Our view: Exploring collaborative solutions
April 22, 2017
The high cost and limited supply of workforce housing continues to pose a vexing problem for Steamboat Springs’ longterm economic health
Given current discussions about the future of school facilities, now is a good time to consider collaborative solutions to the housing issue being tested in other mountain communities
Sometimes, viable solutions to vexing problems come to light when loosely related issues are considered in tandem.
The high cost and limited supply of workforce housing continues to pose a vexing problem for Steamboat Springs' longterm economic health
Two such issues currently face Steamboat Springs: providing an adequate supply of attainable workforce housing and formulating a plan to update, expand and renovate the Steamboat Springs School District's outdated and increasingly insufficient facilities.
While, on the surface, the relationship between these two problems might seem cursory or, to some, even nonexistent, two other mountain communities in Colorado are taking a serious look at a combined solution.
Just south of Interstate 70, two school districts and their associated municipalities are exploring just such a collaborative approach to a similar set of problems: combining school-owned property and facilities development with the addition of affordable housing.
First, the Eagle Valley School District is looking at the potential to develop a tiny home community — which, by definition, would involve homes of 400 or fewer square feet — on about four acres of district-owned land in Maloit Park, at the southern edge of Minturn.
According to a Feb. 12 article in the Vail Daily, Maloit Park, most of which is owned by the school district, was annexed by the city of Minturn several years ago, and by terms of the annexation agreement — and in consideration of natural and manmade restrictions — some 15 to 18 tiny houses could be built on a developable parcel.
And, while the Eagle Vally School District proposal remains in its infancy, the nearby Roaring Fork School District, in conjunction with the town of Basalt, has taken a similar plan quite a bit further.
On March 8, the Aspen Times reported that the Basalt Town Council had granted a key approval necessary to advance a plan by which the district, in partnership with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, would build 27 condominiums on a hillside behind Basalt High School. The school district would provide the land, and Habitat would build the condos.
The Times article noted that Pitkin County and the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority have been invited as partners in the project. If the governments accept the invitation, the article stated, they would be asked to provide the money for infrastructure; in return, they would receive 12 of the condos for people actively engaged in the county workforce, and the 15 units retained by the school district would be open to all employees of the school, with a special preference for teachers. Presumably, all the condos would be rental units, controlled and managed separately by the respective partners.
We think a similar collaboration, perhaps involving the school district and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, might work here.
The Steamboat Springs School District owns a significant amount of property, much of which could be used for residential development under existing zoning guidelines. According to an appraisal prepared in summer 2016 by Kevin Chandler, of Grand Junction's Chandler Consulting, the district owns 9.2 acres at Whistler Park, on the city's south side, and 35 acres near Steamboat II, at the city's western edge.
Chandler reported that, under the current zoning designation, the Whistler property alone could be subdivided into nine home sites, and, were the parcel to be rezoned for medium density residential use, 29 home sites would become available. We recognize the Whistler site has emerged as a leading candidate for the possible construction of a new elementary school, and we mention is here only as an example to illustrate the general potential of developing housing in tandem with school facilities.
Granted, many obstacles are associated with the notion, and myriad issues would have to be considered: infrastructure, the availability of water, longterm costs, zoning considerations and overall affordability, among others.
But we feel the potential benefits — not the least of which is the addition of affordable and transitional housing stock, some of which might be used as an incentive for the recruitment and retention of teaching and certified school staff — make the idea at least worth looking at.
It is not our intention to throw a wrench into the important work currently underway to modernize and expand our school facilities for future viability. Yet, as long as we're still evaluating options, we encourage both CC4E and district planners to consider the housing issue in their longterm plans for future development.