City Council reduces impact fees

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— Though they may still be a thorn in many residents' sides, the sting has become a little less painful: Impact fees are going to be reduced.

The Steamboat Springs City Council dealt with a few of the complaints the public has expressed about impact fees Wednesday night by reducing the fees and deciding on an impact fee rebate program for affordable housing.

The council will still have to ratify the decisions by ordinance.

The fee on a single-family detached home will drop from $4,454 to $4,000 after the City Council decided to reduce the fee that goes toward open space by 40 percent. Fees charged to office buildings and other structures will likewise be reduced. Council members debated the level by which they would reduce the fees but felt a 40-percent reduction would still allow the city to obtain open space while minimizing the impact on homebuyers. Council members Bud Romberg and Ken Brenner objected, making the vote 4-2.

Romberg said the city would be remiss in buying open space it might not need, because it would reduce the land the city and developers could use for affordable housing. He wanted the fees and thus the potential to acquire new plots of land reduced even further.

"It seems to me that if we continue to buy open space, we restrict the amount of land we can use for affordable housing," Romberg said.

The city has been able to about quadruple its open space holdings in the past eight years, Council President Kevin Bennett said. That sets a standard some council members said is unrealistic if the city expects builders to finance the same rate of growth in open space through impact fees in the future.

"We're setting a very high standard for the future," Councilman Jim Engelken said.

The fees, which go toward new capital improvements generated by growth, can be put to one of four broad uses: parks, city buildings and equipment, public safety and transit. Within the parks category, funds could be diverted to trails, parks and recreation and open space.

City Manager Paul Hughes said he found open space was the only category where the city could realistically reduce funding, thereby reducing the fees. The other categories "didn't offer the same degree of choice," he said.

In terms of affordable housing, the council decided to rebate homes less than 1,500 square feet, providing that the occupant makes less than 120 percent of the area median income, adjusted for the size of the household. The rebate would come out of the city's general fund. The city may impose a flexible cap on the amount of homes it will rebate.

If the owner of the home sold it to a person making more than the income limitation, the fee would have to be repaid to the city at that time.

The council decided against rebating homes only if they are deed restricted, claiming the rebate was not meant to be a main ingredient in a subsidized affordable-housing program, but a simple way for the city to help first-time homebuyers. Deed restrictions limit the amount of profit a buyer can make on a house when it is resold and are often used in affordable-housing programs.

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