Longmont opportunity zone interest building as city leaders prep St. Vrain corridor, sugar factory as targets

Longmont opportunity zone interest building as city leaders prep St. Vrain corridor, sugar factory as targets

Floodplain redraw could help investors avoid insurance costs; tax cut boosts feasibility of sugar site

By Sam LounsberryStaff Writer

POSTED:   03/30/2019 10:00:00 AM MDT

 

A bulldozer moves dirt March 19 in the St. Vrain River as part of the Resilient St. Vrain project. Floodplain mapping will need to be updated in accordance
A bulldozer moves dirt March 19 in the St. Vrain River as part of the Resilient St. Vrain project. Floodplain mapping will need to be updated in accordance with the changes to the river made by the Resilient St. Vrain post-flood channel work.That project and the adjoining federal opportunity zones that line the river are leading officials to envision more uniform growth along the river. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)

Longmont officials are envisioning a redeveloped sugar factory and more uniform growth along the St. Vrain River, both made more realistic thanks to new federal tax incentives and a major city floodplain mitigation project.

City leaders hope to leverage two adjoining federal opportunity zones covering a large southern portion of Longmont as lures for what will be a costly repurposing of the sugar factory property in southeast Longmont, and, more broadly, for attracting new affordable and “work force” housing and commercial space to the St. Vrain’s course through the city.

(Mary Hilleren / Staff graphic designer)

The opportunity zone program was created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It allows investors to put capital gains into development projects within designated census tracts, chosen for their relatively depressed economic status. The taxes on those initially invested capital gains, as well as gains made since on the real estate projects within the zones, get deferred after five years of keeping an interest in such properties, and the tax cut grows if the interest is held for seven years and grows again after 10 years.

Together, the zones stretch east-west from Hover to Lashley streets, extending further east south of Third Avenue to include the sugar factory and north-south from the north bank of the St. Vrain to Ninth Avenue.
Modern gateway more possible

For the site of the former and now fire-damaged Great Western sugar factory, the opportunity zone may ease the financial burden of either incorporating the long-standing structure into a new building or tearing it down. It could also help mitigate any costs associated with the potential need to remedy any soil or other contamination on the site caused by decades of industrial activity.

“I think the community at large would really like to see that sugar mill area turn into something that is a positive and welcoming modern gateway into our community,” Longmont Economic Development Partnership CEO Jessica Erickson said.

Sugar factory owner Dick Thomas in a brief interview said the opportunity zone provisions are just one of several financial vehicles being analyzed in talks to redevelop the land — he is engaged with several groups that have expressed interest in bringing modern mixed commercial and residential structures to the property. He said the range between $60 million and $100 million has been identified as an initial cost estimate for such a project.

Thomas hopes to assimilate what remains of the brick factory building into a redeveloped parcel.

“We’re not going to tear it down. Most of what’s there will remain,” he said, declining to further elaborate on redevelopment talks or to identify the investors with whom he is negotiating.

Redrawn floodplain negating insurance costs

Before the opportunity zone can most effectively aid financing development in several key areas along the river, the $120 million-plus Resilient St. Vrain project, which is rejigging the stream’s channel and floodplain through the city, needs to make more progress, and the resulting smaller floodplain will have to receive federal approval so development limitations in the areas purged of risk can be lifted.

The abandoned Sugar Factory in Longmont could benefit from its location in one of two federal opportunity zones in the city. Tax incentives associated with

The abandoned Sugar Factory in Longmont could benefit from its location in one of two federal opportunity zones in the city. Tax incentives associated with those zones could mitigate the cost of incorporating the building into new development or tearing it down to make way for new development. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

“We were very intentional about focusing on areas of strong opportunity and that already had plans in place and broad public support to move development forward, but had some issues in attracting capital,” Erickson said. “The floodplain issues were part of that.”

Preliminary approval of redrawn floodplain maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — which dictate which property owners have to buy flood insurance — is expected in July this year. Those new maps won’t take effect until three months after that when an appeal period expires, according to Longmont Floodplain Manager Monica Bortolini. If a legitimate appeal to the preliminary floodplain maps has to be evaluated, the timing of when the final maps would be issued is unknown, she said.

Carlos Torres lays down 2x4s to build another wall at the construction site of South Main Station in January. The mixed-use development at First Avenue and

Carlos Torres lays down 2x4s to build another wall at the construction site of South Main Station in January. The mixed-use development at First Avenue and Main Street lies within one of the two federal opportunity zones in the city. Its developers have applied for the funding for which the location makes it eligible. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)

“The part of the opportunity zone that is subject to flooding in the near term is generally south of the rail tracks,” Longmont Redevelopment Program Manager Tony Chacon said. “The drainage improvements to be concluded this year will effectively pull some of the properties immediately adjacent to the creek out of the floodplain, and the remaining areas will see a reduction in the depth of the 100-year flooding condition.”

Of course, flood concerns throughout the rest of the opportunity zones are not impacting development proposals with plans to use the tax cut, according to city leaders.

Even those properties within the current floodplain can be engineered to work around the development regulations in the risky area, Chacon noted.

He added the requirement to purchase flood insurance — especially temporarily, as might be the case for land along the St. Vrain lifted from the floodplain by the Resilient St. Vrain work — can be the most pesky hurdle for developers examining building options for a property in a floodplain.

“In regards to these issues, our engineering and planning staff are working collectively and diligently to facilitate new development in the flood-prone areas,” Chacon said. “While I am sure some prospective developers may deem the floodplain an issue, I don’t see the floodplain issue being a significant deterrent to opportunity zone interest, as, in fact, the city is receiving continued developer inquiry and conversations.”

College downtown?

But talks with developers who could actually use the opportunity zone program beneficially remain secretive and prospective, including those involving attempts to sway Front Range Community College to establish a visible presence in downtown Longmont.

“I can tell you that no one has committed to any particular project yet or even entered into any level of detailed discussion or negotiation,” Chacon said. “We may have something to better share in a few months. I can say the general interest is in vertical mixed-use or residential development, primarily rental.”

Councilman Tim Waters is a part of a group of city and economic development leaders studying the potential offered by the opportunity zone for the St. Vrain River corridor, as well as the regulations that help keep the stream a gem of riparian habitat and natural beauty. An example of such a rule would be the like the 150-foot development setback from the river’s bank for which only city council can approve a variance.

“What exists along the river in San Antonio, that’s just not going to be the case” for the St. Vrain, Waters said. “We’re going to maintain our greenways, we’re going to maintain our riparian areas, our wildlife areas.”

The soon-to-be-finished Dickens Farm Nature Area park along the river south of Boston Avenue between Main and Martin streets will ensure an open space element remains along the St. Vrain River in central Longmont, and the green space could be a highlight for any new multifamily housing developments in the area to market to prospective tenants.

But Waters is also aware of discussions about Front Range Community College potentially moving from its southwest Longmont campus, or adding to its property portfolio in the city, in order to open up shop — possibly with another institutional partner that would offer additional higher education paths — closer to downtown.

“Front Range Community College is happy to be in Longmont, and we like our current location. We’re certainly always open to discussions of other possible partnership options in the community, and greatly appreciate the city’s interest in working with us to create an even better campus,” the school’s president, Andy Dorsey, stated through a spokeswoman. “We have had a very preliminary conversation with the city about this concept, but it’s way too early to suggest that we’ll be moving.”

Councilman: Academic assets would spur economic activity

Waters mentioned the city’s land holdings include a site just north of the river, southwest of South Main and Boston Avenue, that formerly hosted a mobile home park that was destroyed in the 2013 flood. It, along with several other city-owned parcels near the river south of downtown, could be packaged into a land assembly effort for a development project the city would be inclined to support, such as a Front Range or other higher education space that may be able to take advantage of the area’s opportunity zone status.

“We’re keenly interested in a more robust presence of higher education options here along with Front Range so that our kids could go as far as they want in terms of their educational pursuits without ever having to leave home or Longmont to do that,” Waters said, contending more local educational opportunity would lead to an unprecedented business climate for the city.

He believes if the opportunity zone attracts additional academic assets within Longmont, they could satisfy a need for a better educated work force that certain employers in the area have made known. Fostering greater talent locally, Waters explained, will allow businesses to recruit more from within the city instead of luring skilled labor from outside Boulder County and Colorado, atrend that has helped drive recent population growth in the state.

“We have the potential to create an economic engine that transcends the kind of economic development we have seen here before in Longmont,” Waters said.

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com andtwitter.com/samlounz.

Stonework is installed on on the new South Pratt Parkway bridge as part of the Resilient St. Vrain project March 19. Floodplain mapping will need to be

Stonework is installed on on the new South Pratt Parkway bridge as part of the Resilient St. Vrain project March 19. Floodplain mapping will need to be updated in accordance with the changes to the river made by the Resilient St. Vrain post-flood channel work. That project and the adjoining federal opportunity zones that line the river are leading officials to envision more uniform growth along the river. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)
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Action Item: Wildlife Management Plan Update Public Meeting

Longmont’s Natural Resources Department is holding its first public meeting open house regarding the update to the City’s Wildlife Management Plan (WMP). The WMP was first adopted in 2006 and it’s due for an update.

This first meeting will focus on Land Development Code changes with regard to the new prairie dog policy, the work being done with the Resilient St. Vrain flood mitigation project, and riparian setbacks. Other meetings will follow.

We ask that you please attend this meeting if you are able. This meeting will help inform updates to the Land Development Code regarding the 150-foot riparian setback and how Longmont deals with wildlife in general.

The meeting will be held at the Sunset Campus (7 S. Sunset Street, Longmont, CO) on Thursday, March 7 from 6-8pm. Snacks will be provided.

If you need translation services or other special accommodations, contact 303-651-8416 or service-works@longmontcolorado.gov

For any questions, contact Dan Wolford at 303-774-4691 or dan.wolford@longmontcolorado.gov

thumbnail of WMPU First Meeting Flyer

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RSVP Project Update, US Army Corp of Engineers Project, and Storm Drainage Utility Financial Update

Longmont City staff and the Army Corps of Engineers presented an update on the Resilient St. Vrain flood mitigation project on Tuesday August 21st at the City Council’s study session. The slides from that presentation are available on the City’s Resilient St. Vrain website.

The complete presentation is also available to watch on Youtube or below.

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Resilient St. Vrain Project Update and United States Army Corp of Engineers 205 Program Project Update

This Tuesday (8/20/2018), City Council will hear an update on the status of the Resilient St. Vrain flood mitigation project from City staff and a presentation from the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the 205 program project they’re working on with City staff. The City Council meeting will be held at the Civic Center at 350 Kimbark Street at 7pm. The full agenda for the meeting is available here.

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100-year flood plain map for Longmont, CO showing the current and new floodplain as well as the anticipated floodplain following completion of the Resilient St. Vrain flood mitigation work.

The “205 project” refers to section 205 of the Flood Control Act of 1948, as amended. This section allows the Corps to partner with non-Federal entities to design and construct small flood damage reduction projects not previously authorized by Congress and that are not part of a larger project.

The Corps is looking into whether this authority might be used to complete the portion of the Resilient St. Vrain project that stretches from Boston Avenue to the Fairgrounds Pond at Rogers Grove natural area. If determined feasible, the Corps anticipates completing their design in 2019 and beginning construction in 2020.

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Proposed timeline and workplan for the Resilient St. Vrain flood mitigation project by sections of the city.

One concern regarding this stretch is that, while Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek has been working with the City to conduct wildlife, particularly bird, surveys in the area of Rogers Grove and Golden Ponds, 1-2 years of data collected prior to construction is not much. In addition, the City does not currently have the resources to analyze the data collected. It is imperative that the City analyze wildlife survey data collected to determine what species are present and what habitats they are utilizing before construction begins.

One species known to occur in the area of Rogers Grove along St. Vrain Creek is the Bank Swallow. Bank Swallows are the smallest swallows in Colorado and are considered to be a Boulder County Species of Special Concern because they only nest in a handful of places within the County. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Longmont must work together to determine how to mitigate the impact of construction on this species and its nesting area, including timing construction so that it does not occur during the nesting season.

Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek will be attending the meeting and speaking during Public Invited To Be Heard to ensure that these points are made before City Council and staff as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Please consider either attending the meeting and speaking in support of the (bolded) points above or contacting City Council and expressing your support for these points.

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Builders Said Their Homes Were Out of a Flood Zone. Then Harvey Came.

In the years leading up to Hurricane Harvey, a wrinkle in the federal flood-mapping system helped a company build homes in an at-risk Houston suburb.

Source:

Builders Said Their Homes Were Out of a Flood Zone. Then Harvey Came.

This recently posted New York Times article (12/2/17) shows that many of the homes and businesses that were damaged in Houston, TX, had been “lifted out of” the flood plain by filling in low-lying areas with dirt.

While the damages from the 2013 Longmont flood didn’t result from infilling, this article does raise questions about whether “taking an area out of the flood plain” is truly possible.

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St. Vrain Blueprint Update

The St. Vrain Blueprint (note that the web site for the blueprint is out of date with the last version of the document being from March, 2017) is a plan for economic development along St. Vrain Creek in Longmont. The blueprint has been slated to go before City Council on Tuesday, September 26th at 7:00pm. However, because the Council is currently going through budget discussions, the blueprint presentation may be delayed until the October 3rd or even the October 10th council meeting.

Stand With Our St. Vrain Creek recommends that any development/redevelopment plan not be adopted before plans for flood mitigation via Resilient St. Vrain are finalized, including where monies to complete the unfunded stretches of the river corridor will be acquired. It just does not make sense to think about the future of development along the river corridor when it’s still uncertain what the corridor will look like following construction and when other documents that should be taken into account, such as the Wildlife Management Plan, haven’t yet been completed.

Stay tuned regarding when the Blueprint will be brought before the council and please consider attending to show your support for balancing economic interests against wildlife and health and human safety concerns.

 

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Resilient St. Vrain Open House

The City of Longmont is holding an open house to provide updates on the Resilient St. Vrain flood mitigation project. The open house is scheduled from 4:30-6:30pm at the Longmont Museum (400 Quail Road) on Thursday, August 24th.

This is your chance to talk directly with city staff, ask questions, and provide feedback about the flood mitigation plan!

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