Alta Verde to Bring Affordable, Workforce Housing to Breckenridge

Posted on December 19, 2022
This excerpt was originally featured in the December 2022 issue of Colorado Real Estate Journal’s Building Dialogue and was authored by Norris Design Principal Elena Scott, LEED® AP.

As a region, growth and change are challenging sustainability in the West — from increased housing demand, water challenges, and the skyrocketing cost of construction, it seems everything is acutely impacting housing affordability and the environment. For Colorado’s mountain towns, pandemic migrations due to work flexibility have only exacerbated the challenging conditions for locals. The Alta Verde neighborhood in Breckenridge is set out to make a difference. Located on the McCain property in Breckenridge, this revolutionary addition to the community will provide more than 250 units of affordable and workforce housing to the area on a platform of sustainability.

Formerly a dredged mine site, the 128-acre Town-owned McCain property is slated to accommodate a variety of governmental and community uses, thoughtfully integrating development with the Blue River and overall site revitalization. Through these efforts, the site’s ecological health has improved and now integrates locals housing with open space, trails and improved wildlife habitat.

Norris Design has been planning and designing affordable housing in Colorado for more than 15 years. We began working with the Town of Breckenridge on Alta Verde in 2014 on master planning and vital infrastructure. First came the recycling center, then a solar garden, then the new water treatment plant. Working together, our team developed a strong relationship with the Town and other private partners — a collaboration that continues today.

The Town contracted Gorman & Company to develop the first phase of housing in a true public-private partnership. After exploring potential options for how to incorporate affordable and workforce housing into the site, a sustainability coordinator was added to the team.

The Town made clear they wanted to prioritize sustainability, which is no surprise considering Summit County’s sustainability code. The Summit Sustainable Building Code has been on the forefront of progressive building codes for more than a decade. The local municipalities, County, nonprofits, and stakeholders, including Norris Design, worked hand-in-hand as adoption of new international building codes were considered. The collaborative group was compelled to look at how those codes could be even more sustainable, incorporating implementation recommendations. The result of those efforts were new building codes that went above and beyond standards, uniformly adopted by the entire County. So, what comes next?

The Town of Breckenridge understood clearly that affordable housing needs building standards that prioritize sustainability most. The vision for Alta Verde transformed from a need for affordable workforce housing to an opportunity to provide a new model for how affordable housing can be sustainable. While many people will tell you it’s not feasible, the combination of a strong partnership focused on crafting a well-planned community and well-planned housing/housing implementation structure made this vision a reality.

Bringing community, affordability and sustainability together to build an innovative new local’s neighborhood in Breckenridge shows the commitment of all the development partners that came together to make this a reality. — Kimball Crangle, Gorman & Company Colorado Market President

The first phase of this mixed-income community is funded by a 9% Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) award from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. Phase I is slated to open in December featuring 80 units, which are deed restricted and available for-rent at 30-60% area median income (AMI). This initial offering also includes a new park and more than 500 kilowatts of photovoltaic, which is more than enough to label this community net zero. The solar was made possible through funding from Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), who contributed $650,000 to help the site achieve net zero status. Phase II broke ground in August and will deliver an additional 172 units aimed for those earning between 80-120% AMI.

The community features connections to the Blue River, xeric landscape design and community amenities like playgrounds, trails and a dog park. The neighborhood was planned intentionally to be well connected to multi-modal transportation including the Blue River Bikeway, Summit Stage and Breck Free Ride bust stops. A non-profit campus is also in the works for the neighborhood, integrating family, inter-cultural and mental health services.

This fall, Alta Verde was recognized with an American Planning Association, Colorado Chapter Merit Award for Sustainability and Environmental Planning. This recognition is evidence that the community is founded on smart planning and thoughtful consideration for community and the environment. As the mountain West seeks new ways to tackle the housing and climate crises, communities should look to combine efforts providing housing in a more sustainable way.