County reduces its affordable housing fee for north valley

Same fee for entire county

The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners moved Tuesday, March 4 to make the housing linkage fee uniform throughout Gunnison County. The change in linkage fee rules means the county will no longer have two districts that pay different linkage fee amounts, and Crested Butte area builders will likely pay less.





The county’s linkage fee was mandated by the commissioners to offset affordable housing needs. The linkage fee is required for new construction in all unincorporated areas of the county.
Previously officials divided the county into two geographic areas based on what they deemed was a reflection of the cost of housing per region. Under the old rubric, people building in the Gunnison Valley north of the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery, including the area around Crested Butte, had to pay approximately two-thirds more than people building in the rest of the county.
The county commissioners approved workforce housing linkage fees in June 2006 as a measure to create more affordable housing for local workers in Gunnison County. The linkage fees require people building new residential, commercial, or industrial units to contribute a fee to support workforce housing. The fee is based on a complicated mitigation rate applied as a percentage of a county building permit. As originally instated, some people were exempt from the fee, but only if they qualified for county affordable housing or met other
Because larger homes generate more workers, for both construction and maintenance, the linkage fee is graduated according a building’s square footage.
Under the old fee schedule, a dwelling unit between 1,000 and 2,499 square feet paid $1,314 in the Crested Butte fee area and $391 in the rest of the county. For buildings more than 8,000 square feet, $58,022 was levied in Crested Butte fee area, while $17,252 was required for the broader county.
Under the new rules, the fees will be "blended," making them the same throughout the county. Under the new scenario, dwellings under 1,000 square feet will pay $710.50 and those over 8,000 square feet will pay $37,637.
No retroactive levies will be charged or refunds given to those builders who built under the prior linkage fee schedule. County housing officials said the current linkage fees generally reflect a cost of between 0.5 and 2 percent of the total price of building construction.
Gunnison County Housing Authority executive director Denise Wise said the area’s unique topographical and economic structure made dividing the county into different fee areas problematic. "The conclusion we drew is blending (the fees) is the way to go," she said.
Wise said the perceived arbitrary nature of the dividing line at Roaring Judy, and the public’s sense that the fees levied on the north end of the valley were onerous precipitated the reevaluation of the fee structure.
Commissioner Jim Starr said that equity of the fees was important and the new fee structure went a long way toward improving things. "I think the way you’ve gone about resolving it is a good one," he told Wise.
But Starr said more of an effort still had to be made to ensure the fees were used to build affordable housing in the north end of the valley. He said his fear was that since building costs were more around Crested Butte, the path of least resistance would be to build affordable housing in the cheaper Gunnison area. "We ought to have some parity between up-valley and down-valley so that people can live where they work," he said.
Since the housing linkage fees have been in place, far more money has been generated in the north valley.
"I’d really like to see the housing built up there if the money is generated up there," said Crested Butte area developer Mike Potoker.
Potoker, who is also a former member of the county Planning Commission, argued that since the cost of transportation is so great, building housing for Crested Butte-area employees in Gunnison didn’t make financial sense.
Starr agreed that from both a financial and environmental standpoint, it was incumbent on county officials to try to minimize excess vehicle trips. He therefore made a case that a designated portion of the housing linkage fees should be used to build housing in the Crested Butte area.
But commissioner Paula Swenson said the housing projects the county would likely build could be dependent on timing and circumstance. Swenson said it would be a bad idea to hamstring the fund by designating expenditures for a particular geographical region; she observed there might be some great bargains or partnerships that could be precluded by such a mandate. "I think we might be cutting our nose off to spite our face," Swenson said.
However, all commissioners ultimately agreed that equity in affordable housing for both ends of the valley was a laudable goal, and decided to hammer out language to reflect this at their work session on March 25.
The commissioners also agreed to consider a Housing Authority recommendation to waive linkage fees for dwellings under 1,000 square feet at the March 25 work session.
The commissioners also moved to defer the required linkage fee until the issuance of a certificate of occupancy (CO). In addition, they decided not to file liens against a property for the amount of the deferred fee.
The commissioners also rejected a Housing Authority recommendation to waive the linkage fee for additions up to 1,000 square feet. They opted to discontinue the practice of levying a linkage fee for the entire square footage of a house when an addition was built.
Commission chair Hap Channell said people who paid the linkage fee for their entire home when they built an addition could expect a refund. "I think we made a mistake, quite frankly," he said of the old policy.
Currently, additions of 500 square feet or less are exempt from the county’s housing linkage fee.

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