It is hard to blame developers for halting development plans near the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.
Until the Steamboat Springs City Council can commit to the guidelines in its own inclusionary zoning ordinance, trying to push multimillion-dollar housing projects through the pipeline is a futile waste of time and money. Unfortunately, such indecision not only costs the developers but also the community. It is slowing the much-needed redevelopment of the base area, discouraging potential investors in the ski area itself and stopping progress on the affordable housing front.
The City Council must adopt guidelines and live by them. If the council decides it doesn't like the guidelines, then it should change them for future projects. But it can't continue to arbitrarily punish developers who have done nothing more than try to follow the city's current rules.
The council adopted an inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires 15 percent of all new residential development within the city limits to be deed-restricted affordable housing. The ordinance also includes a "payment-in-lieu" option that allows the council to consider letting a developer pay a fee instead of building affordable housing on site. The fee is determined by the difference in profit margin between an affordable unit and a free market one. That margin is defined by city staff as a little less than $25,000. Also, the developer must pay on a greater percentage if the developer chooses the payment-in-lieu option.
Those are the rules that have been in place for months. But when the payment-in-lieu option has been tested, the council has balked.
When Wildhorse Meadows proposed a payment-in-lieu, the city and the developer had different ideas of the value of giving the city cash now versus paying it out over 10 years. Of course, nothing in the ordinance addressed the issue.
Next, One Steamboat Place came before the council. The council approved the 440,0000-square-foot, 85-unit project in August with the exception of its offer to pay $418,000 instead of building affordable units on site. Earlier this month, the council essentially shot down the One Steamboat plan because the council decided it didn't like its own rules.
This is the council that wrote and adopted the inclusionary zoning ordinance in the first place. It is disingenuous for the council to want to change the rules in midstream.
We support the inclusionary zoning ordinance and the payment-in-lieu option. It makes sense to use the fees from base area development to leverage more housing in other parts of the community where land is less expensive. We would like to hear more proposals applying the fees in this way.
We're surprised that we haven't heard more from the the Yampa Valley Housing Authority on this issue. Payments in lieu could be significant sources of revenues for the authority, which has no dedicated funding source now. It would be good to see developers and the housing authority working together to offer specific ideas on how the fees could be used to bring affordable housing projects to the table.
Last week, the leaders of the Base Area Reinvestment Coalition sent a letter to the council stating that all projects at the base are on hold. That's bad news for Steamboat's economy - our standing as a destination ski resort depends heavily on the redevelopment of the base area.
It's regrettable that developers had to take this rather extreme step. We can only hope it becomes a catalyst for the council to clarify its inclusionary zoning guidelines and stick to them.