Board discusses Stagecoach

County leaders weigh in on affordable housing issue


— County leaders gazed into the future Thursday night and tried to imagine a day when Stagecoach would become an incorporated town with stores, office buildings and perhaps affordable housing.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners met with the Planning Commission to discuss whether an affordable housing ordinance would be useful in the unincorporated areas of the county. They kept coming back to Stagecoach -- the growing bedroom community in South Routt County.

"We don't call it affordable housing any more. We call it attainable," Planning Commission Chairman Don Alperti said. "Stagecoach is the only place where there's a lot of platted subdivisions. Putting it out there is great. But the problem is, people still have to get (to Steamboat) to work, which (costs) money."

Planning Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush shared Alperti's concerns. She suggested any effort to pursue an "inclusionary zoning ordinance" for affordable housing in Stagecoach should be concurrent with an effort to improve transportation.

"County roads 14 and 16 are very problematic," Mitsch Bush said. "That leaves us with the issue of mass transit and who is going to pay for that."

The city of Steamboat Springs recently passed an inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires developers of large projects to build or fund affordable housing. Thursday's discussion raised concerns that it might be necessary to approve a similar measure in the county to balance any incentive the city's ordinance might create to push development outside the city limits.

Resident Richard Levy urged county leaders to approach affordable housing ordinances from a proactive rather than a reactive stance.

"We're losing some vital parts of our community," Levy said. "That's why we want inclusionary zoning. Policemen, teachers and firefighters can't afford to buy homes."

Resident Diane Brower urged the commissioners to "cut down on urban sprawl by planning affordable housing developments closer to the job base in Steamboat."

Commissioner Donna Hellyer expressed concern that an inclusionary zoning ordinance in unincorporated Routt County might put additional development pressure on existing towns such as Hayden.

The growth might be coming regardless of whether an affordable housing ordinance is in place, Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak warned. The challenge, she said, is balancing a desire to keep growth close to Steamboat's urban boundary with the likelihood that Stagecoach is poised for rapid growth.

County Commissioner Dan Ellison, a former town manager of Hayden, said that if the county takes measures to create affordable housing developments, they should create more than one. He urged consulting with Hayden leaders to see whether they would be open to the idea.

"Hayden has adequate water and sewer, and the city bus comes every morning from Craig, bringing people to work in Steamboat," Ellison said.

Planning Commissioner Terry Hunter pointed out that an inclusionary zoning ordinance that required developers to provide 15 percent of their total market rate units in affordable units, would take a long time to generate substantial entry-level housing. Hunter said 2,000 market rate units would generate 300 affordable residences. It would be more efficient, he argued, to create an attractive mobile-home park, where residents owned their lots. That strategy could quickly generate 300 homes on a relatively small parcel, he said.

Commissioner Gary Miller said he would favor studying an ordinance that would charge developers a fee to be paid in lieu of actually building affordable homes. The fees could be used to underwrite a mobile-home park like the one Hunter advocated.

A majority of the county leaders in attendance agreed to undertake a more in-depth study of what form of inclusionary zoning might be best for the county. However, Alperti cautioned that agreeing to study an ordinance isn't the same thing as enacting one.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

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