Bringing the Steamboat dream in reach

City Council poised to approve a major affordable housing ordinance

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— Willie Samuelson and his wife, Debbie Duncan, were having such a hard time finding an affordable house in Steamboat Springs that they almost moved away.

But when Duncan came to Samuelson and said she was pregnant, they knew they had to stay.

"I always said, 'If I have a family, this would be a neat place to raise my kids,'" Samuelson said.

After Eric, who is now 12, was born, the family dreamed of having a yard bigger than the one by their mobile home.

"We always talked about how nice it would be to try and get into a house," Samuelson said.

The family caught a break a couple of years ago, when they were one of 31 families selected to live in West End Village, where homes are deed restricted based on income and net worth. A deed restriction is a condition that deter--mines who can live in a residential unit.

The family now has three bedrooms, a large backyard and a basement.

"Things just kept falling into place," Samuelson said.

Samuelson said he supports an ordinance being considered by the Steamboat Springs City Council that would provide more affordable housing in the city. The council will consider the second reading of the ordinance Tuesday.

The inclusionary zoning ordinance would require developers who are building residential projects to include a certain percentage of affordable units in the development, build a higher percentage elsewhere or provide funding for a similar quantity of affordable housing.

Samuelson, who works for Colorado Mountain College, thinks the addition of more affordable housing in Steamboat will help other families like his. "It's a good opportunity for anyone who wants to stay here, who are in the same position as Deb and I and are working," he said.

Because Tuesday will mark the second reading of the ordinance, it will become official if the council approves it.

The ordinance would require that new residential develop----ments in the city include at least 15 percent affordable housing. The housing would be deed restricted based on the annual median income in Routt County.

The council approved the first reading of the ordinance Jan. 24. But after hearing from the public, the development community and council members, the council sought several changes.

In a council memo, city staff identified 10 significant changes that have occurred since the Jan. 24 reading. Some of the changes were the result of a two-hour conversation involving consultant Melanie Rees, council member Towny Anderson and city attorney Tony Lettunich.

No net loss

One of the changes was the addition of a "no net loss" provision. This means that if redevelopment involves the demolition of affordable units, the developer would have to provide at least the same amount of affordable housing even if that is greater than the 15 percent called for in the ordinance.

The provision ensures that if a developer wants to eliminate a mobile-home park with 35 mobile homes and replace it with a residential development, the developer must arrange for at least 35 new affordable units.

Rich Levy, a board member of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, said the provision would help Steamboat maintain the affordable housing stock that exists.

"Certainly, we were pleased and surprised with the no-net-loss language," Levy said. "We've been arguing that for a while."

Jane Blackstone, a consultant for the Base Area Reinvestment Coalition, said that the coalition had not formed an official stance on the revised ordinance Friday. However, she expects discussion on the no-net-loss issue.

"This is very new and very significant, with potential negative consequences. We haven't had any dialogue about it," she said.

Blackstone also said the no-net-loss provision could be problematic for the base area.

"At the base area, revitalization is a clear goal, to see the redevelopment of older properties," she said. "On the other hand, this makes it very, very expensive to do that."

Off-site construction

To comply with the ordinance, developers have the option of building the affordable units in greater quantities at another site. The original draft of the ordinance proposed that developers who build off-site to provide 125 percent of the affordable units that would have been required on site. However, developments proposed in the urban renewal authority near the base of Steamboat Ski Area faced a 150 percent requirement for going off site.

Several developers said that was unfair. The new ordinance requires 125 percent for all devel--opments that select the off-site option.

Blackstone said the change was a positive one because it removes a double standard.

Income eligibility

The original draft required that 50 percent of the affordable housing units be for households with incomes at or below 80 percent of Routt County's annual median income, and the other 50 percent could be for families making 120 percent or below of the AMI. The AMI for a family of four was last calculated at about $72,700, but will soon be re-calculated.

The new ordinance proposes that the housing be for households making 60 percent to 120 percent of the AMI, with an average for incomes at 90 percent.

Blackstone said this change could lead to an increased cost for developers. Property owners have said during city meetings that they make less money from deed-restricted units.

Anderson, however, said that the change could be advantageous to developers and the city. "I think this gives more flexibility to developers and actually produces the units where the need is identified," he said.

'Tailored' to Steamboat

Anderson said a lot of work went into the ordinance, including the revision of the draft.

"There's been a fair amount of research on this," Anderson said, including looking at other communities. However, he said, the ordinance is "really tailored to the sensibilities of Steamboat."

Anderson said the revision was based on comments from the development community and affordable housing advocates. The goal, he said, was to provide flexibility at the same time as providing the units.

"I think we've listened, and I hope that we've responded well to what we heard," he said.

Levy said he thinks that developers and housing advocates have worked well together to provide input on the ordinance.

"We got to the table a lot to talk about it," he said.

Levy said the community alliance is pleased with many of the changes.

"Overall, we think they've made a lot of good changes," he said. "We're pretty close."

Blackstone said the coalition has expressed overall support for an inclusionary zoning ordinance.

"BARC has had consistent willingness to participate if the terms are reasonable," she said. However, she said, "there still are provisions (in this draft) for BARC not to wholeheartedly support this ordinance."

Steve Lewis, a Steamboat Springs planning commissioner, said his experience as a commissioner has shown him that the city and the county have been very progressive by establishing an urban growth boundary, which defines areas that officials believe will be annexed into Steamboat. Lewis said the boundary brings new concepts, such as affordable housing, to city officials' attention.

Lewis said passage of the inclusionary zoning ordinance would mean that the city is starting to deal with the affordable-housing issue. He wants to see that step taken Tuesday so the ordinance can apply to development as soon as possible.

"I hope that we can accomplish this ordinance on the second reading just to realize all of the affordable housing units we can," he said.

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