Affordable housing fees spur debate amongst officials

Critics of current method say fee structure doesn’t match needs

After voting just three weeks ago to create a uniform affordable housing linkage fee for the entire county, Gunnison County commissioners may refigure the fee formula again. At their work session on March 25, commissioners heard community members and area planning officials say the current formula does not adequately address the actual housing needs for specific areas in the county or its affordability.



Mike Potoker, a Crested Butte developer and a member of the Gunnison County Housing Authority Advisory Board, argued that the goal of the county’s affordable housing program should be to house people where they work. In an email to the board, Potoker said the commissioners should consider the added costs of commuting—both actual and environmental—when deciding how the linkage fee should assessed and spent. “Don’t forget the added costs for people commuting to and from Gunnison is somewhere around 25 percent plus of their housing costs, plus two hours each day of their time,” Potoker wrote.
Susan Eskew, a candidate for a seat on the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council, echoed Potoker’s concerns. She said under the current metric, fees aren’t being collected and spent where they are most needed. “We want to make it fair—we want to mitigate where the impacts occur,” she said.
County Planning Commission member David Owen said he thought the issue was the gap between the cost of housing and what people could actually afford. In the last few years housing costs in the Crested Butte area have escalated beyond the means of most citizens. “I think you should spend it where it’s most needed,” said Owen of the county housing fund.
Melanie Rees, a consultant who has done work throughout the Western Slope on housing-related issues, urged commissioners to pursue affordable opportunities aggressively. She said that without affordable housing, the county risked loss of community. She noted that in Teton County, Wyoming, many of the people who provide essential services no longer live anywhere near where they work. She said a study showed that emergency medical response took three times longer in Teton County than the average for the rest of the nation.
Rees urged commissioners to establish a clear policy and a yearly action plan that guarantees that mitigation fees will be spent efficiently and in the places they are most needed. She listed several ways this could be accomplished.
“Please think long-term in your allocation of funds. Please establish a clear policy that housing should be built where funds are generated and I ask you to consider partnerships in which towns, private developers and non-profits can leverage the generated funds,” she said.
Attorney David Leinsdorf said it was significant that Rees mentioned public/private partnerships, because he felt the private sector was burdened by the regulations in their current form. “So far everything you’ve done has taxed the land owner,” he said.
County Housing Authority director Denise Wise said the county is involved in some partnerships and pointed to the public/private Rock Creek development in Gunnison.
Gunnison County essential housing administrator Eileen McVicar said the county was working with Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) to assist ski area employees in purchasing designated affordable units in the Prospect/Homestead Community Housing project that is being developed by the resort.
“That’s a good project, she said. “It’s a great partnership.”
Commission chairman Hap Channell agreed that public/private partnerships were a key element in developing county affordable housing, and he promised to play close attention to cultivating such joint ventures.
Richard Karas of the County Planning Commission supported the idea that the fee should be spent where it was generated. But he cautioned that the proposed annexation of the Gunnison Rising development to the City of Gunnison could generate more jobs and therefore more housing needs in the south end of the valley.
After listening to the testimony, commissioner Jim Starr said he thought the county must adopt a system that accounts for the location of new development and the cost of housing for workers who build and maintain the new construction. “I think it makes sense to look at some formula that deals with where the fee is generated and the affordability gap,” he said.
Before the county adopted a uniform countywide linkage fee, the commissioners had assessed a considerably larger linkage fee to construction in the area around Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte. Builders and residents complained that the North Valley designation was based on an arbitrary boundary and wasn’t necessarily being spent where it was generated. These complaints led commissioners to assess the uniform fee.
At the close of their March 25 work session, commissioners agreed to reconsider how the housing linkage fees would be assessed and how they would be allocated, based on recommendations by their staff and the county Housing Advisory Committee. The Gunnison County Housing Advisory Board will consider recommendations at their regular meeting on April 10.
Schumacher protests commercial linkage fee
Mark Schumacher, who missed a discussion on amending the housing linkage fee because of a last-minute meeting agenda change, said he thought his project at the Three Rivers light industrial park was being unfairly taxed.
He said the storage units he was constructing with labor from his own company did not generate new employees and therefore should not be assessed the fee. “It’s the unintended consequence of over-regulation,” Schumacher said.
Schumacher also said that notice of the meeting was poorly posted, and people like himself were being shut out of the process.
The commissioners agreed to consider the changes to the commercial fees in a discussion item at their regular meeting on April 1. The issue was to be considered as part of the consent agenda.

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