So a guy is walking down the street. Let’s call him Billy Bob. Billy Bob works in the trades. He can drive a truck and swing a hammer. He is looking for work that has been lean the last few years. He has a kid in school and rent to pay.
Last Monday, the Town Council thought of Billy Bob when they awarded the summer paving project to local business Lacy Construction over a Salida company. The two bids were within a couple grand of each other in a $400,000 project. The staff acknowledged that both companies would do a good job. The bids were essentially the same. The town is not obligated to take the “lowest” bid but they should take the “lowest and best” bid. In this particular case, Lacy Construction, a regular contributor and fixture in the community, was the best bid. Perhaps Lacy will hire that guy Billy Bob. The Salida company most likely wouldn’t.
During the discussion on Monday evening, Crested Butte councilman Shaun Matusewicz challenged his fellow councilmembers to walk down the street and explain to a guy living in Crested Butte and looking for work (Billy Bob) why the town would award a Salida company a job that could have been done by a local company for the same amount of money and might have hired him.
That is a fair rhetorical, political question. Matusewicz and his fellow councilmen should take the same challenge with the affordable housing fees they are planning to impose on all new commercial development in town. The proposed fees appear high enough that they will hinder, if not stop, future development that might employ Shaun’s buddy Billy Bob beyond one summer project.
I have seen a lot of people come and go in this valley. Some leave to find a “real” job. Some leave to be closer to family. Some leave because they want a different experience. Not many leave because they can’t find a place to sleep.
Granted, most people would prefer to live inside the town limits of Crested Butte. Living in town offers many benefits. You can walk to the restaurant for breakfast. You don’t have to drive home after last call. Living in town cuts down on traffic in the valley. It is convenient. That’s why in-town prices are higher compared to the rest of the valley. The sales prices of homes in Crested Butte are part of the complex calculation used by the town to figure the proposed affordable housing fees. But it is cheaper to buy or rent in Mt. Crested Butte or Crested Butte South, which in the big picture, are part of the broader community.
Councilman Roland Mason expressed frustration Monday with the hard number the current calculation ends up with. In the case of the proposed ordinance, it would ultimately add about $60 a square foot to any new commercial construction project in Crested Butte. Roland was comfortable with the percentage of responsibility being asked of the developers through the town calculations but was a bit queasy with the ultimate hard number fee. He’s not the only one.
Local developer types have told the council that the affordable housing fees being supported by the council on top of all the other costs of development in Crested Butte will essentially stop any new development that has to make a profit to be built. I don’t know if that’s true or not but my gut says it won’t help. And it is that sort of construction development that will help keep Shaun’s theoretical buddy, Billy Bob, employed. What will Shaun or Roland say to that guy walking down the street when there is little or no development in Crested Butte and the guy has to leave town to find work?
The council’s focus on this issue hasn’t seemed to expand beyond the confines of Crested Butte in what is a linked and larger picture. Here’s an idea to address Roland’s concern and keep the idea of affordable housing real: Instead of calculating the fee using just Crested Butte sales figures, it seems reasonable that the staff could tweak the calculation to use sales prices between Crested Butte South and Mt. Crested Butte. That would legitimately address the commercial impact on housing but drop the hard number that gives Roland and a lot of other people such heartburn. Another possible tweak would be to perhaps use the cost of building instead of Crested Butte sales figures in the calculation since the town is in the fortuitous position of owning land dedicated to “affordable” housing.
If the ultimate goal is to give a boost to the living situations of people who choose to settle in this resort community, the council members should expand their horizon to find a way to make their affordable housing regulations work on both a jobs and housing level. They are connected. And keeping people living and working here adds to the vibrancy of community. As Matusewicz rightly suggests, just ask that guy Billy Bob walking down the street looking for work.