Developers may be asked to set aside housing for locals

Rules would affect subdivisions in county

The county commissioners are taking another hard look at solving affordable housing issues within Gunnison County. At a work session on Tuesday, April 8, county staff began presenting the board with a new proposal for affordable, or essential housing regulations.



This iteration contains an inclusionary requirement that up to 15 percent of all new subdivisions built in unincorporated Gunnison County must be essential units. This is down from the 30 percent set-aside, which the county Planning Commission recommended to the commissioners in 2005. The Planning Commission also recommended the workforce linkage fee at that time. The linkage fee passed and the inclusionary zoning was sent back to the drawing board.
Currently, there is no regulation directing developers to build or set aside essential housing units. However, including those units has become a part of the planning process of subdivisions.
After the linkage fee was adopted, an inclusionary housing taskforce was created to put an inclusionary requirement back on the table for consideration. The taskforce had a number of questions to consider, ranging from the percentage of a subdivision to be included, density requirements, location and incentives for building structures instead of just subdividing land.
In December of last year, after reviewing the recommendation from the taskforce, the commissioners directed staff to provide more detail to certain components of the proposed program. Those components included discussing the lack of traditional zoning in the county and how that affects establishing inclusionary housing and bonus densities for developers. Other components consisted of an “out” for developers when essential units don’t sell, fee in lieu strategies, and the frequency of review and revisions of the program.
County Planning Commission director Joanne Williams, Housing Authority director Denise Wise and administrator Eileen McVicor and County GIS manager Mike Pelletier used the original 2005 recommendation from the Planning Commission along with new feedback from developers to create a new draft for the commissioners.
Dealing specifically with the inclusionary housing proposal, staff is proposing two alternatives to the commissioners, both to be applied countywide on new residential subdivisions.
Following the board’s suggestion, the first idea is to go 15 percent across the board, meaning 15 percent of the total units in a subdivision must be essential housing. The second approach is a tiered system at 10 percent/15 percent/30 percent, depending on the Area Medium Income (AMI) the housing is targeting. For example, a developer would have to set aside 10 percent of units for households at or below 100 percent of AMI. The higher the percentage of the AMI for the targeted household, the higher the percentage of essential housing a developer must provide.
“Our overarching goal is to trying to keep our workforce housed and our middle class here,” Wise told the commissioners.
Commissioner Jim Starr noted that the county’s last housing needs assessment revealed that to meet the demand, 46 percent of new development should be essential housing. “Our next needs assessment I bet will be 55 percent. The bonus stuff becomes that much more important when we are talking about a baseline of 10 percent.”
According to commissioner Paula Swenson, density bonus is the hardest topic to wrap their arms around because the county does not have zoning. “This is the same question we’ve been grappling with and grappling with.”
A project qualifies for a density bonus when the developer adds essential units beyond those required to meet the baseline.
Williams agreed, “The only thing we couldn’t reach agreement on was how we deal with the density issue. As long as we are unzoned, it’s always going to be a ‘nailing Jello to a tree’ issue. We threw the ideas around with each other, but that remains unresolved.”
One method the commissioners discussed to deal with density bonus is to use the open space requirements to increase density for developers willing to put in more essential housing units than required.
Commission chairman Hap Channell said, “It seems to me this is one of the most obvious ways to get to the elusive density bonus. If we reduce open space we are increasing density. I’m not saying it’s easy.”
Starr agreed, “If we are going to have more essential housing, then we are going to have to give on open space in the subdivision.”
The commissioners also began to tackle the topic of where essential housing belongs in the county. Swenson said, “What we’re talking about is setting a standard where we want to encourage the development… where we have central water and sewer, etc.”
If the commissioners decided to go that route, then developers with subdivisions outside of an area for essential housing would pay a fee in lieu.
Crested Butte director of planning and community development John Hess told the board, “I think you need to be setting a number now and passing that, and take three to four years to figure out how to make it work. At least by that time you’ve got 10 percent of every development as essential housing.” He continued, “Adopt a number now and then work on incentives.”
Running out of time at their April 8 meeting, the board decided to schedule another work session to continue their discussion of the proposal from staff for inclusionary housing. “The overall goal is to move the initiative forward to ultimate adoption. By following through with the directive the commissioners gave us in December, we have given them options on how to move this forward,” said Wise.
The work session has not been scheduled. This past Tuesday, April 15 the commissioners met in executive session to discuss inclusionary housing with legal counsel. The board set a special meeting for May 6 at 1 p.m. to continue its discussion.
Also on Tuesday, the commissioners decided that residential building permits that were already in the planning process on March 4 when the residential linkage fee was changed would have the option to pay the lower fee. According to Williams, there are approximately 30 residential permits that fall under this category—20 permits in the north end of the valley, and 10 down-valley.
In March, the county commissioners opted to “blend” the residential workforce linkage fee, making the fee uniform throughout Gunnison County. Under the old rubric, people building homes north of the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery, including near Crested Butte, had to pay approximately two-thirds more than people building in the rest of the county. Under the new scenario for residential construction in Gunnison County, dwellings under 1,000 square feet will pay $710.50 and those over 8,000 square feet will pay $37,637.

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