Affordable housing OK'd

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The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission approved the final development plan for a 30-unit affordable housing project on Hilltop Parkway but would not grant the applicants the full sidewalk variance.

The approval for Fox Creek Village came after a lengthy discussion about whether to allow the developers, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, to have a 4-foot sidewalk instead of the city-required, 8-foot sidewalk.

City Planner Brian Bavosi recommended to table the plan because the sidewalk did not meet city code. The planning commission, in a 4-2 vote, approved the plan but with the stipulation of a 6-foot sidewalk.

"We are just trying to design a city here, and most of us think it should have sidewalks," Planning Commissioner Scott Myller said.

The development calls for five buildings with six units in each building. At least half of the units are intended to be deed-restricted, affordable-housing units, and more could be deed restricted depending on financing. Each unit will include two bedrooms, two bathrooms and more than 1,000 square feet.

In its first affordable housing project, the housing authority is collecting names of those who are interested in Fox Creek Village.

In his recommendation to table the project, Bavosi noted the proposed 4-foot sidewalk variance detracted from the overall affordable-housing development.

"Staff believes that the intent of the affordable housing is to provide not only an affordable living unit but also to provide basic minimum services that are associated with a typical multi-family development," the recommendation reads.

Bavosi noted at the meeting that the width of a sidewalk at another affordable-housing project, West End Village, was just less than 4 feet, and residents complained about the width.

Eric Smith, who designed the development, told the planning commission that the sidewalk, which runs along Hilltop Parkway, could not be any more than 4 feet wide without dropping off the side of the hill. Building the sidewalk to the city standard would require using fill and possibly a retaining wall.

The wider sidewalk would cost the housing authority at least an additional $30,000, which would be passed directly onto the owners, who would have to pay an extra $1,000 to $2,000, Smith said.

Smith showed photographs of sidewalks that were 4 feet wide, such as those on Seventh Street between Oak and Aspen streets and in Boulder leading up to commercial districts.

"These are sidewalks in urban areas where there is much more activity in terms of pedestrian traffic than we will ever see on Hilltop (Parkway)," Smith said.

Planning Commissioner Randall Hannaway said he came dangerously close to granting the 4-foot sidewalk variance and suggested if the City Council is serious about affordable housing and wants to stick to the code, it should cover the added cost of an 8-foot sidewalk.

"The city at some point has to say either we are supporting affordable housing, or we are not. It may be in little ways like this that we do that," Hannaway said.

"Every time we get into something where they need our help, I feel like we don't extent our best hand," he said.

Most planning commissioners saw a need for a sidewalk to be at least 6 feet wide, and Planning Commissioner Dana Stopher suggested it should be as wide as 8 feet when the topography could accommodate it. She said the issue of sidewalks continues to come up with development projects.

"I think this is a great project, and I don't have any problems with it. I just think we have these rules, and we have these codes, and I think they are there for a reason. I think we should make it happen as often as possible," Stopher said.

Planning Commissioner Dick Curtis questioned the additional cost the sidewalk would cause.

"I don't feel like that is a valid argument, and I feel like the additional costs quoted here are not justified," Curtis said.

The final development plans are scheduled to come before the City Council at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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