Durango passes inclusionary zoning law
Ordinance is similar to controversial one adopted by Steamboat Springs last year
Durango — The Durango City Council adopted its first official affordable-housing policy Tuesday night by passing the Fair Share Housing inclusionary zoning regulations by a 3-2 vote.
Councilors Michael Rendon, Scott Graham and Leigh Meigs voted in favor; Doug Lyon and Mayor Renee Parsons opposed, though the dissenting votes were for different reasons.
The policy will be added as an amendment to the Land Use and Development Code, and it requires builders to provide a percentage of affordable units or to pay a fee in lieu for each new development of more than two units.
Under the amendment, 16 percent of new developments would have to be priced as affordable or attainable under a four-tiered income and pricing structure formulated by the Regional Housing Alliance of La Plata County.
“There’s no silver bullet to affordable housing, and this isn’t going to solve it either … but it’s one of a five-point plan,” said Rendon, who serves as the council liaison to the RHA board of directors.
The city of Steamboat Springs passed a similar inclusionary zoning ordinance last year, and it’s been under increasing scrutiny, particularly from the development community.
In Durango, the Regional Housing Alliance also uses down payment and second-mortgage assistance, affordable rentals, price caps and shared appreciation to help families making less than $75,000 annually find affordable housing in La Plata County and Durango.
RHA Executive Director Jennifer Lopez said more than 2,000 families in Durango pay too much for housing, and more than 400 families are on waiting lists for assistance with affordable rentals or home ownership.
The policy will be reviewed annually to see whether it is effective.
Lopez would like to add between 80 and 100 affordable or attainable units each year through all the RHA methods. She plans to gauge its effect on the building and development community.
She said the inclusionary zoning policy could bring between 20 and 30 units a year, depending on the prevailing construction market.
Elizabeth Salkind, president of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado, said the policy is overly burdensome not just on the building community but on its customers, too. Because builders likely will pass on additional costs associated with providing lower-priced units or paying fees in lieu, she said it will drive up the price in the rest of the market.
“Everyone in the community is supportive of affordable housing. The difference lies in how to go about it,” Salkind said.
“Everything you do has an impact. Somebody pays, and this policy puts that burden on new buyers, not our industry.”
Homebuilder Emil Wanatka said the policy will force his colleagues to avoid Durango when scoping sites for new projects.
“I believe this policy is destined to fail; builders will work around it and move out of the city. … It’s politically expedient and the path of least resistance, but in reality, it will provide a smaller supply and higher costs,” Wanatka said.
Lopez disputed the criticism and denied that politics are involved.
“I think the impacts are smaller than those presented,” she said.
Councilors were divided about the merits of the inclusionary-zoning policy. Lyon reiterated many of the reasons raised by Salkind in voting against it while indicating his support for other methods in the RHA toolbox, and Mayor Renee Parsons said she thought the policy was too dense for the public to understand and does not go far enough.
Others were enthusiastic in their support.
“I’ve been waiting for years to vote ‘yes’ on this,” Meigs said.
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