Got employees? Give them a home

"Linkage" law would place burden of housing on businesses

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— Steamboat Springs could follow other resort communities in requiring businesses to help provide housing for employees.

In a discussion about affordable housing policy Tuesday night, the Steamboat Springs City Council expressed support for further study of a "linkage" ordinance, similar to ordinances already on the books in resort communities including Aspen and Snowmass. Such an ordinance would use a formula to determine the likely number of employees generated by a new business or commercial development and require that development to compensate the city of Steamboat Springs for the necessary affordable housing, through a process known as mitigation.

"If you find the right mitigation rate, it really doesn't stifle commercial development," said Wendy Brown of RRC Associates, a research and consulting firm based in Boulder.

RRC Associates has assisted city officials with several housing studies in Steamboat, including a community survey in 2005. Brown said the firm has helped implement linkage ordinances in communities across the Western Slope.

Brown and RRC colleague Chris Cares presented the council with a draft version of a linkage ordinance, outlining possible mitigation rates and regulations. While council member Loui Antonucci was not present Tuesday night, remaining council members unanimously expressed interest in moving forward with discussions of a linkage ordinance, but raised questions about how it would be applied in different neighborhoods, for different income rates, and along with the city's inclusionary zoning ordinance for residential developments.

"There is still significant work that needs to be done if you determine this is a direction you want to pursue," Cares said.

Council President Ken Bren-ner said that work will occur at future council meetings.

Much of the discussion will likely involve the city's calculation of fee-in-lieu payments, which developers pay the city as compensation for required affordable housing units not provided at a development.

At the proposed One Steam-boat Place development at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, for example, Brenner said the current fee-in-lieu payment required would be about $418,000, should the council decide to accept such a payment.

During public comment Tuesday night, Steamboat resident Audrey Mandell called that payment "ludicrously low." The One Steamboat Place proposal states the payment would provide 17.4 housing units in Steamboat, at a rate of about $24,000 per unit.

Tuesday night, Cindy Bro-wn of the Boulder Housing Authority said in Boulder, fee-in-lieu payments require between $40,000 and $60,000 per unit.

Brenner said Brown's statement sheds a new light on Steamboat's fee calculation.

"This is a very important thing for the council to be considering," Brenner said. "I think our fee-in-lieu calculation is wrong."

-To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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