Steve Aigner: Annexation review | SteamboatToday.com

Steve Aigner: Annexation review

— The paper’s editorial, “An open-door housing policy” (Feb. 10, 2008) implies that the policies expressed by the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan are just too narrow. Additionally, the paper seems to be really impressed that Mr. Mulcahy and the Steamboat 700 team is thinking about “creative, forward looking-ideas” that appear to be a request to relax the rules. But while the paper directs its gaze on the development plan, it ignores the far more important issue of annexation, and if the city follows suit, it will be a costly mistake.

Annexation is a rare opportunity to negotiate our community needs as a community. Steamboat 700 has every right to “pitch and woo” in pursuit of profit, and we the community have the pre-emptory right to say no, we will not abandon carefully, deliberatively developed affordable housing goals, articulated in the WSSAP, a social contract achieved through extensive public participatory processes. We must not squander the opportunity to negotiate and realize “exceptional” benefits that must exceed the costs of infrastructure, impacts on water supply and downstream quality, and services to current Steamboat Springs residents in addition to current, unmet needs.

If the City Council accepts the Steamboat 700 proposal to target households averaging 120 percent of the area median income, as the paper seems to urge, then Steamboat Springs loses big time. The WSSAP stipulates that 20 percent of the new housing units will be available to those households whose incomes average 80 percent of the AMI. This stipulation wasn’t drawn out of thin air. The city’s analysis of income levels, “keep up” and “catch up” housing objectives and specific strategies to achieve these objectives is well documented (see http://steamboatsprings.net/fileadmin/all_documents/planning_doc/forms/ImplementationProgram_draft2.doc).

Annexation is a negotiation between the city and the petitioner, and we cannot let the city acquiesce to Steamboat 700’s desire to change the target – at least not without a substantial offer of public benefit in return. We have to recognize we are negotiating the future of our community. Negotiating an annexation is a process well beyond the scope of simply reviewing an attractive conceptual master plan.

We welcome the paper’s point of “creative, forward looking ideas” that flexibly expand “the range of buyers who could qualify for affordable homes,” but only after we reach the well-substantiated target of an average of 80 percent AMI for 20 percent of the housing units. That’s the beauty of annexation – Steamboat 700 can and should stipulate some “creative, forward-looking ideas.”

Here are some examples of such ideas: 1) a capital gains fee or a real estate transfer assessment (RETA, as Steamboat 700 proposes) that declines from 10 percent or more on the resale in the first year to 1 percent after year five to discourage “flipping” lots and houses – the primary driver of real estate speculation here; 2) title restrictions requiring sales and resales to qualified buyers, defined as full-time residents (at least eight months per year, for example), and used as an overlay on specified residential zones; 3) small lot zoning (think Old Town). Combing all of the above could yield more profit for the developer and more for our community – maybe achieving 33 percent, or even 40 percent, affordable housing.

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At this stage of the annexation, the city should identify and put forth community needs – what needs can annexation satisfy? This is what differentiates annexations from developments. We must take full advantage of this rare opportunity, and we can do it in partnership with Steamboat 700 as the annexation petitioner. As we all know, good partnerships are created through negotiated agreements where each party wins.

Steve Aigner

Community organizer, Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley