Project raises debate over affordable housing

Proposed Stroh Ranch apartment complex riles neighbors

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An affordable housing project that has yet to appear on planning commission or town council agendas is already causing a stir in Stroh Ranch and town hall.

Dominium Development is under negotiations to purchase property in Parker's Stroh Ranch area to build a 204-unit, Section 42 apartment complex. The income-restricted housing would be open to renters making from approximately $35,000 to $55,000 annually, or about 60 percent of the median income for surrounding residents.

Dominium submitted its application to the town Dec. 28, but hearings for the project are not on the calendar as of yet.

Ron Mehl, senior developer for Dominium, said resistance to the project is due to pre-existing misconceptions about “affordable” or “workforce” housing.

The development “will look and feel like market-rate apartments,” Mehl said, adding that the exterior will feature masonry comparable to surrounding homes. “No one will know the difference.”

Mehl said a letter, sent by the Stroh Ranch's Homeowners Association to residents of the community on Nov. 8, spread “misinformation” about the plan.

The letter referred to the Dominium project as a “low-income housing development,” stating it would “potentially bring additional crime” to the community and would have a “devastating impact on home values.” The letter encouraged residents to voice objections to the mayor, town council and planning commission.

Many residents have been showing up at council meetings since November to do just that, citing declining property values and increased crime as reasons for their opposition.

In response, Mehl said residents of income-restricted housing undergo thorough background checks to qualify for the housing, something not required for renters of single-family homes or market-rate apartments.

“Everybody has to income qualify,” Mehl said, estimating the average income for renters at the complex would be between $33,000 and $40,000. “That's a schoolteacher, that's a first-year patrol officer, these are members of the support staff at town hall.”

Mehl estimated rents for the building at approximately $1,100 for a two-bedroom apartment. By comparison, the median rent for a market-rate two-bedroom apartment in Parker is $1,450, according to apartmentlist.com.

Artie Lehl, program manager for the Douglas County Housing Partnership, testified at a Jan. 17 council meeting that property values around affordable housing developments actually increase. He cited a 10-year study by real estate research website Trulia, "There Doesn't Go the Neighborhood," that studied 20 different housing markets across the United States. Other government entities, such as Arapahoe/Douglas Works, regularly use Trulia's research.

R.J. O'Connor, president of the Stroh Ranch HOA, said the letter referred to Dominium's project as “low-income” housing based on the information he and other members had at the time. But he added he doesn't agree with the Trulia study.

“Everybody knows that numbers can be doctored and studies can be done to make it look the way people want it to look,” he said, “If that place goes in and it isn't maintained, property values are going to come down.”

Joy Overbeck, a Stroh Ranch resident researching the development with O'Connor, shares O'Connor's concerns about Dominium's management. Overbeck pointed to a stack of printed Yelp reviews from across the United States, alleging inadequate responses to repair requests, unannounced intrusions into apartments by maintenance staff and poor customer service at other Dominium properties.

“There are dozens of comments,” she said. “It's not just here, it's a pattern.”

The Better Business Bureau gave Dominium an A+ rating as of Feb. 2, part of the criteria being the number of complaints filed and “whether in BBB's opinion the business appropriately responded to them.”

Whether the Dominium's application succeeds or fails, growth in Parker isn't slowing down. As businesses look for employees to fill entry-level and mid-level jobs, the demand for affordable housing will increase.

Jason Rogers, the town's deputy community development director, said workforce housing is part of the town's plan to meet the needs of a changing market.

"Parker’s vision is to provide housing opportunities for residents of all ages and affordable housing is a component to achieving this vision," Rogers said via email.

O'Connor may not want Dominium's apartment buidling in his neighborhood, but he agrees it has to go somewhere.

"We live in a world where not everybody makes 100 plus thousand dollars a year," he said. "You've got teachers, you've got starting firefighters... All those folks need a place to live and they need a good place to live."

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