by Bill Detweiler, Castle Rock, Colorado
Spit HOME DEVELOPMENT – A term referencing a housing development so compact that one could easily spit into their neighbor’s home from the kitchen, bath or bedroom window.
High growth communities are increasingly abundant throughout the Western states. A strong economy and growth of energy companies, high-tech and service industries resulted in rapid development (and in some areas followed by significant declines) not witnessed since the gold and silver rush eras.
I work in Castle Rock, Colorado, a highly desirable community based upon its location 28 miles south of downtown Denver, its outstanding natural topography and views of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Front Range from Pikes Peak north to Longs Peak outside Estes Park. I suspect there are numerous communities throughout the Western region that can provide similar natural environments and spectacular mountain views that are also experiencing rapid growth.
High Growth Community
The 33-square mile town has a growing population of approximately 60,000. Between 2000 and 2015, the town averaged issuance of 808 residential permits annually and 99 percent of those permits were for single family detached housing. The town anticipates 800+ residential permits in 2016 and 2017 along with 400+ unit multifamily permits in the next 18-24 months. The town recently issued permits for a 312-unit multifamily project.
Numerous national articles identify Colorado as a strong growth state and in recent years Castle Rock has been fortunate to be awarded the following:
- Top 10 Town to raise a family by Family Circle Magazine
- Top 10 Places to Live by Money Magazine in 2011, 2012 and 2014
- Top place in Colorado for Job Seekers
- 4th Best Place in America by Apartment List for young families and raising kids
- 5th Best Place in Colorado for young families according to NerdWallet
- Ranked the 9th safest Town in Colorado by Motoyo Real Estate
- Ranked 18th in safest communities in Colorado by SafeWise
Rapid Growth Challenges
Ok, we get it, Castle Rock is a high growth community. But what are the impacts of such rapid and sustained growth? A high rate of consistent growth is a double-edge sword. On one hand, the increase in population resulted in an increase in commercial and employment based investment, which resulted in additional investment in homebuilding, and on and on we go.
Centura Health completed construction of a 160-bed hospital with two adjoining 50,000 sq. ft. medical office buildings. Construction is underway for a $1 million sq. ft. commercial retail center and Town Council approved a 66-acre Urban Renewal Authority project to provide remediation of an abandoned dump site and development of a mixed-use new urbanist center.
Employment investment is strong based upon the development of numerous small and medium sized businesses bringing between 10 and 90 employees. Master Planned communities contributed to the nearly 5,800 acres of open space (roughly half of which is owned by the town) and 75 miles of trails. The town funded construction of a $25 million 300+ acre regional park and a $5 million improvement to a downtown urban park. Growth revenue enables the town to provide outstanding public safety services, secure a long-term water supply and finance significant public infrastructure and surface transportation improvements.
On the other hand, a sustained rapid pace of growth is stressful to the town’s infrastructure and challenges the patience of existing and new residents. Based upon community input and a series of open houses, the town has conducted on growth, resident concerns center on a surface transportation network unable to keep pace with homebuilding and commercial activity. Questions arise if the town’s long-term water program can remain affordable to existing and future residents. Long-term residents question why elected officials don’t slow down development activity and new residents, although aware they are moving into a high growth community, are often surprised by the rapid pace of growth.
Spit Home Development
So where does the term “spit home” development come into play? The desirable nature of Castle Rock and significant investment in homebuilding activities equals a market condition where land is extremely valuable and very few properties exist outside of the numerous master planned communities that fill the landscape.
Master plan community teams deal with national homebuilders who currently control the housing stock. Single family detached housing accounts for 99 percent of all residential permits issued during the past 15 years, thereby resulting in higher costs to provide infrastructure. Land values and infrastructure costs are also impacted by extreme topography and that equates to higher infrastructure costs versus adjoining communities where the land is flat. The sum of issues noted means a higher than average building lot cost, and therefore high-priced housing. The average single family home sales price hovers around $450,000. In response to market demands, master developers and homebuilders choose to continue the trend of developing single-family detached housing versus higher density multifamily housing; and the fear of construction defects legal action has severely limited the construction of condo development, which is sorely needed in the community.
Infrastructure costs, lot costs, materials costs, etc., result in planned communities with smaller lots and widths between 35 and 45 feet and lot depths between 90 to 110 feet. Market interests dictate home sizes between 2,800 to 3,200 sq. ft. and resultant building separations averaging between 5-8 feet on one side and 10+ feet on the other side.
Because the Castle Rock topography includes rolling hills, buttes, and canyons which provide a panorama view of the community, newer planned developments are perceived as dense, compact housing. This type of development is now being referred to as “spit homes” because some observers opine that one could easily spit into their neighbor’s home from the kitchen, bath or bedroom window. Is the spit phenomenon a reality? Well, no. You can’t actually spit into your neighbor’s house, but to many residents the compactness of single family detached housing spread across previously occupied ranch land makes it appear that way.
Is the town prepared to limit or prohibit such small lot development? Town leadership has consistently stated that private property rights have priority so if market conditions dictate the need for smaller lot single family detached housing, and that is preferred over paired homes, townhomes or multifamily development, then the national builders will meet those market demands.
I suspect that other communities throughout the Western states are experiencing similar stress points regarding infrastructure needs, surface transportation and supplying a diverse housing stock. Although “spit home” development may be an extreme qualifier, perhaps there is an opportunity to recognize that compact housing development may lessen infrastructure costs and provide for a housing stock that is more affordable when compared to 1, 5 or 35-acre lots spread across the countryside.
Castle Rock is a nationally recognized highly desirable place to live, work and play. We expect the existing pace of growth to continue and look forward to ongoing discussions with town leadership, residents and commercial and employment based investment teams in the community about the need for diversity of housing stock.
Bill Detweiler, A.S.L.A., is the Director of Development Services for Castle Rock, Colorado. He serves on the Western Planner Editorial Board.