In the latest effort to stop black bears, mountain lions, elk, and deer from running across Interstate 25 in the traffic-dense Denver metro area, plans are now underway for the construction of a new wildlife overpass.
The project, officially called the Greenland Wildlife Overpass, will be built to the south of Denver, generally halfway to Colorado Springs. One result of the construction, besides making life significantly safer for drivers, is that it will also connect some 39,000 acres of wildlife habitat.
Funding to the tune of $22 million, is coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation via the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. That legislation included a Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program.
By design, the Wildlife Crossing program funds everything from engineering, design, and actual construction work, to permitting and right-of-way acquisitions.
From its inception, the program has had available up to $350 million in federal funding for wildlife crossing projects.
In a statement, Colorado Governor Jared Polis said the Greenland Wildlife Overpass project will protect both wildlife and outdoor spaces "for generations to come."
"As a community, we are leading the way when it comes to wildlife crossings, saving people money, and improving safety in the process," Polis continued.
The new federal funding comes as the Colorado Department of Transportation continues its own efforts to lessen wildlife collisions. That department has so far built nearly 30 miles of new deer fencing, while also creating underpasses through a repurposing of drainage tunnels.
By Garry Boulard
Nation May Be Unprepared for the Housing Challenges of the Big Baby Boom Generation, Suggests New Report
The U.S. is not up to providing adequate and accessible housing for its ever-growing senior population, according to a new report issued by the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies.
As the nation’s population ages, with the number of people over 65 significantly increasing from 43 million a decade ago to around 58 million today, the housing needs for such residents has become a paramount issue in "urban, suburban, and rural communities," notes the Housing America's Older Adults.
Between now and the end of the decade, the first members of the Baby Boom generation, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, will hit the age of 80, “accelerating the growth among those in the oldest age groups.”
Contrary to popular impressions that the Baby Boom generation is content, wealthy, and enjoying an Ozzie and Harriet existence, nearly 11.2 million members of that generation are now defined as living a cost-burdened life, meaning that they spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
At the same time, notes the report: “Homelessness is rising among older individuals.”
“Though government programs provide crucial housing assistance to millions of older adults, demand dramatically outstrips supply, with years-long waitlists in some areas,” says the Harvard study in describing current conditions.
Add in one more daunting factor: “Older adults are more likely than their younger counterparts to report that at least one household member experiences difficulties with mobility, vision, hearing, cognition, self-care, or independent living.”
With a big 55% of all adults over the age of 80 now reporting at least one disability, the need for homes that accommodate such disabilities is additionally proving an ever-increasing concern, “yet few homes offer features that enable people with disabilities to successfully navigate and use them.”
But despite this multiplicity of challenges, says the report, the housing needs of older adults also presents a wide array of opportunities for both the private and public sector. Builders and designers may well take on additional work building modifications and improvements into existing homes, while the public sector may step up to the plate with “flexible government programs that can help to finance modifications and improve safety where people live.”
Finally, the report recommends that “additional support is needed to help older adults to reduce their homes’ energy consumption and to fortify their homes against increasingly frequent hazards related to climate change.”
How the nation responds to the housing needs of the Baby Boomers may prove a good test run for what's up next: Generation X, or those born between 1965 to 1980. Comprising around 63 million people, the first wave of Generation X will reach retirement age in 2030.
By Garry Boulard
Responding to intermittent drought conditions and well-publicized concerns about the reliability of local water supplies, city officials in Peoria, Arizona, are taking action.
A plan is currently underway calling for the construction of five water wells in the city on land mostly owned by the Arizona State Land Department near Arizona State Route 303 and west of Lake Pleasant Parkway.
The project will also see the construction of a new booster pump station.
According to city officials, the wells, once completed, could produce up to 10 million gallons a day in an emergency scenario.
The project has a potential price tag of some $63.5 million and could be paid primarily through loans from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona.
Daniel Kiel, planning and engineering manager for Peoria Water Services, has described the water well project as a backup measure. “If we were to have issues where we cannot get as much of that surface water as we normally do, then we would have to turn to groundwater,” he remarked to the Peoria Times.
Continued Kiel: “And since groundwater is a finite resource, we try not to use it unless we absolutely have to.”
The well project has been a long time coming for Peoria, which is located 13 miles to the northwest of Phoenix and has seen its population double from 108,000 two decades ago to over 200,000 today.
The influx of new people, sparking new building growth, has put pressure on the city’s water reserves, much of which comes from the Central Arizona Project diversion canal. Other water resources for the city: the Salt River Project, and both groundwater, and reclaimed water.
Earlier this year, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs announced that construction in metro Phoenix would be limited in order to protect groundwater supplies.
While emphasizing that the Grand Canyon State was not in any immediate danger of running out of water, Hobbs remarked: “If we do nothing, we could face a 4% shortfall in groundwater supplies over the next 100 years.”
As envisioned, the new Peoria wells will be about 1,000 feet deep.
The City of Peoria is negotiating with the owners of land at the site and has already submitted applications to the State Land Department to purchase the seven acres of land needed for the well projects.
Once those negotiations and approval is secured, construction is expected to begin sometime in 2024, with an expected completion date of early 2026.
By Garry Boulard
Up to 800 new affordable rental units are expected to be built between now and 2026 in Las Cruces through a unique use of bond funding.
By a more than two-to-one margin, Las Cruces voters in November of 2022 gave their approval to a $23 million general obligation bond designed to fund a variety of city infrastructure needs.
One portion of the $23 million proposal specifically called for $6 million to be placed into the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund to, as the ballot language stated, "provide resources to plan, design, construct, acquire, and preserve housing affordable for low- and moderate-income households."
Now, in working with the Durango, Colorado-based housing consultancy firm Project Moxie, city officials are putting together an affordable housing investment strategy plan that would see the $6 million leveraged in order to get yet more funding out of either Santa Fe or Washington, or both, to expand the affordable housing effort.
The leveraging, according to city officials, could more than triple the number of new affordable units to be built.
Natalie Green, Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager for the City of Las Cruces, has told members of the Las Cruces City Council that the city is in of "at least 5,600 rental units" and about 6,000 single-family units in the next five to ten years to just keep up with demand.
The plan is expected to go before the council next month, and already has the public support of newly elected Mayor Eric Enriquez who has pointed to the need for building new affordable housing as one of his top priorities.
By Garry Boulard
Homebuyers may be getting a long-awaited break as mortgage rates, after a significant rise for most of 2023, are beginning to decline.
According to data just released from the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, otherwise known as Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to an average of 7.22% during the last week of November.
The rate stood at 7.29% the week before.
In a statement, Sam Khater, Freddie Mac chief economist, remarked that "market sentiment has significantly shifted over the last month, leading to a continued decline in mortgage rates."
"The current trajectory of rates," continued Khater, "is an encouraging development for potential homebuyers, with purchase application activity recently rising to the same level as mid-September when rates were similar to today's levels."
Added the economist: "The modest uptick in demand over the last month signals that there will likely be more competition in an industry starved for inventory."
This latest decline marks a clear trendline, with mortgage rates decreasing now for four weeks in a roll. As recently as late October, the rate was at 7.79%.
Calling it an "early Christmas," the site Housingwire noted that altogether mortgage rates have "fallen by almost 1%," creating in the process "four straight weeks of positive purchase application data."
"Mortgage rates have fallen more than half a percentage point over the past month, the largest four-week decline since late 2022," observed the Wall Street Journal. "That could potentially offer some relief to the battered housing market."
The trendline for the entirety of the year has been a sobering one for both would-be homebuyers and realtors. In early January, the rate was at 6.48%, just beginning a climb that would take it to 6.79% in June, 7.18% in September, and finally 7.79% in the last days of October.
By Garry Boulard
An Arizona semiconductor test services provider based in Tempe has announced plans to build an extensive new production facility near the city of Peoria.
Amkor Technology Incorporated was founded in 1968 and has production facilities across the globe, especially in the Asian countries of China, Japan, and Taiwan.
Specializing in test services as well as semiconductor packaging, Amkor, billed as the only outsourced semiconductor assembly and test provider company in the country, plans to invest as much as $2 billion building the new packaging facility.
The project has been a long time coming, the announcement of which follows upon months of discussions with local and state officials.
“This is a huge step forward in reducing dependence on other countries in the microchip supply chain,” Arizona Senator Mark Kelly said of the Amkor announcement in a news release.
“We are excited to lead the charge in bolstering America’s advanced packaging capabilities,” Giel Rutten, chief executive office of Amkor, remarked in announcing the new facility.
“Semiconductor companies, foundries, and other supply chain partners understand the need to strategically broaden their geographical footprint,” Rutten continued in a statement.
Amkor first set up shop in the Phoenix metro area in 1984, more than a decade after its initial launch under the leadership of entrepreneur businessman James Kim. By 2000, the company had more than 16,000 employees worldwide, and revenues of nearly $2 billion.
Today the company has nearly twice that many employees, and revenues in excess of $7.1 billion. Amkor, financial columnist John Dorfman remarked earlier this year, has “shown impressive growth for the past decade, yet its stock sells for a modest valuation, eight times earnings.”
The new Amkor facility near Peoria will be built on a 55-acre campus, and will include a central production space measuring just over 500,000 square feet. Work is expected to begin on the new facility no later than next year with a rough completion date of late 2025 or early 2026.
Upon the announcement of the new Amkor facility, multinational technology company Apple Incorporated revealed that it was set to become the largest customer of the production plant.
By Garry Boulard
A nearly 20-year-old bank company based in Springfield, Missouri has announced plans to build a new facility within a 15-acre business park in Grand Junction.
The OakStar Bank was launched in 2005 and has since built new branches in its home state as well as Kansas. In 2021, it moved into Colorado with the establishment of loan production office in Grand Junction.
Now OakStar wants to build a 13,000 square-foot full-service bank within the borders of the Riverfront at Los Colonias Business Park. The project will see the construction of a two-story building with an atrium, and airy lobby, and office space.
As envisioned, the new building will also house both restaurant and retail space.
"The presence of OakStar Bank will contribute to new community engagement for the property," Curtis Englehart, the executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said of the bank's decision to build in the business park.
In a statement published in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Englehart continued, "We anticipate additional activity happening within the restaurant/retail and business park's development because of this."
The larger Los Colonias Park measures some 130 acres and runs along the banks of the Colorado River adjacent to downtown Grand Junction. City officials agreed to carve out around 15 acres of that site specifically for the creation of a business park, a joint $30 million public/private project.
The business park has since seen the development of several businesses, including, most prominently, the Bonsai Design company, which designs and constructs aerial adventure parks.
Plans currently call for construction of the new OakStar Bank building to begin in the spring of 2024, with a general completion date of late 2025.
By Garry Boulard
More and more schools, due to significant enrollment declines, are closing their doors across the country, says a new report, particularly in the nation’s urban areas.
“Gone is the loud clatter of students bursting through crowded hallways and slamming lockers,” says the report, filed by reporter Vince Bielski on the site RealClearInvestigations.
The closed schools create an eerie presence, with some cities seeing boarded up high, middle, and elementary school structures, left to themselves on vacant campuses.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an average of 1,350 schools closed annually between 2011 and 2020. The trend line has slightly tapered off in recent years but is still significant with an average of just over 800 schools closed in 2021 and 2022.
Megacities such as New York and Los Angeles have both endured double-digit enrollment declines in recent years, with New York closing around 90 schools, but so have merely large cities such as Denver, which has seen its student count drop from 94,000 in 2019 and around 89,000 as of last year.
Which schools should be closed in Denver, and where, have led to battles between Denver Public Schools officials and residents and community leaders, especially in the wake of a plan to close ten schools with enrollments of less than 215 students. That plan has yet to be finalized.
According to the real estate listing site Loopnet, there are nearly 500 former school buildings currently for sale in various parts of the country. Many of the one-time educational facilities are advertised for their repurposing potential, which most often envisions turning them into community centers or apartment and condominium complexes.
The former Miles Bryan School in McKees Rock, Pennsylvania was built in 1927 and closed in 1997. A historic 90,000 square-foot structure, the school is now being advertised by the local Found It Real Estates Services for its "fantastic potential for community center, mixed use, and housing."
Meanwhile, the school closing trend continues: In November, the San Antonio Independent School Board voted to close 15 schools due to declining enrollments; the Grand Rapids Public School in Michigan has just announced that it will be closing 10 schools in the next several years; while the Pittsburg Public School Boards is actively considering closing half a dozen schools.
By Garry Boulard
Work is expected to begin by early next year on the building of an affordable housing community in a city in southern Arizona that is very much in need of affordable housing.
The Minnetonka, Minnesota-based Dominium company has announced plans to build a new affordable housing project in Marana that will include 200 residential units.
According to the site Rentcafe.com, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Marana is now in excess of $1,550, up from less than $1,200 three years ago.
The new project will go up on a currently vacant 18.6-acre site at 8740 N. Silverbell Road, on the southeast side of the city.
The complex, to be called The Safford, is partly being funded by some $49 million in bonds approved by the Arizona Industrial Development Authority, and will include two, three, and four-bedroom units.
The project represents just the latest move on the part of Dominium to establish a presence in the Grand Canyon State. Last month the company opened a 308-unit affordable community in Phoenix called Vista Ridge and made up of a dozen three-story buildings with one, two, and three-bedroom units.
Dominium, with more than 38,000 apartments to its name in 19 states, is also planning to build two separate communities with a total unit count of 657 in Goodyear.
One of the reasons for the increase in Marana’s rents have to do with the dramatic increase in its population from around 2,200 in the 1990s to some 52,000 today. Located roughly 90 miles to the south of Phoenix, Marana is listed as one of the top ten fastest growing cities in the state.
By Garry Boulard
The site of the former Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins, for decades home to the Colorado State Rams, could see new life as an expansive bike park.
The historic stadium, which housed more than 32,000 seats, was demolished in 2018 after the university built a new $220 million on-campus facility. In the years since, various plans for how to repurpose the more than 161-acre site have been aired and often vigorously debated.
The most controversial plan for the site called for developing a mixed-use project with housing, commercial space, and a transit center. That proposal was shot down in 2021 by local voters who approved a measure calling for the site to be officially deemed open space.
Now a new effort is underway to transform a part of the site into what is being described as one of the largest bike parks in the state.
A group called the Fort Collins Bike Park Collective wants to set aside anywhere from 60 to 80 acres to build the park, noting that under the plan the vast majority of the site would remain open space.
The group has created a site saying that the construction of a new bike park would help alleviate congestion at other existing Fort Collins bike parks, while also expanding a “trail system with new options for all ability levels.”
While Fort Collins has long been a bike-friendly city with more than 200 miles of paved cycling paths and lanes, it does not have an abundance of bike parks for more concentrated use.
The project is in keeping with a larger national trend that is seeing such parks, usually featuring defined paths, ramps, pump tracks, jumps, and skills tracks with wooden features being built in both urban and suburban areas.
Noting the increase in such parks across the country, the Washington Post recently remarked that such facilities typically feature “jumps, raised bridges, and other constructed features,” including trails that allow for repetition.
The Fort Collins Bike Park Collective is currently trying to raise public awareness regarding the possibility of building a new bike park at the old Hughes Stadium site, with the hope of soon securing city approval.
That effort may be aided by a measure approved earlier this month by Fort Collins voters asking for a 0.5% sales tax to be applied to the construction and upkeep of parks within the city.
By Garry Boulard
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