Growth, sprawl and affordable housing were among the hot button topics at the Denver Metro Mayors Real Estate Forum held Wednesday at the Wheat Ridge Recreation Center.
Mayors Bob Murphy (Lakewood), Joyce Jay (Wheat Ridge) and Marc Williams (Arvada) were joined by Jefferson County Commissioner Don Rosier in a wide-ranging 90 minute discussion about the key issues driving the Jefferson County real estate market.
In a market where prices have risen 20 to 30 percent in just the past three years, affordable housing remains a critical issue. And Colorado's controversial "construction defects law", which essentially creates uncapped liability for developers of multi-family residential housing, remains one of the biggest challenges to creating much needed entry-level housing inventory.
"The trial lawyers in this state have essentially killed multi-family construction," said Rosier, who is hopeful that a newly-elected group of legislators will enact reform during the 2015 legislative session. As a result, virtually all of the high rise construction going on in Denver these days is apartments, not condos.
Lakewood mayor Bob Murphy spoke of his city's recent well-publicized efforts to mitigate the impact of the construction defects law at the city level. "We haven't built a condo in Lakewood in six years," he said. "That has got to change."
Lakewood's measure, which passed the city council on a controversial 7-4 vote last month, gives developers and builders the right to repair defects before facing litigation and would require condominium association boards to get consent from a majority of homeowners - rather than just the majority of the board - before filing suit.
Until a more sensible statewide law is passed, Murphy said, the affordable housing shortage in the Denver metro area will only intensify.
Mayor Joyce Jay of Wheat Ridge pointed to a number of infill developments in her city currently under construction or in the planning stages which specifically target older residents. A new development under construction at 24th and Vance will create 50 new housing units, while another infill development for patio homes near 32nd and Wadsworth will offer seniors lower maintenance patio homes.
"We've got to find a way to create new housing options for seniors to free up single family homes in many of our older neighborhoods," she said. "If seniors can't move out, younger people can't move in."
Because of the soaring costs of land, labor and construction, urban density is here to stay. Going forward, she said, more developments will be based on sustainability, efficiency and access to FasTracks, which will transport thousands of people each day to and from Union Station.
Arvada Mayor Marc Williams talked about much of the new development and redevelopment going on in his rapidly-growing city of 110,000 residents. Massive new single-family construction projects in Leyden Rock, Candelas and Whisper Creek are putting huge pressure on the city's infrastraucture and transportation corridors, while redevelopment of the Arvada Triangle (now known as the Ralston Creek area) will include dense urban infill projects including apartments, condos and mixed-use neighborhoods.
"One thing we're going to see going forward," Williams said, "is with thousands of convention visitors coming to Denver each year, more and more of them are going to get out of the city, hop on the Gold Line and make day trips to places like Olde Town Arvada."
Another topic of much discussion is the county's overall graying population.
"We have the largest number of residents 60 and older of any county in Colorado," said Rosier. "And that number is going to double in the next six years."
Senior housing options are a front-burner item for almost every city in Jefferson County, because the homes seniors are in today could be freed up for younger families (with larger incomes and more spending power) if seniors simply had better options on the other side.
Each of the mayors talked about up and coming areas of their cities.
Nearly 75 acres of land in Denver's Federal Center will soon be redeveloped to accommodate between 700 and 1300 new homes. Ryland Homes has significant plans for the Green Gables area, including patio homes, apartments and mixed use neighborhoods with residential units over retail spaces, similar to those found in Belmar.
But affordability is not an easy problem to solve. Land costs are higher. Labor costs are higher. Material costs are higher. Permitting and environmental impact costs are higher. Infrastructure will be paid for by homeowners through special taxing districts. The net effect is that building the same home today is significantly more expensive than it was just four or five years ago, and those costs are passed directly through to the homeowner.
"We simply don't have $200,000 entry-level homes anymore," said Rosier. "I fear those days are gone for good."