The Steamboat Springs City Council was right to delay action on its revised inclusionary zoning ordinance.
On Tuesday, the council heard hours of discussion about the ordinance. Once the input was finished, the council took the only realistic step it could. It tabled action for another time.
We support city policies aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing in Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area. Such housing is vital to the stability of our workforce and thus the long-term economic health of our community. We think an ordinance that spurs the creation of such housing is appropriate.
But we have yet to feel confident, in the original ordinance or the revised one, that the city has it right. Above all, we fear the council still is trying too hard to force developers to build the wrong kind of housing in the wrong place. And we fear the linkage requirements are so over-reaching that they will be an impediment to, rather than catalyst for, affordable housing.
The basic premise of the inclusionary zoning ordinance has remained the same. The law requires 15 percent of the units in any new residential development that includes three or more units to be community housing. The ordinance defines community housing as housing subject to income guidelines, size limits and deed restrictions. The new ordinance would allow developers to build the community housing off-site, but would eliminate the chance for the developer to pay a fee in lieu of building the required housing. We think that's a mistake.
The ordinance includes a linkage requirement for all commercial and residential development of 1,200 square feet or more. Under linkage, developers pay a fee for community housing relative to the impact the development will have on the need for housing. Linkage has worked well in other resort towns such as Aspen, Telluride and Crested Butte.
Most of the frustration with the new rules is that the linkage requirement would apply not only to major developments, but also to almost everyone else including nonprofits and do-it-yourselfers. Developers subject to the 15 percent housing requirement also would have to pay a linkage fee. Institutions, such as the nonprofit library and the nonprofit hospital, would have to pay linkage fees on their building plans. The guy down the street who wants to expand his house by 1,300 square feet would have to pay a linkage fee. And it isn't clear if developments already approved by the city would still have to pay linkage fees.
These new fees will generate lots of money for community housing, assuming of course, they don't discourage development altogether. But how that money will be used isn't clear. The city hasn't defined what it will do with the fees, and the ordinance makes scant mention of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, the agency the city created together with the county to address affordable housing in the region.
It is our sense that the city's greatest workforce housing needs include modest single-family homes and more rental unit options. It seems most logical that this housing can best be built in areas west of the city. It would be good to see policy that designed to spur such housing. Unfortunately, it seems neither the original inclusionary zoning ordinance nor the revised version is such a policy.