Sinking

There is a hole in the ground, out here at Riverwalk. Well, I’m sure there are lots of holes, but this one seems notable despite its small size. It’s in the middle of Riverwalk Drive.

Were it located any other place, I would assume it’s the entrance to some woodland creature’s home — it’s that small across, but it seems like there is no bottom when you peer inside. But it’s not someplace else, it’s in the road. It’s in the road, and someone already filled it in, or at least covered it, once already this spring, but it is back, defiantly. I’m no expert, but I think it’s the start of a sinkhole.

When you watch the Denver news in non-covid times, the lead story is always one of two things: a shooting, or a fire. Those are the two things you can reliably count on to have happened overnight somewhere in the Denver Metro area. The third thing which doesn’t happen daily but often enough to make it the media’s third-most popular story (based on extensive research consisting of me watching television) are sinkholes.

Denver’s sinkholes frequently swallow a car as they emerge, often the result of a broken water main. Based on this, I am waiting for a large rift to open up across the width of Riverwalk Drive, abruptly, and with little warning other than this persistent small hole with no apparent bottom.

So far I haven’t expressed my concern to anyone on the board, none of whom have ever shown an ounce of inclination to act on any suggestion I’ve had. (Well, the request for a neighborhood contact list got as far as a board member asking people for whatever information they wanted to provide, but no contact list has been forthcoming in four months — maybe we were the only ones interested in being on it.)

And since I don’t have to drive a car across this point in the road, I guess it doesn’t need to be my concern. I’d heard, although the neighborhood grapevine isn’t terribly reliable, even when it comes from the HOA president, that road work was going to take place this spring, and maybe that will solve the problem. If it really is a problem. As we’ve established, I’m no expert on sinkholes — I just know what I see on TV.

Personally, I think this hole has erupted because for the better part of a year this road has seen non-stop construction traffic. And we’re only getting started — we still have two-thirds of the neighborhood to go to reach build-out.

Depending on which board member you might be talking to, we could be awash in construction this year. I was told four starts; Lynn was told no one other than the house just underway has submitted plans. And now, given world developments, that one house might be it.

In between the fires, shootings and covid updates (no sinkholes this week), Denver news noted recently that lumber prices are up 180 percent. This is because, according to some site I skimmed on the internet, production declined during the pandemic, and then construction typically slows for the winter — but in 2020 construction instead exploded, somehow also due to the pandemic. Low supply, huge demand = massive price increase, an increase that whatever site I was on didn’t see going away anytime soon.

I know this happened with lot sales in our neighborhood. The family trust that bought a majority of the lots in 2016 and sold them off about five per year blew through their remaining stock in the final months of last year. I believe they may still hold one after starting the year with something like 14.

But while their marketing effort was exclusively dedicated to rich people seeking a mountain getaway, their sales went almost entirely to people like us, who already had an address in the City of Gunnison. People for whom a million-dollar three-bedroom house is just not a possibility.

And that’s what the builder who stopped by Pat’s yesterday estimated it will now cost to build in Gunnison County. He said people who are in progress really have no choice but to continue on, even if they don’t have a spare $50,000 lying around to cover the increase in the cost of roof decking. But he foresees an end to what he called the “blue collar” houses, for now. “Rich people will still build,” he said, which may be all the local tradespeople need to keep themselves busy.

I did text my sister Tia, whose house-in-progress in Parlin had walls and a few roof trusses when we last visited. She sent back a picture of a house with windows, doors and, importantly, roof decking already in place. “If we were trying to start now we couldn’t afford this house,” she reported, even though hers isn’t a blue-collar job.

I feel awful for my new neighbors-to-be who started construction last month. I don’t know them (yet), but we have learned that he works for our neighbors Fred and Lisa, and he and his wife have two young children, which is exactly what this neighborhood needs more of. But right now their house is a subfloor and a giant trench that will someday hold a sewer pipe (right next to the tiny hole in the road that will open someday in a giant sinkhole to be covered by Denver news), meaning, probably, that they have to purchase every 2 x 4 for the framing, all the trusses and the plywood for the roof — in other words, the cost of their house has easily gone up by 50 percent from what they estimated just a couple months ago.

I also don’t know what this does for “affordable” housing in our already unaffordable county. The apartments going up at the north end of Colorado Street have most of their wood, including roofing, in place, but this could easily be yet another delay for the project that never seems to start at the west end of town, where the Lazy K Resort used to be.

And the endless rows of townhomes, none of which are remotely affordable anyway, march on in Van Tuyl Village, across the highway from the apartments-in-progress. These are not intended as affordable housing, although they’re so jammed together it seems like they shouldn’t sell for anywhere near their asking price (but they all get occupied as soon as they’re finished — I really just can’t explain anything at all to you).

Another row of seven or eight is underway, workers still nailing ever-more-expensive lumber as I drive past at 7 p.m. and holes opening in the final row for the next set . . . I don’t know if these all start selling for half a million each, despite being smaller than those one street over that started in the high 300s, and I don’t know who buys them, although that just hasn’t been a problem for the builder yet.

Maybe all this is nothing more than a little hole in the ground, one to be driven over with aplomb and stepped around easily. But it feels ominous to me — perhaps not a seismic shift in the way Gunnison has been roaring along, but enough of a rift that we see even more clearly than we ever did which side the haves are on, versus the have-nots who have long told ourselves we could afford to live here and maybe even own a nice house along the way.

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