Eagle, Colorado Goes to Bat for Affordable Housing Solutions

During the COVID-19 pandemic, staff in the Town of Eagle, Colorado, were also working to address another problem that was top of mind in the community.

Eagle — a bedroom community of about 7,500 approximately 30 miles from Vail — was already in the process of updating its land use code for the first time since the '70s because the town council had seen "staggering statistics and they said we needed to do something," said Peyton Heitzman, planner for the Town of Eagle.

"We noticed there were a lot of concerns over housing prices in our community," she said. "We could feel prices were going up, but we just didn't have the data to quantify it."

So, when state money became available to Colorado municipalities that completed housing needs assessments and adopted land-use strategies, Eagle officials saw an opportunity to address a key issue.

"This just seemed like a great way to couple affordable housing with some of our projects that were well underway," Heitzman said.

But to understand what the community wanted, staff knew they needed to go outside of town hall to social hotspots like the community's softball fields.

Outreach a Home Run With Residents

In the summer of 2021, Eagle staff ramped up their efforts to update the town's zoning code. That meant getting out into the community to hear from their residents to "get a gauge of what was being felt in the community and what they were open to in terms of increased density with different housing options of accessory apartments being one of those we looked into," Heitzman said.

The outreach included: sending out flyers; going on the local radio; putting information on the town's website; having translators at various community events to bridge any language gaps; and visiting local coffeehouses to have sit-down conversations with residents. To facilitate the conversations, they used visual aids that showed how high-density structures looked as compared to medium-density or even duplexes.

But planning staff also went to parks where softball leagues were playing and grilled brats and barbecued to interact with community members whom they might not ordinarily see at town meetings.

"Softball is big in the community and countywide," Heitzman said. "And that was a great event because we felt like our typically underrepresented segment of the community — which tends to be the Hispanic and Latino community — really showed up [for that]."

Nikki Davis, Eagle's economic development and housing specialist, said the softball meet-and-greet was a "tremendous success."

"In the spirit of meeting them where they were at, we leveraged that opportunity to make ourselves approachable and try to distill down the information that we were seeking feedback on in a way that would solicit a response," she said.

Eagle also benefited from an engaged group of volunteers from various walks of life who gave a 360-degree view of the community and professional expertise from myriad industries to work through the code changes. Still, they did encounter some resistance. Notably, a group from Eagle's historic district was concerned about building heights potentially impacting the town's character and charm. Factoring in that feedback, Eagle tightened the criteria around how much could be built in certain sections.

Collaboration Brings About Significant Land Use, Zoning Amendments

Ultimately, Eagle planners used the community feedback and the Housing Needs Assessment findings to recommend major changes to the town's zoning code, which was formally approved in 2023. Heitzman said it was the result of collaboration between staff, an engaged town council, active resident participation, state funding, and the work of consultants (Economic Planning Systems and Clarion Associates) to guide the process. Since the successful adoption and launch, she said staff has predominantly heard from people wanting to know what opportunities are now available.

"It just feels like it is moving the community in a positive direction," she said.

Eagle, Colorado, Passes Progressive Affordable Housing Solutions

The Eagle Town Council formally approved changes to its Land Use and Development Code in the fall of 2023. Dubbed ReCode Eagle, the innovative and progressive revisions were designed to spur affordable housing in the community located along I-70 near several resort towns, like Vail. They include:

  • By-right use: Allowing housing on sites with civic and institutional uses (schools, hospitals).
  • Setting an AMI: Updates to the town's current Local Employee Residency Program (LERP) regulations increased the number of affordable deed-restricted units from 10 to 15 percent of development with 10 or more units and created a new, nonprice-capped deed restriction for employee units that limits the rent or sale to eligible residents (locally employed) with an area median income of 35 percent for a development with 10 or more units.
  • Creating a land donation, acquisition, or banking program: Serves as an alternative form of compliance to the town's inclusionary zoning program.
  • Establishing a density bonus: Allows for an additional story to incentivize deed-restricted units (60 percent of residential units need to be affordable to be eligible to qualify) in two zoning districts while also allowing increased density in several residential districts.
  • Allowing PUDs if there's a community benefit: The planned unit development needs to provide twice the required affordable housing units to qualify as a community benefit.
  • Allowing ADUs: For single units and duplexes.

Planners at the Forefront of Housing Reform

In addition to the zoning changes, Eagle also secured $1.1 million in state funding — coupled with the county contributing an additional $3.28 million — for Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley to construct 16 all-electric modular homes in the community. All the homes are deed-restricted and designated to be permanently affordable to households earning between 35 to 100 percent AMI. The homes were built on two acres of donated land from the local school district, and the project allocated units for teachers (with 12 already being sold to educators working for the school district).

"A large motivating factor for Habitat to pilot this modular program was so they could reduce the cost of construction and expedite the delivery of affordable housing," Davis said. "That continues to be a barrier to developing here in the high country. We are faced with a pretty constrained construction window, so this modular approach allowed them to be nimble."

Eagle's efforts appear to be at the vanguard of ideas Colorado is poised to adopt statewide. In early May 2024, the state senate approved a house bill that would require Colorado cities of 1,000 residents or more (and in a metropolitan planning organization) to allow accessory dwelling units on properties zoned as single-family. The senate also approved a transit-oriented development bill that would require more density to be allowed near public transportation.

APA Colorado recently cohosted an event aimed at examining the state's housing challenges and the role planners can play in addressing them through locally-led reform efforts. APA Colorado President-Elect Josh Olhava, AICP, said during the event that planners already are working closely with the state — including the Department of Local Affairs — to implement innovative housing programs.

"State housing reforms empower planners," he said. "It empowers us to unlock new and a variety of housing options. Through APA Colorado, our members have extensive experience in housing planning — from conducting housing assessments to identifying housing gaps. We're here to help and be part of the discussions early on when developing these policies and programs, and we look forward to working with the state moving forward."

Top image: Planners in Eagle, Colorado — a bedroom community of about 7,500 near resort towns like Vail — addressed housing affordability by making substantive and progressive changes to its land and zoning code. Photo courtesy of the Town of Eagle.

Jonathan DePaolis is APA's senior communications editor.

May 14, 2024

By Jon DePaolis