Modular homes offer answer to land-use problem near downtown

RICH LADEN Updated: December 28, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: December 28, 2012

It’s taken a decade for Martin Newton of Pax Development to develop his tiny parcel on downtown Colorado Springs’ east edge, but he’s done so by effectively putting a series of square pegs into a rectangular hole.

Five factory-built, modular homes were recently lifted by crane onto Newton’s almost half-acre, rectangular parcel near Kiowa and El Paso streets; a sixth modular home is scheduled for delivery soon.

The six housing units — two duplexes and two single structures — will be available for rent on the site by May, said Newton, a former Springs resident who now lives in Boulder.

There are plenty of vacant parcels around town, but Newton’s plan to put modulars on his property offered an unusual solution to a vexing land-use problem: How to develop land in an aging neighborhood, where residents already had opposed his earlier plan for a higher-density, multi-story residential building on the site.

“Rather than a single structure, a single apartment house, a rental house with six or eight units, I basically just decided to break everything apart into individual units,” Newton said. “These homes still function as rental apartments. ... But I just felt that people would rather live in their own four walls than an apartment house.”

Newton didn’t always think that way, however.

He bought the land, at 507 E. Kiowa St., in 2002. A year later, he proposed construction of a 10-unit, 42-foot-tall condominium building that he called the Kiowa Creek Lofts.

The City Planning Commission approved it, but several neighbors opposed the squatty-looking building because it was out of character with the tiny, Victorian-style residences in the area, some of which were built more than a century ago.

The property sat idle until late last year, when Newton proposed what he now calls Kiowa Creek Homes. He contracted with Liscott Custom Homes of Castle Rock, where owner Rick Hagan represents five modular home manufacturers and works with buyers to design and develop residential and commercial modular buildings.

Modulars are built in a factory under controlled conditions, with upgraded insulation and other energy efficient features, Hagan said. The homes are fortified with additional lumber to withstand being stacked on a truck for travel and then lifted by crane to be put on foundations.

Because the homes’ amenities are chosen by the buyer before construction begins, last-minute changes and cost overruns can be avoided, Hagan said.

Once a modular home is completed, it can be transported and placed on a foundation, leaving only utility hook-ups, landscaping and other site work to be completed. Owners then can quickly convert a construction loan to a traditional mortgage, and sell or rent the units to generate income, Hagan said.

In the case of Newton’s Kiowa Creek Homes, Hagan worked with Newton to design the homes with pitched roofs and front porches to mirror the neighborhood’s character.

Each building is composed of two modules — one stacked on the other. Together, the modules form a single, two-story, roughly 1,400-square-foot unit, each with three bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms. In the case of the duplexes, the housing units are side by side. Each housing unit will be rented for about $1,250 a month, Newton said.

“I think it’s going to be a real benefit for the neighborhood, which hasn’t seen a lot of development in 30 years,” Newton said of the project, whose cost is more than $1 million.

When Newton’s project was before the City Planning Commission in March, some neighbors still opposed it as out of step with the area. Others supported it, saying the old-style looking residences were in keeping with the area.

City planners supported the project, and said it would have been better than some alternatives.

Newton’s property actually is zoned commercial, meaning an automotive repair shop, a mini-warehouse or other light industrial uses would have been OK for the property, said Ryan Tefertiller, a city planner who reviewed the project when it was heard by the Planning Commission last spring.

Even with multiple modular homes on Newton’s property, they offer a lower density than what he proposed a decade ago, while also providing housing near downtown — long identified as a need for the area by urban planners and downtown advocates, Tefertiller said. The project also made use of an existing site in an older part of town instead of adding to more sprawl on the city’s outskirts.

“This was definitely a project that hit on a lot of those key issues,” Tefertiller said.

Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228 Twitter @richladen

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