City, county leaders say they need to do something ‘big’ to address local housing crisis
Routt County and Steamboat Springs elected officials say they need to do something “big” to address the local housing crisis that has employers throughout the Yampa Valley struggling to find staff that can afford to live in the area.
“It is time to think big,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said at a joint meeting of city and county leaders Tuesday, words that Council President Jason Lacy would echo later in the meeting.
Housing has been a topic almost as hot as the local real estate market of late, frequently landing on agendas for both groups of elected leaders. What was already a problem before the pandemic is exacerbated as the community shifts back to normal.
Several of the leaders said the main impediment to doing something big is the land to build something on.
Lacy said there is a strong push among council members for the city to use some of the $2.8 million it will receive from federal stimulus dollars to address housing. Routt County will also get about $5 million in aid from the American Rescue Act.
As for land, Corrigan said the county doesn’t have much land it could use beyond where it already has plans to build county facilities. There are also a couple of acres in North Routt and the old Royal Hotel site in Yampa, but apart from that, Corrigan said the county doesn’t own anything.
One example in Corrigan’s mind of thinking big would be to look at properties the city already owns like Haymaker Golf Course.
Corrigan admitted tearing up the links to build housing would likely receive a lot of pushback from residents. He also said annexing the land could be complicated, and without that, the county would need to rework zoning regulations in that area, which also would take time.
As for another spot, Corrigan pointed to the Steamboat Springs Airport.
“Basically, it is just a place for people that can afford to own a private plane to fly in and out of. Is that the highest and best use of the property when we have a big airport 20 miles away?” Corrigan said. “Is that a sacred cow?”
Lacy said both suggestions were likely not viable, because the city has received grants that place requirements on these properties, likely preventing them from being turned into sites for housing.
Instead, Lacy said the priority should be buying land — especially with the pandemic relief dollars — potentially partnering with the county and other organizations like the Steamboat Springs School District, UCHealth and Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. to make something happen.
“I think the most important thing we could do right now is to get control of as much land as we possibly can,” Lacy said. “If you don’t have land, then obviously you can’t develop any real meaningful housing supply.”
With a larger partnership, Lacy said they would have a better chance of leveraging that into more grant or state funding to make their dollars go further.
One problem is the piecemeal approach that has been taken, council member Robin Crossan said, with various groups like the Steamboat Springs Chamber and business leaders talking about how they can address the issue in addition to city and county government.
“We have all these different groups doing all these little things here and there … people are having conversations all over the place. How do we bring all of it together?” Crossan said.
Council member Michael Buccino said he has had several business owners reach out in recent days saying they have money and are looking to help build housing that their staff could live in, but that land is the issue.
Even with all the interest, something “big” is likely years away.
Still, leaders say there are other ways to help boost the local housing stock other than getting a shovel in the ground. For many, short-term rentals are an obvious culprit that can be dealt with more quickly.
Council did enact a 90-day moratorium on most short-term rentals in early June, but that did not reduce the number of them and didn’t impact rentals that were already approved or in the application process with the city. Still, short-term rentals are not just a Steamboat problem.
Corrigan pushed council to do more to limit these properties within the city, but said the county has work to do in that regard, as well. There is likely a couple hundred of these properties currently operating in the county, even though it is illegal.
Enforcing the ban on short-term rentals in the county can be tricky, he said, because a listing itself for the property is not enough evidence for the county to take legal action. Earlier Tuesday, commissioners directed planning staff to propose hiring a new code enforcement officer, who as part of their job would work to enforce the short-term rental ban, Corrigan said.
The county is also looking to potentially invest in better water infrastructure near Stagecoach and in Phippsburg that could allow for more housing to be built in those areas, Corrigan said. He also pointed to the town of Yampa, which he said is only utilizing 40% of the capacity of its water system currently.
Commissioners also asked planning staff to identify “low-hanging fruit” in regulations that could be eliminated or modified to make it simpler to build new projects. But that may not be as easy as first thought, Commissioner Beth Melton said.
They talked about lowering parking requirements and reducing fees for certain types of projects but realized the county does not have a definition of affordable housing on the books to reference in these changes. Still, Melton said she agrees with Yampa Valley Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley that each government should hone in on what they have sole authority over.
“What is in our regulations that we could do differently to help facilitate growth that is affordable and in the right areas?” Melton said.
Melton said commissioners sent a letter to General Assembly leadership to ensure state pandemic relief dollars targeted at housing will be available to resort communities, as they often lose out to larger Front Range communities.
“We need to be represented on these interim committees to make sure that at least a portion of this funding is available within our communities,” Melton said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Sunday, July 25, 2021