Discussion

From left, Scott Simmons, Sam Gioia and John O’Neal discuss equipment in the Fading West modular home factory.

Buena Vista-based development company Fading West is set to purchase 11 acres of the Railyard subdivision for the purpose of building attainable housing in Leadville.

The company is involved in projects throughout Colorado and is implementing a unique manufacturing system in Buena Vista for the construction of modular homes.

“Our goal is help solve the housing crisis that impacts so much of Colorado,” said John O’Neal, development and marketing manager for Fading West. “This effort began in Buena Vista, but we want to reach as many communities as we can.”

Fading West launched in 2016 after founder and CEO Charlie Chupp, who has a background in manufacturing for companies like Starbucks and Safeway, was recruited to help solve Buena Vista’s housing crisis. Similar to Leadville, Buena Vista faces housing inventory shortages and the town’s work force is struggling to find homes. 

After Chupp agreed to take on the challenge, he set out to implement a housing manufacturing system that models the streamlined method that Toyota uses to produce cars.

The system, which decreases construction costs by 10 to 20 percent, has allowed Fading West to create pocket communities of mixed family modular homes that reach 80 to 120 percent of a city’s area median income.

Currently, Fading West has completed phase one of a subdivision in Buena Vista and is planning to build in other communities, like Poncha Springs, Cañon City and Leadville. 

Not long after Fading West’s inception, Railyard developer John Lichtenegger, who said that building attainable housing at the Railyard was always his intention, approached Fading West to see if the company had interest in buying part of his Leadville property.

At the time, Fading West was a young company and had just finished phase one of The Farm, a 21-acre, 218-home community just minutes from downtown Buena Vista that is now home to many primary residence families.

Although specific design plans for Leadville have not been made, O’Neal said the local subdivision will model The Farm in Buena Vista.

The Farm is comprised of townhomes, narrow-lot homes and an apartment complex to house its factory employees. Each home has a large front porch, some have private back yards, and there are walking paths and green spaces throughout the subdivision.

“The Farm is how this all got started,” said Scott Simmons, director of development services for Fading West, who lives at The Farm with his wife and three children. Simmons said some homes at The Farm come in below market price, while others are more expensive.

“It’s really about finding that balance and diversity of homes so that these communities actually work for a town.”

Fading West also partners with Opticos Design, an architecture firm based out of Berkeley, Calif., on designing the subdivisions.

In 2020, Opticos Design published “Missing Middle Housing,” a book that addresses best practices for creating walkability, efficient densities and other topics when developing attainable housing.

Simmons said that Fading West is studying the book closely and that representatives from the architecture firm will soon visit Leadville.

Fading West is also studying how to implement deed restrictions on certain properties in their subdivisions. 

“We like to call ourselves a rough draft company,” said O’Neal. “There’s no single strategy to building attainable housing, so we really are trying to learn as we go.”

Initially, Fading West purchased prefabricated boxes for building modular homes from a company in Nebraska, but logistics and quality control were too complicated.

Fading West is opening an $18 million, 110,000-square-foot semi-automated manufacturing facility in Buena Vista that will produce boxes for modular homes.

The factory, which is set to open on Nov. 1, has 16 stations and is designed to produce two boxes a day, equating to one home for single-family builds. From the factory, boxes will be loaded onto trailers through enormous bay doors and shipped to construction sites where Fading West building crews can erect a home in about one day.

Despite the factory being semi-automated with lifts, cranes and hovering platforms that move boxes throughout the space, the factory is looking to hire 87 employees from the Arkansas River Valley. 

“We are really excited about this system,” said O’Neal, who added that all homes erected in Leadville will be built just miles down the road in Buena Vista. “As soon as the sale in Leadville closes, we will start planning. We want to start building as soon as possible because these housing issues aren’t going away.”

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