Even with COVID, still plenty of reasons to be thankful

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 11/23/21

Thanksgiving Day is just about here and many of us will gather with family and friends for the usual turkey with all the trimmings if it’s not all sold out. Despite the supply chain woes, the …

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Even with COVID, still plenty of reasons to be thankful


Thanksgiving Day is just about here and many of us will gather with family and friends for the usual turkey with all the trimmings if it’s not all sold out.

Despite the supply chain woes, the booster shots, students mandated to mask up in the classroom, people quitting their jobs in record numbers and inflation eating away at our income, Americans should be thankful.

While we may disagree on issues of gun control, racial injustice, gay marriage and a lot more, we are free. Free to speak our peace, free to decide where we want to live and work, free education for our children, free to worship, free to select our partner, free to vote (except for some in Texas, Georgia and other “Red States”) and the basics of everyday living can be provided if needed.

Wishing you and yours a Thanksgiving full of love, support, understanding and hot food. Certainly, a glass of red wine would be nice.

Governor needs to bite the bullet

Colorado, like the rest of the nation, is in the thick of the fall season with the COVID-19 variant surging upwards. We know Colorado is second in COVID cases per 100,000 population in the nation. We know that the state has been averaging 10% on the key measure of the seven-day positivity rate. We know that 1 in 48 Coloradoans have the COVID virus.

We know that ICU beds throughout the state are just about maxed out and the Governor has ordered 300-500 more beds beyond hospitals. We have reason to believe that the number of COVID cases impacting people will increase with the indoor winter season. Everything points to increased cases, more people hospitalized and more deaths. So, Governor Polis, what are you waiting for?

Putting Coloradoans’ health first

Yes, he has signaled the need for more beds for patients. Yes, he has mobilized the monoclonal antibodies treatment with mobile units being dispersed. Yes, he has imposed proof of vaccination on events of at least 500 people in indoor settings.

However, those actions are not sufficient sweeping measures to enact at this point before we head into the winter surge. Coloradoans need more decisive actions to turn the trend around. State-wide mask orders are needed.

What would be the downside of enacting such an order? It is strictly political hesitation, and he knows it. Polis has his eye on being re-elected in 2022. He doesn’t want to get the public upset as the campaign starts.

Furthermore, what is wrong with a statewide mandate to require proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, cafes, bars and entertainment sites? Some individual businesses have imposed such proof, but they are few and far between. It’s time that he put Coloradoans’ health and wellbeing ahead of his political agenda.

The Uplands development proposal coming to City Council

The long wait will soon be over for Shaw Heights residents, adjacent Westminster residents, city planners and developer Oread Capital Development. The Uplands development on the Pillar of Fire land will come before the City Council on Dec. 13.

The 234-acre tract in question is the largest remaining vacant parcel in Westminster. The plan calls for approximately 2,300 dwelling units, which includes a variety of housing stock with a focus on “the missing middle” price range.

Houses and lots are smaller, an effort to drive down the cost so more families can qualify to purchase their homes. Developer Jeff Handlin has worked on his vision for literally years. He states that the total development is projected to take 10-20 years for build-out.

In my book, the big question with new residential development is always water resources. Are there sufficient water rights to cover the demand?

The city says there is sufficient water. To Handlin’s credit, he is water conscious with reduced sodded lawns, inside water savings devices, drought-tolerant landscaping and more.

Public land dedications including park and open space sites amount to 40 acres-plus $5-8 million in cash-in-lieu payments.

Oread Capital Development is not a home builder. They have several different builders lined up to build different residential products. Each developer will have to submit a detailed official development plan which must pass the scrutiny of planning staff, Planning Commission and City Council with public hearings.

Planning Commission gives its OK

The Westminster Planning Commission held two nights of public hearings with deliberations on the Uplands. It resulted in a 7-0 vote of approval on both the preliminary development plan and the master official development plan, which establishes a lot of parameters.

The newly sworn-in city council includes three “veterans” (Mayor McNally and Council members Baker and DeMott), two newly elected members (Eaezdi and Nurmela) and two carry-over council members (Smith and Seymour). Plus, Council member Nurmela has a strong planning background including numerous years with Westminster. This makes for a solid council to address a project of this magnitude

A new trend in housing

How would you like to rent a brand-new single-family detached home? Well, there is a fairly new trend which is afoot especially in the Sun Belt. Quite frankly, I don’t know if the concept would work in the Denver metro market given outrageous land costs.

So far, it is popular with larger builders in Texas, Arizona and a few other southern states.

Lennar Corp. and D.R. Horton, Inc., which are large volume traditional homebuilders have had rental houses a major component of their business. Giant investment firms such as KKR & Co. and Blackstone Group are piling up cash to add already-built rental houses to their portfolios. Homebuilder company Kinloch Partners built and owns 100 homes near Nashville, Tennessee, but switched their focus to Dallas and Austin, Texas with a plan to build 500 homes during the next 18 months.

Pluses and minuses

The strategy is to address more and more want-to-be-homebuyers being left at the starting line with upward spiraling prices even though mortgage rates are still at “bargain basement” levels. So, some home builders are switching or adding a new twist to building single-family houses and renting them. There is no minimum amount to cough up to qualify for a mortgage and rent is often lower than the monthly PITI payment when owning a home.

However, the renters never build any equity. Unfortunately, that is the fate of too many couples and individuals who likely never will be able to qualify for a 30-year home mortgage. So, renting a new house is like so many things in America, we have what we want for the moment and will not worry about the long-term future.

Possible locations for new rental homes

As I said, I question if this concept will catch on big time in the Denver metro market. Certainly, suburbs like Westminster, Northglenn, Federal Heights, Englewood, Littleton and Wheatridge are not likely to be markets eyed by developers given the small amount of remaining developable land.

However, Thornton, Commerce City, Aurora and the metro area counties might have appeal if land costs would pencil out. The expected risk-adjusted annual return for build-to-rent investments in the private market is now about 8% on average according to Green Street, a securities advisor. This compares to a 6.1% weighted average return on all property sectors according to Green.

You may or may not know that Westminster has an example of this right now east of Lowell Boulevard at 97th Avenue. The Environs single-family home development in Westminster that was built in the 1980s is an all-rental home product that seems to work well and is well maintained.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.


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