Be careful what you wish for

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Results of the 1999 community survey released by the city last week show that a majority of residents want to see tighter reins on growth. But they also want the city to be more supportive of working families -- read: make living here more affordable, especially when it comes to housing.

Forty-eight percent of residents believe the cost of living in Steamboat is unacceptable and about 60 percent say that housing affordability is unacceptable.

As for growth, 56 percent of respondents favor a moratorium as a control measure. The trouble is that a growth moratorium and affordable housing mix as well as two bull elk in rut.

By saying they want growth controlled while housing is made more affordable, most Steamboaters are saying, simply, that they want to have their cake and eat it to.

We need look no further than the Front Range to find examples of the negative effects that growth controls have on communities. In 1978, Boulder voters concerned about what was happening to their burgeoning town agreed to limit growth to 2 percent per year. On paper, it seemed like a good idea.

But the results have been anything but good -- for working families at least.

Following the economic law of supply and demand, the growth cap drove up the price of houses. Middle-income workers who couldn't find a place to live in Boulder were forced out of town -- which meant Boulder's arterial roadways became crowded with commuters. Now the bulging communities where the workers moved to -- places like Louisville, Lafayette and Superior -- are either discussing or have implemented their own growth-control ideas.

Like Boulder residents nearly two decades before, Lafayette voters agreed to impose a growth-management measure in 1995. The results: higher land prices and fewer affordable housing options.

The same will happen here if the 56 percent of residents who say they want a growth moratorium were to codify those sentiments with a ballot measure.

A residential growth moratorium -- whether in Boulder, Lafayette or Steamboat -- will certainly control growth, but also will drive up the price of housing and force working families to leave.

We believe one way to control growth while protecting what affordable housing options remain would be to impose development impact fees. The fees -- calculated by applying a percentage to the square footage of a house -- only would kick in once residential value reached a certain point, say $250,000. Homes priced below that level, which could be adjusted annually to keep up with inflation, would be protected.

The fees would, to some degree, limit growth. Perhaps more importantly, however, the money raised could be used to offset the cost of encouraging affordable housing.

The city is planning a series of neighborhood meetings next month to collect feedback from residents who will have had time to digest survey results. We believe there are solutions such as the one we've mentioned that can address the impacts from rapid growth without negatively affecting the quality of life for working families. We encourage residents to avoid an easy answer that would do more harm than good.

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