Photo by Brian Ray
Pre-Kindergartners, from left, Daniel Kempers, Dallas Whitmore and Jack Cashen enjoy an afternoon snack at the Discovery Learning Center in Steamboat Springs on Monday.
Steamboat Springs Jon Quinn believes Steamboat Springs officials should expand their focus when addressing the city's high cost of living.
"I think the affordability of Steamboat is broader than just housing needs," the Steamboat Springs councilman said Monday. "I really want to see us broaden our understanding of what makes Steamboat affordable or, as the case may be, unaffordable."
Specifically, Quinn believes Steamboat has a "child care crisis" that needs to be quantified and confronted. At a Steamboat Springs City Council meeting Tuesday, Quinn and Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski proposed broader strategies - such as incorporating child care and transportation needs into housing discussions - for making Steamboat livable for its middle-class citizens.
"I think child care goes to the heart of affordability in Steamboat," Quinn said.
The idea was part of an affordable housing discussion that also included suggestions such as repealing or revising components of the city's affordable housing legislation passed last year.
Quinn noted that the city currently has no way to quantify the local lack of child care - only anecdotal evidence. But that's something Discovery Learning Center Executive Director Tami Havener can provide in abundance.
"Discovery's waiting list is very long," she said Monday. "Kids can't enroll here until they're 3 years old, and we have parents calling when they're pregnant."
Havener said that while there are more than 200 births a year in Routt County, there are only 60 corresponding licensed spots for child care. She said there is plenty that local government can do to address the problem. Havener said the city has a golden opportunity with Steamboat 700, the 700-acre proposed development west of Steamboat that proposes about 2,000 homes and hopes to be annexed into city limits. In reviewing the development and placing terms on the annexation, Havener said, the city should not put any barriers on home child care. The city also could provide incentives for such operations, such as water bill breaks.
Quinn said he believes child care is an appropriate focus for the city's existing officials and entities such as the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.
"The last thing we need to do is throw more money at creating a new entity," Quinn said Monday. "At the legislative level, we need to address that there is a problem."
At Tuesday's meeting, Hermacinski asked city staff to investigate whether other communities put any of their affordable housing fees toward needs such as child care and transportation. Hermacinski's direction to staff came even as she suggested that the city repeal its linkage fees on commercial developments. Commercial linkage, which was one of the more hotly debated aspects of affordable housing legislation the city passed in June, requires developers to pay fees into a city fund specifically for affordable housing.
Hermacinski said she is concerned about the negative economic effects linkage might be causing. Noting the weakening national economy, Hermacinski said, "It's a really touchy time to be tweaking with the market process."
Quinn suggested a touchy measure of his own: allowing developers the option of paying a fee in lieu of providing the entire amount of affordable units they are required to build under the city's inclusionary zoning requirements.
Council members Meg Bentley and Steve Ivancie were not supportive of the suggested revisions.
"We need to give these things time to either work or not work," Ivancie said.
No official action was taken on the proposed revisions to the city's affordable housing ordinances. Changes will be considered in coming weeks and subsequently presented to City Council for consideration.