Murphy Flats affordable housing project stalls over parking stalls

This is an artist’s rendering of the type of housing the Murphy Flats affordable housing development will provide to long-term residents. Image courtesy of Courtney Kizer

Architect Courtney Kizer and her husband, Steve Evers suffered a setback Tuesday in their quest to develop Murphy Flats, a 37-unit affordable housing project when a Grand County Planning Commission short three members failed to approve making a favorable recommendation to the Grand County Council.

The project is planned for three lots in the 1100 block of Murphy Lane under the county’s High-Density Housing Overlay. The 3-1 vote, one yes vote short of a favorable recommendation, came after a public hearing. Concerns over parking spaces compelled Chair Gerrish Willis to vote against the project, despite the fact county planning staff recommend approval with conditions – pointing out that at this point in the process “planning commissioners shall primarily determine” whether the project is compatible with the overlay and if it conforms with the rules. An initial phase calling for 20 units has already been recommended for approval.

Staff in its recommendation said the proposed master plan was “well designed” and the project offers “a housing type not well represented in the housing market.”

According to the overlay ordinance, the 37 units would require 60 parking spaces while Kizer and Evers propose 53 with the possibility of adding 6 more. Kizer said 21 of the units will be one-bedroom and 16 will have two bedrooms. Staff in its report agreed with the justifications the couple used in seeking an exception to the parking space requirements.

Courtney Kizer

That led to a debate on whether the county should revisit those requirements as they vary from city to city and Grand County’s is on the high-end.

Also, Murphy Flats is not the type of development that would attract someone with a multitude of cars. When the proposal first came before the planning commission the project was mischaracterized as being a development for so-called tiny homes, but that was incorrect. In an earlier interview, Kizer told The Times-Independent the project would feature a mix of duplexes and fourplexes with “tiny footprints,” ranging from 400 to 550 square feet. The 37 units would be situated on roughly 2.5 acres.

She mentioned the parking concerns and acknowledged they were legitimate given the county’s code, but she also said at least some of the Murphy Flats tenants would use bicycles for transportation.

Planning Commissioner Kevin Walker said he could not think of a better project in which to allow a parking exception and it is possible that members will, in the future, look at modifying the rules. For the moment, however, they will be applied to the letter.

Clearly but quietly upset with the vote, Kizer said after the hearing she would talk to planners about next steps. She can still go before the Grand County Council without a favorable recommendation, but that did not seem to be an attractive option for her and Evers.

“I thought we were supposed to be building affordable housing,” said a visibly angry Joe Kingsley outside of the courthouse.

Willis for his part seemed surprised the vote ended in a denial, as three of his colleagues voted in favor, but the rules require four affirmative votes for passage. Members Rachel Nelson, Abby Scott and Cricket Green were absent.