additional information is needed prior to making that determination.”

Although that letter sufficed the state’s request, it is unclear whether it adequately addressed the zoning assurance requirements for funding that would have bridged the time until that state loan arrived. Van Voorhis declined to comment specifically about this.

“We’re incredibly sad to see that it’s not going to come to fruition right now,” she said.

However, the Alliance will retain about $1 million in ARPA funding from the state to provide bridge housing and support for clients at scattered sites in partnership with Manna, the Collaborative Management Program and Housing Solutions for the Southwest. The model will remain the same – provide temporary housing as a “bridge” for people at risk of entering homelessness, connect those clients with the necessary services and find them permanent housing as quickly as possible.

Officials at La Plata County, who scrambled in January to approve a $500,000 loan to help the Alliance meet match funding requirements, say the county is not giving up on finding solutions.

“The county is committed to working with our community to find answers and that hasn’t changed,” said County Manager Chuck Stevens. “There’s always challenges and hurdles along the way with any project. It’s up to us to continue to work through those challenges and solve problems.”


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