First Tracks buyers to get relief

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— City officials will use collected affordable-housing fees to provide down-payment assistance to 12 contract holders at First Tracks at Wildhorse Meadows under a plan outlined by the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday.

Council approved a request from Resort Ventures West to amend its community housing plan for Wildhorse Meadows, replacing deed-restricted units with a payment in lieu for some units, combined with a voluntary 0.5 percent real estate transfer tax on initial sales. There also will be a 0.5 percent real estate transfer tax on each resale transaction for the remainder of Wildhorse Meadows.

The original plan was for First Tracks to provide 94 deed-restricted housing units in two phases of 47 units each, which would satisfy the city's affordable housing requirement for the entire development on Mount Werner Road. Financing challenges and a lack of demand at some of the income levels Resort Ventures West was required to sell to, however, have rendered the city's affordable housing regulations ineffectual and unworkable, according to developers. Others say the economy, not the ordinance, is broken.

The payment in lieu and transfer tax proposal only applies to 39 of the units under construction in the first phase of First Tracks. Those units are associated with portions of the development already approved for construction, minus the 12 units under contract. The remainder of First Tracks' units will be eligible for sale on the free market without a payment in lieu or transfer tax.

Resort Ventures West said it would continue to honor existing contracts and work with contract holders to close on their deed-restricted homes. The city, however, was concerned that the contracts would be lost because of strict affordable housing lending requirements requiring as much as 70 percent of a project to be under contract before financing will be approved.

That's why council decided to use affordable housing fees the city has collected to provide down-payment assistance to the 12 contract holders, City Council President Loui Antonucci said Wednesday - so contract holders can get conventional loans. The details of the proposal, including how and when the city will be repaid, have yet to be worked out.

The city is in the process of revising its affordable-housing ordinance, but Antonucci said the plan approved for Wildhorse Meadows on Tuesday is not a harbinger of things to come.

"One of the things we said is, we're taking this as a standalone because it's an existing project," said Antonucci, who said council had an obligation to help Wildhorse Meadows find a solution because mandated city regulations threatened the success of the entire project. "We probably have some kind of responsibility : so the whole project doesn't come down like a house of cards."

Also Tuesday, council gave final approval to a "social host" ordinance in a 4-3 vote. The law provides criminal penalties for adults who host parties with underage drinking on their property. In a unanimous vote, council also gave final approval to a water dedication policy that will require the developers of land outside the municipal water utility service area to bring water rights - or money to help develop the city's existing water rights, through means such as infrastructure - to the table as a condition of approval.

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