Our view: What are we waiting for? | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: What are we waiting for?

At issue

The Routt County Board of Commissioners wants to allow homeowners to build more secondary units.

Our view

Allowing secondary units within 5 miles of existing towns would confine some of the inevitable growth close to existing growth centers, protecting larger expanses of rural land.

The level of public opposition to the Routt County Board of Commissioners’ exploration of the possibility of allowing more rural property within 5 miles of cities and towns to create secondary housing units makes us wonder how committed our community is to creating workforce housing.

The Board of Commissioners has floated the possibility of enabling people living on 5-acre lots and 35-acre parcels to add a second dwelling unit of no more than 800 square feet in addition to their primary residences. And the research of county planning staff shows there already exist 1,796 lots within those 5-mile zones surrounding existing towns that are eligible to do that.

That reminds us that, under Colorado law, homeowners associations have the right to exclude secondary units (as well as nightly rentals) within subdivisions. So, people who choose not to live in neighborhoods that permit secondary units could seek out those subdivisions.

Routt County Planning Commission has gone on record opposing the Board of Commissioners’ initiative, citing the view that it’s inconsistent with the county’s master plan — the same master plan, which, by definition, is overdue for an update and the same plan the commission has been unwilling to update.

We value the traditional land-use patterns of rural Routt County as much as the members of the planning commission, but we also think allowing a limited number of small secondary units is an organic way to unobtrusively create housing for people who contribute to our community without having to impose new affordable housing regulations or invest public monies.

In addition to providing housing for workers, these secondary units could also be lived in by aging parents, extended family, caretakers and visiting friends. And we find it ironic that bunkhouses, traditionally used to house agricultural workers, are a part of rural Routt County’s history.

Allowing secondary units within 5 miles of existing municipalities would confine some of the community’s inevitable growth close to existing growth centers — in effect, protecting much larger expanses of rural land. Secondary units can be as unobtrusive as an apartment under the roof rafters of a large rural garage.

We’ve observed over a couple of decades how difficult it has been for the city of Steamboat Springs to deliver on the promise of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan by annexing undeveloped land and growing beyond its western limits. We haven’t given up on the plan, but in the meantime, we think utilizing secondary units as a measured way to add small-scale housing is a reasonable step to take.

We hope the community’s new Community Housing Steering Committee and its working groups will consider the Board of Commissioners’ initiative as an uncomplicated way to potentially provide some relief to the scarcity of housing here while we wait for long-anticipated community housing developments west of Steamboat.

When county commissioners took the temperature of town of Hayden officials this month on the secondary unit plan, they were reminded that the town already has between 300 and 400 available building lots with utilities in place and priced between $30,000 and $40,000.

We believe permitting secondary units on rural parcels near Routt County municipalities, as well as constructing housing on existing affordable subdivisions in Hayden are both key to providing a variety of workforce housing, all of which would be needed if Routt County were to grow as expected. It should be noted that both solutions create housing without new regulations or public money.

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