Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs referendum to create an excise tax for affordable housing went down hard Tuesday night.
When first proposed, Referendum 2A received a positive response in the community, as it called for a tax on new construction only. Current residents with homes and businesses would not have been affected.
But a massive media blitz by opponents of 2A soon turned the public against the tax. On Tuesday, it was rejected by 72 percent of city voters. Only 28 percent voted for the excise tax.
"I think money bought it," said John Spezia, who sits on the board of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation (RALF). The non-profit group helped draft the 2A referendum.
"Misinformation did the job. That's the easiest way to kill something," Spezia said.
Spezia said what he called deceptive ads implied that the tax would help create "15 Wal-Marts" and would cost taxpayers $45 million.
"They fogged up the issue," Spezia said.
Significant credit for 2A's defeat can be given to developer Steve Cavanagh, who led the campaign against the tax. But Cavanagh did not gloat over the victory Tuesday. Instead, he promised to work on another way to help support affordable housing efforts.
"We're going to have to regroup and reassess," he said. "We'll figure out something. It clearly wasn't the right plan."
Cavanagh himself has said publicly that a head tax would be more fair than a new construction tax.
If Referendum 2A had passed, taxes on new construction would have been $2 per square foot or less on homes that were 1,300 square feet or larger.
Commercial and multi-resident buildings would have had to pay $2 per square foot.
The money collected would have been used to buy property for affordable housing.
Resort areas are notorious for their housing costs, which make it difficult for the average worker to find a place to live. Often, it's the price of land that makes building a home so expensive.
But Cavanagh and others say the private sector already is trying to take care of the affordable housing problem.
For example, Cavanagh is partnering with RALF and fronting the money for the predevelopment of West End Village, a Steamboat neighborhood that will have affordable housing.
The 22 acres will cost Cavanagh's family-owned company, CFLT, approximately $675,000 up front.
RALF will then pay for half of the developed lots by borrowing money, or lining up purchasers who need the lots.
Cavanagh would sell his homes at market price, while RALF would oversee the affordable housing part of the project.
Meanwhile, City Councilman Jim Engelken appeared deflated by the defeat of 2A, a pet project of his.
He pointed to a $340,000 building project that was brought to the city's Planning Commission on Tuesday.
"The community has missed a great opportunity to collect funds," Engelken said gloomily.
"We'll see what the opposition's solution is maybe they'll pull something out of their hat."