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The Future of Redhill Forest

Updated: Apr 20




If you’re a current owner in Redhill Forest or considering buying a lot or home here, the one thing that we all have in common is that owning real estate is an investment. And, like any other investment, it is part of a larger market and subject to hidden and, sometimes not so hidden forces. When you’re inhaling the crisp smell of pine and looking at high peaks against a brilliant blue sky it’s easy to breathe deep and say “it’s worth it.” And it probably is. However, it also doesn’t hurt to take a look at how our little piece of paradise fits into a far more complicated economic landscape.


Understanding the region around us.

Park County is in an interesting hole. It’s bordered by Jefferson and Teller (exurbs), Summit (resort), and Lake and Chaffee (transitional). The exurb counties are strongly tied to Front and Rampart Range growth and economies. Summit has become far more populated since the early 1970’s with a mixture of full-time and part-time homeowners. Lake and Chafee (Leadville to Salida) are long established mountain communities that have seen a resurgence, not as resort worker communities, but as more self-sustaining economic zones. And in the middle of it all is Park County — still overwhelmingly rural and dotted throughout with sparsely populated homes.


When I was born in 1954 the population of Colorado was 1.5 million. Today, it’s 5.8 million. There are few states in America that have seen that kind of persistent growth. Yet, since the mid 1970’s when Redhill Forest was carved out of a huge ranch, Park County hasn’t seen the same growth pressure that the surrounding counties have.


What’s been holding growth back? There’s a lot of reasons. US-285 isn’t the persistent conveyor belt that the I-70 corridor is. The altitude is high and winters are cold. With no strong economic driver (like a resort economy) there’s not enough population to support higher level community services such as health care, a national grocery store, and a bigger pool of tradespeople. Growth is fueled by jobs and without new job formation population growth is, at best, incremental.


And for many, that lack of density and services is just fine with them. It’s an oasis of tranquility and solitude surrounded by the supercharged crush of the 21st century. But that’s clearly and quietly starting to change. With Park County’s extraordinarily scenic beauty and nearly four million people living two hours away on the plains, the faucet is opening wider.


Prices look different depending on your point of view.

I was born and raised in Denver and, for twenty years, lived in the Vail Valley. Two and half years ago when my wife and I stumbled across a lot in Redhill (I had visited the area for years to fish in South Park) our first reaction was, “how can this be so cheap?” You see, we came from our former neighborhood where a 1/5th acre lot was $250,000. We had been in many Vail homes in the $10-$20 million dollar range and none – not a one – had views like you can get in Redhill. On the other side of the coin there are buyers and owners who come from markets where real estate prices are far less. They don’t see a bargain, but more of an achievable stretch.


In the twenty years that we lived in the Vail Valley (and I founded and ran the Vail Valley Economic Council) I saw rural gentrification at its extreme as we worried about how teachers and public service workers could afford homes where the average single family house was over $700,000. In Pitkin County (Aspen) there was a saying that, “The billionaires have kicked the millionaires out.”


In the summer of 2020 we bought our three acre lot for $82,000. It came with a fully improved drive (to accommodate a large RV), water, septic and power. Right next to us was an undeveloped lot with the same acreage for $30,000. Six years ago a neighbor two lots down paid $16,000. In two and half years I’ve seen Redhill lots triple and quadruple in price. Why?


There’s a new type of buyer and the use case has changed.

Not that many years ago the value proposition of Redhill Forest was a beautiful location where you could pitch a tent or put an RV on a pad and maybe build a simple cabin. This made a ton of sense. It was easy to get into the game, but not anymore.


Rural gentrification has pushed pushed both public policy and land values in directions that were not anticipated twenty years ago. A few years back Park County started to see that dropping an RV on undeveloped land and treating it as a home could create a patchwork of infrastructure problems and decrease adjoining property values. This is why the county commissioners passed a regulation that limits the use of RVs on undeveloped lots for six months out of the year in subdivided areas such as Redhill Forest.


Concurrently, more affluent buyers, turned off by the high cost of resort property, began taking a more serious look at the incredible scenic beauty of the county and started getting more aggressive in either acquiring or building second homes. In urban areas land costs can be 25%-33% of building cost. Right now, in Redhill that number is way lower, more in the 10%-20% range. And it’s this undervalued realization that’s been pushing up costs which has tilted the economics more in favor of buying or building a home versus seasonal RV camping. Redhill sellers are amazed at what they are now getting for their properties and new buyers still think they’re getting a great deal.


So the use case is changing and the new value proposition in Redhill Forest is that it’s a more affordable to build a second home in a super beautiful location less than two hours from the city. And, if there wasn’t such a constraint on the paucity of skilled labor in the county, you’d see a lot more home construction than what’s currently underway.


The Redhill Forest Advantage

Different things sing to different buyers. For some, being closer to Breckenridge makes areas like Valley of the Sun appealing. For others it’s a gated community like Warm Springs. Full-time RVers might like a lot at Campground of the Rockies. And isolationists more affordable acreage at Indian Mountain or Ranch of the Rockies.


The highest demand for residential property in Park County for the foreseeable future will be for second homes and for that market Redhill Forest is the gem that’s starting to appear on people’s radars. For second homeowners in Redhill Forest there’s enough elbow room for privacy, but enough civilization for security.


The list of Redhill Forest advantages is compelling:


Access

  • Two hour travel from either the airport in Denver or Colorado Springs

  • A fifteen minute drive to Fairplay for groceries, hardware, daily needs, and restaurants

Infrastructure

  • Roads graded and maintained year round

  • A fully rebuilt, modern and high quality community water system

  • Electricity available at every lot

  • Excellent cell coverage on west side and ridge-top locations

  • Traditional phone service

  • Fixed wireless and satellite Internet providers

Weather

  • Sunnier and less snow than being closer to the high mountains

  • Temperate summers with highs that are 15-20 degrees cooler than the front range

Lots

  • Many with some of the finest views in Colorado

  • Variety of choice from open view, heavily forested, ridge-top, and valley floor

Community

  • Covenant control to help assure community quality

  • Architectural controls that balance personal expression with overall neighborhood aesthetics

  • A well-funded and actively managed homeowners association

Redhill Forest’s future

Aside from the ebb and flow of the national economy, from the 30,000’ foot view I expect a consistent demand and growth of second homes. Following Redhill’s current ownership composition, more than 70% of new housing activity will come from Front and Rampart Range owners who will be looking to buy or build second homes. The work-from-home trend is here to stay and homes will be used far more than for weekend and summer getaways. That kind of more frequent use expectation will drive floorplans that include features like home offices and attached garages.


Housing design decisions will be shaped by other factors such as multi-generational use, transition to full-time primary homes for retirement, and lock-off features for monetization of short term rentals.


With a gradual rise of market affluence, square footages will probably increase with larger homes in the 2,000-3,000 square foot range. There will be a de-emphasis on heating with fossil fuel (propane) and an increase in use of solar panels, heat pumps, and geothermal heating technologies. Local labor constraints for traditional homebuilding tradespeople will push owners to look at new options in manufactured housing with modern high-efficiency designs and if local contractors can’t meet demand, delivery lead times will push out two to three years.


Architecturally, we can expect a shift away from mountain cabin designs to homes that, from an exterior standpoint, have a modern mountain exterior look and upgraded interiors like large kitchens and bedrooms with en-suite baths.


And if you want to see what our future looks like today, take a drive through Silverthorne north of the outlet stores, or off of Main Street in Buena Vista to South of Main, or through downtown Salida along the banks of the Arkansas. This is what mountain gentrification looks like and it’s coming to a neighborhood near you.



Don Cohen is a Denver native who has built several successful companies. He has worked on major economic development projects on the Front Range and Western slope and has forty years of experience investing in residential and commercial real estate. Don is an owner and former HOA board member at Redhill Forest. The Dreamhouse Book chronicles his experience building his home.












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