Council feels town has fulfilled its housing obligation
A draft of Crested Butte’s new affordable housing ordinance will be given to the Town Council at their March 5 meeting. The council will review the document being drafted by Town Planner John Hess and allow some public comments on the revised regulations governing affordable housing in town, but will not vote on the ordinance at that meeting.
The council addressed a few new issues before selecting the date to look at a completed draft during the February 6 council meeting. At the suggestion of Hess, the council agreed to include language in the ordinance regulating the donation of land by developers instead of mitigation fees. They also agreed to tighten up language so that if the town sells some donated property, the town would be obligated to spend the funds in the affordable housing arena.
Ordinance 19 won’t require the municipality to build new units when expanding government-owned buildings. The rationale is that the town has already spent more than $1 million in general fund expenditures and through a variety of regulatory tools, helped provide 186 units of affordable housing to date.
“I don’t like using the word ‘exempt’ to describe the situation,” explained Councilperson John Wirsing. “The town has already fulfilled a need. We’ve provided housing in the past. It is affordable housing in the bank to be used later.”
“I don’t want to tie the hands of the town but if the government is asking private developers to pay this fee, shouldn’t we walk the same walk and not just talk?” asked Councilperson Glenn Michel. “I don’t know the answer. I’m just asking.”
“The fact is, we’ve been putting affordable housing in the bank,” said Wirsing. “We’re affordable housing rich. It’s not a pass at all.”
“It’s not always been walls, but the town has spent considerable time and money on affordable housing,” added Mayor Aaron Huckstep.
“Many times, it is not the town pushing for the expansion of a town-owned building,” pointed out Town Manager Susan Parker. “The Center for the Arts or Stepping Stones might be a good example.”
“In the bigger picture, the Center for the Arts and the Fire Hall provide great public benefit,” said Councilperson Jim Schmidt. “There is a benefit to everyone with that. I think that helps satisfy the criteria.”
“But public buildings create the same type of employee housing demand,” said councilperson David Owen. “Philosophically, we should walk the walk.”
“I think we already are,” responded councilperson Roland Mason.
The majority of the council concurred and the town will not have to build additional units when it constructs or expands buildings that are owned by the municipality.
The council did defer some ideas being kicked around in the debate. They wanted the staff to flesh out some suggestions and compile a set of guidelines tied to the affordable housing process. For example, one idea would allow a developer to put a voluntary real estate transfer fee (not a tax) on a piece of commercial property that would be collected every time that piece of property sold. Hess projected that properties like time share units, such as those proposed with the Sixth Street Station, might see regular turnover and could help generate cash in an affordable housing fund.
Another thing the council wants to consider is a stricter overview of people utilizing deed restricted units in town. Crested Butte Building Director Bob Gillie estimated that as many as 20 percent of the units are not being used entirely to the letter of the law. “But overseeing that on a regular basis would probably mean hiring another staff member,” he said.
“But if that means getting 35 or 40 units with the correctly qualified people in them, it is cheaper than the town building 35 or 40 units,” said Councilperson Shaun Matusewicz. “It could take decades to build that many new units.”
Hess has taken notes from three or four meetings on the issue. He along with town attorney John Belkin and special counsel Barbara Greene will draft an ordinance for the Town Council to begin considering at the March 5 meeting.