City Council takes on housing issue again

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— After talking about affordable housing for months and talking about talking about it, City Council is prepared tonight to nail down some concrete plans for affordable housing in Steamboat.

Council will review its affordable housing policy at the start of the meeting, and, before the night is over, decide on whether to approve West End Village, a project it has already touted as a possible preliminary solution to the housing crunch.

In other business, the Steamboat Springs City Council will: Consider a 12-month extension request for a major development permit for Ski Town Inn. Ski Town Inn, which closed in 1998, has been sitting virtually empty for about two years but may soon be able to reopen its doors after a public trustee's sale. The development permit would allow future owners to add more units to the hotel. Discuss a wildland fire proposal based on information provided by the Wildland Fire Council. Vote on a hangar lease at the Steamboat Springs Airport for Herb Lamee. Vote on amendments to the development code allowing a director's approval process for certain development permit applications.

Council members have been pushing to develop a more concrete housing policy since before the excise tax proposal, which would have funded affordable housing, failed in November's election.

The failure of that tax, however, has prompted the city to increase its efforts to find a fair solution.

But discussion about affordable housing has been anything but cut and dry, as council has struggled to pinpoint exactly what the problem is.

Councilwoman Kathy Connell suggested providing affordable rentals may be an equally pressing issue, as local businesses struggle to obtain and retain a stable labor force.

The council is still contemplating the distinction between simply providing affordable housing and providing affordable housing targeted toward local employees.

Proposals circulating throughout council chambers have included establishing a "linkage program," which would necessitate that those people who create the need for affordable housing, such as the hotel owners who employ great numbers of people, be made to provide housing.

Establishing a linkage program was the No. 1 goal council set for itself last year, Councilman Ken Brenner said.

"It's our job to make these decisions and implement this," Brenner said. "It's definitely time for City Council to take this issue seriously, especially in light of the election."

The Regional Affordable Living Foundation, which proposed the excise tax, was asked by City Council to provide material on the linkage program for the work session.

Ellen Hoj of RALF, however, said the organization was unable to get involved in the linkage program because it was outside its expertise.

Hoj also noted that in light of recent court cases in Telluride, the city should consult a lawyer who can guide it through the legal process of establishing the program.

City Council has invited various civic leaders to the meeting to help guide it through the process of understanding the affordable housing issue and finding concrete solutions.

Among those leaders are Scott Ford of the Small Business Development Center and Audrey Danner of the Yampa Valley Partners. Ford and Danner have assisted in drafting a livable wage study that breaks the costs of living in Steamboat Springs down into specific categories.

The West End Village development, which passed Planning Commission three weeks ago, is the first project to be reviewed under the West of Steamboat Area Plan.

The RALF-sponsored project would contain 137 residential units on about 30 acres off Downhill Drive. RALF, in conjunction with local contractor Steve Cavanagh, has promised to offer at least 50 percent of the units to low- and middle-income families, while the other half would be offered at market prices.

The project is seen by many, including both the Steamboat School Board and the Steamboat City Council, as one of the few viable sources of affordable housing for local employees.

Because the area plan mandates that only one-third of the units be affordable, RALF received some concessions from the Planning Commission to ensure the project is not too expensive to build.

Among those concessions were asking RALF to build only one sidewalk throughout the entire complex, although Planning Commission asked for a sidewalk down Downhill Drive so residents can safely access the road.

Unfortunately, the sidewalk would run only as far as the end of the property line, which stops before Downhill Drive reaches U.S. 40.

City officials came to the Planning Commission meeting to voice their concern about various aspects of the project, including the lack of an adequate fire truck turnaround.

Transit Director George Krawzoff also said the development had not provided an access route to get to buses that stop on U.S. 40, meaning residents would have to climb down a relatively steep hill to get to the bus. The commission asked that the turnaround issue be resolved but did not make the applicants figure out how to get the residents to the bus stop.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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