The missing linkage |

The missing linkage

Council considers housing policy

Mike Lawrence

— It could soon cost more to build in Steamboat Springs.

But if city officials adopt new “linkage” requirements for commercial and residential developers, the result would be more affordable housing in Steamboat, a city that housing consultant Melanie Rees said needs as many as 500 affordable residences to catch up with growing demand. The Steamboat Springs City Council is working to create a new, comprehensive housing plan for the city. On Tuesday night, the council held its second work session in the past month to discuss affordable housing issues and strategies for meeting local housing needs.

Linkage dominated the discussion.

While council members agreed that they conceptually approve of the policy, which requires developers to provide housing for a percentage of the employees created by their development, council members disagreed Tuesday about the possibility of negative impacts related to increased costs for developers.

“If it causes a slowdown in construction, you’re going to wind up with a lot of people without jobs,” council member Loui Antonucci said. “If it isn’t profitable for people to build, they won’t build.”

City Council President Ken Brenner said he does not believe that linkage fees would stop a developer from building in Steamboat’s booming real estate market.

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“I’m struggling with that concept,” Brenner said.

Construction in Steamboat can currently cost as much as $300 per square foot, council members said. Market-rate housing units, especially at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, can sell for much more. On Tuesday, Rees presented linkage policies with fees ranging between $3 and $36 per square foot.

Rees is a Crested Butte resident who has helped resort communities across western Colorado – and the city of Denver – create new policies to meet the needs of low- or moderate-income employees.

“None of those communities have seen a slowdown in commercial development,” Rees said, citing her experience with linkage policies in the Aspen, Telluride and Snowmass areas. “This can often be a win-win situation.”

The numbers

Rees showed the council statistics for both commercial and residential linkage. The commercial statistics are based on the premise that 1,000 square feet of space generates an average of 2.8 jobs. Thus, a new 20,000-square-foot building – similar in size to Sports Authority in Steamboat – would create about 56 new jobs and a need for about 26 new housing units. Requiring the building’s developer to supply 10 percent of those units, through a linkage policy, would require the developer to build or acquire 2.6 affordable housing units, or pay a fee of $478,548.

The fee scale for linkage policies is much steeper than other fee policies the council is considering.

Requiring the developer to supply 15 percent of the housing, Rees said, would boost the requirement to nearly four affordable housing units, or a fee of $717,822.

Council members Tuesday agreed to look at commercial linkage policies with a rate between 5 percent and 15 percent.

“I’m willing to look at something, but I’m going to look at a low rate,” council member Paul Strong said.

A residential linkage policy would require affordable housing on a sliding scale based on the size of units built. The linkage requirement would be in addition to the city’s existing inclusionary zoning requirement, City Planning Director Tom Leeson said.

Any linkage policy adopted by the city would apply only to new construction.

The council will discuss specific aspects of linkage and other housing strategies at its next affordable housing work session, scheduled for Jan. 9.

The next City Council meeting is Dec. 19.

Base area

The City Council, meeting Tuesday as the Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority, unanimously approved several items spurring redevelopment around the base of Steamboat Ski Area. Approved items include the authority’s 2007 budget of more than $7.2 million, which will finance projects including a roundabout at Ski Time Square near the Steamboat Trading Co. and the Tugboat Grill and Pub, a walkway from the Gondola Transit Center to Ski Time Square, the start of a walkway from the roundabout to a future public promenade, increased signage, infrastructure for sidewalk snowmelt systems and utility expansion.

The authority directed Joe Kracum, coordinator of base area redevelopment, to move forward with advertising and taking bids for the construction projects. Kracum said more than 40 contractors from across the state said they plan to attend a “pre-advertisement” meeting about the base area projects today in Steamboat.

Construction is scheduled to begin in April, after the ski area closes for the season.