Council sets priorities | SteamboatToday.com

Council sets priorities

Members have differing philosophies on affordable housing

Brandon Gee

Steamboat Springs — Councilman Steve Ivancie entered Saturday's all-day City Council retreat concerned about his fellow council members' commitment to affordable housing. — Councilman Steve Ivancie entered Saturday's all-day City Council retreat concerned about his fellow council members' commitment to affordable housing.

— Councilman Steve Ivancie entered Saturday’s all-day City Council retreat concerned about his fellow council members’ commitment to affordable housing.

Ivancie may have been comforted by the council’s unanimous vote that affordable housing will be one of its top priorities, but he also heard clearly different philosophies on how to approach the issue.

Ivancie, a supporter of the previous City Council’s work in the affordable housing arena, was the sole opposing vote recently on a motion to remove $80,000 for an affordable housing feasibility study on a piece of city-owned property known as the Bear River Parcel. Councilwoman Meg Bentley, one of five new members to join City Council last month, was absent for the 5-1 vote.

In addressing Ivancie’s concerns, Councilman Walter Magill summed up the majority opinion when he said, “Housing is a priority. Housing at the Bear River is not a priority.”

Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, who initiated the motion to remove the study’s funding, said she did so because it is not a time-sensitive issue and because she has questions about the proposal. She also was concerned because the Bear River Parcel is zoned for open space. Hermacinski said she does not want to create affordable housing at the expense of open space, which she said is another high community priority.

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According to city staff reports, only five or six of the Bear River Parcel’s 18.5 acres would be used for deed-restricted, for-sale housing. During Saturday’s council retreat, Ivancie disagreed that the issue is not time-sensitive.

“Some people might not think it’s time-sensitive, but I think it is because we are going to need housing,” he said.

Ivancie also challenged notions that giving the money to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority would be a better option.

“I don’t think the Housing Authority is in a position to do something like this,” Ivancie said.

“Because we’ve starved them,” Councilman Scott Myller shot back.

Myller and others expressed the opinion that the city was too often duplicating or undermining the efforts of the Housing Authority, when it should be empowering it. Myller also spoke out against the city’s plan to hire its own affordable housing coordinator.

“I don’t think I’d hire an affordable housing coordinator,” Myller said.

City Manager Alan Lanning said the motivation behind hiring an affordable housing coordinator is not to undermine the Housing Authority but to protect the city’s individual interests. Lanning said the city already has interviewed candidates for the job.

“Regardless of whether we partner with the Housing Authority or not, I thought it was important for our organization to have a coordinator to protect our interests,” Lanning said.

Lanning also encouraged council members to consider the city’s interests when it comes to the recent purchase of the Iron Horse Inn to provide affordable, rental housing for city employees and others. Some new council members at Saturday’s retreat continued to question the financial wisdom of the $4 million purchase.

“I don’t think the Iron Horse is blowing money,” Lanning said. “I think it is a wise expenditure of money that will help us well into the future.”

Lanning also said many of the council members’ suggestions regarding the motel – such as reallocating $1 million currently dedicated to a facility remodel – went beyond the policy considerations they should be focused on.

“Forgive me for being honest with you, but this is the poster child for how you get involved in administration versus policy,” Lanning said.

Other top City Council priorities identified at Saturday’s retreat were issues related to growth west of the city, including the impending annexation of a 700-acre development that could include more than 2,000 homes.

“What we’re annexing is so big. I’m telling you it’s a priority,” City Council President Loui Antonucci said.

The council members also discussed possibly revisiting the inclusionary zoning and linkage ordinances passed by the previous City Council. While Ivancie said the ordinances should be left alone and given a chance to work, Hermacinski said there are three “little bitty” changes that she thinks could improve the legislation.