City of Cripple Creek Scales Back on Development Incentives For Housing

Concerns Raised About “Giving Away the Farm”

New Ambulance Garage Approved

Rick Langenberg


Cripple Creek’s grand tap fee waiver party may be screeching to a halt—at least as far as offering completely free drinks and no-limit perks.


Last week, the city council, in following a policy initiated recently, is now only ready to open the town’s purse strings halfway through its fee waiver program for housing developers.


Still, opportunities for good housing deals, with stellar government incentives, are ripe, a fact that has led to a record number of new proposed projects. However, it’s unclear how many of these will get developed or started by the end of this year.


In a short meeting on July 5, the council took up a request for a $64,000 fee break for a project proposed by Vincent Hall, a representative of Rocky Mountain Building and Loan Inc., and Hallcrest Consulting. By a unanimous vote, the council agreed to only give the developer, who has been a familiar face at the council podium during housing discussions, a 50 percent waiver of these fees.


This is part of a new more cautionary stance the city council recently took in addressing the touchy subject of development incentives regarding housing.


Hall, who has been involved in another housing project, under the Clayton Homes banner, is seeking to construct a single family residence and three duplexes, with a total of seven units. The proposed units are located in the south side of Golden Avenue in a variety of residential zones

Ken Hartsfield, the city’s planning and building director, recommended approval of the project, with a number of conditions, mostly dealing with such issues as project completion.

The council welcomed the latest housing pursuit with open arms, but expressed reservations about granting a full 100 percent waiver of the estimated tap fees, roughly estimated at $64,000.


This was a familiar practices for housing projects in the past few years.


These tap fee waivers were part of a developer and construction incentive program the city started in 2001 to spearhead more affordable housing projects. The lack of workforce housing in Cripple Creek has approached a crisis level, based on recent studies.


As a result, the city initiated an unprecedented developer-incentive program that sparked more interest in housing activity, mostly for manufactured units, than what has occurred in decades, and possibly even stemming back to the time of the gold rush. For an extended period in the last few years, the council granted full waivers for a slew of projects.


However, with the city getting hit with some future pursuits calling for several hundred units and mega developments, a stop sign was getting erected by certain elected leaders. They worried about huge costs that could impact the town’s bottom line, along with opening a ‘Pandora’s box’ that could create a dangerous precedent.


To accommodate its huge housing demand, the city is currently pursuing major efforts to obtain approximately $10 million in grant dollars to expand its infrastructure capabilities, but these pursuits are quite timely.


Several months ago, the council had a lively work session on this topic of developer incentives, and agreed to rein in this incentive program slightly by taking a more scrutinizing look at the merits of the individual requests. More specifically, they didn’t want to give a complete fee waiver, and wanted to review these projects on a case-by-case basis. Plus, concerns mounted that with several huge mega housing projects, the city could put itself at risk by offering a free-for-all incentive program for developers. Melissa Trenary, the current mayor pro tem, has raised a red flag about “giving away the farm” with this pro-development incentive program, if officials aren’t careful.


In addition, Councilman Tom Litherland, the former mayor pro tem, noted that the city’s real area of demand, the construction of new apartments, was not being met by their incentive program.


Although having certain reservations about the program, the council has been a big supporter of efforts to facilitate more housing. But they now admit the incentive program needs to be scaled back somewhat.


This theme was reinforced at last week’s discussion. “We seem to be bouncing around,” said Litherland, in regards to the request for a full waiver of $64,000 in fee breaks. He proposed cutting the water and sewer tap fee break for the latest development pursuit in half. He said this stance was recently adopted for another request for a residential unit.


This idea of a 50 percent fee break appeared to gain more council support than a complete fee waiver.


“I have a hard time waiving all these fees,” said Councilman Bruce Brown, who served as mayor for more than a decade.


The council okayed this partial fee waiver by a unanimous vote.


New Ambulance Hub

In another housing development proposed by Hall, in behalf of the Pueblo-based Clayton Homes, the developer got a more positive response. He sought to eliminate the construction of detached garages to a project involving several single-family home units. The idea behind this request dealt with lowering the cost of the homes, located on Main Street.


The council had no problem with this request. However, Brown sought more information on the status of the project and questioned a number of delays in construction.

Hall cited the labor shortage and the challenges of doing housing projects in Cripple Creek. “Labor has been a challenge (in Cripple Creek) since 1898,” replied Hall.

In other development action, the council moved fasted in okaying a new ambulance garage pursuit by the Southwest Teller Hospital District. This garage, which will feature six-drive-through bays for vehicles, will be located next to the Cripple Creek Care Center.


The project was touted as a big community benefit and was heavily endorsed by the council.

As far as other community benefits, Finance Director Paul Harris reported a bonus month for Cripple Creek gaming during the month of May. He said the town out-performed fellow rivals Black Hawk and Central City in gaming proceed increases, which will the town to increase its market share.


Harris stated that this is good news, as by increasing their market share, the city could receive more taxes.


This marked a big improvement from the previous month, when the town hit a real downward spiral due to some tough weather days.