Planners discuss housing
Commission debates zoning ordinance proposal
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs planning commissioners spent more than four hours hashing through an affordable-housing ordinance on Thursday night.
The ordinance addresses an affordable-housing tool called inclusionary zoning. If city officials approve the ordinance, it would require developers to provide a specific percentage of affordable housing units within most new residential developments.
City Planning Director Tom Leeson said Thursday that the ordinance is just one tool the city can use to encourage affordable housing. It won’t act as the only answer to the need for affordable housing, he said.
“We’re not going to be able to solve everything with this ordinance,” Leeson said.
Commissioners reviewed six topics relating to the ordinance Thursday.
One part of the proposed ordinance that raised discussion stated, “If the new development produces rental dwellings, it is preferred that all or a portion of the (affordable housing) be for sale.”
Commission chairwoman Kathi Meyer took that statement to task. She said she did not like the idea of having for-rent and for-sale units in the same development.
“Seems to me we’re mixing apples and oranges,” Meyer said.
She said financing that kind of project is probably difficult. “I don’t want to discourage someone coming in with a rental project,” she said.
Commissioner Steve Lewis disagreed.
“We have a fairly good supply of lower-end rentals,” he said. “I think the need is for the ownership units.”
The commission agreed to remove the sentence from the proposal.
After discussion, commissioners also agreed that the affordable units should be rented or sold to households whose income is at or below 120 percent of Routt County’s annual median income, with at least 50 percent of those units going to households whose income is at or below 80 percent of the annual median income. The annual median income for a family of four is $72,700.
Those regulations are called deed restrictions — something Commissioner Tom Ernst said he was against. He said buying market-rate units is a way for young families to build wealth, and deed restrictions limit that ability.
Commissioner Cari Herma–cinski also spoke against the deed restrictions. She was not against deed restrictions in general, but she was concerned that the commission was not reviewing other kinds of deed restrictions.
Elizabeth Black, executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, said the authority’s clients are in serious need of housing. She asked commissioners not to put any additional burden on low-income families by questioning the suggested deed restrictions. Black said she doubted that housing authority officials would be interested in discussing other kinds of deed restrictions.
Hermacinski said she would support the commission’s decision but that she wouldn’t be comfortable with it.
“I would be physically ill if we adopt the ordinance the way it is right now,” she said.
The ordinance gives developers the option to opt out of providing affordable housing; however, they would have to pay a fee.
Meyer and Commissioner Dana Stopher expressed concern about where that money would go.
Stopher questioned whether the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, the organization that is intended to receive the money, was prepared to take on that task. Disagreeing with Stopher were Eric Smith, who is involved with the development of several projects in town, and Maggie Berglund, a staff member of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley.
Black said the housing authority has the statutory powers to act as a developer and contractor.
During public comment, Rich Levy of the Community Alliance said he supported the off-site option because it would add to the affordable housing options in Steamboat. The ordinance states that developers who want to build affordable units away from the other units have to build 25 percent more units.
“We need the units, and more units is always better,” he said.
Smith said he thought the minimum unit-size requirements proposed in the housing guidelines were too large. The sizes listed are larger than a lot of market-rate units, he said. Those requirements, if included, should contain lower square-footage numbers to help make the units more affordable, he said.
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Work to form a new strategic plan for the Steamboat Springs School District will start next week with the first sessions of a listening tour aimed at getting broad community feedback.