35% Affordable Housing not enough?

Foothills discussion

The Crested Butte Planning Commission wants a lot of affordable housing in any new annexation. They sent that message loud and clear to the proponents of the Foothills of Crested Butte annexation at a work session held Wednesday, July 1.



The Planning Commission, which is comprised of Town Council members, held the meeting with the developers to clear up some parameters of current negotiations. Affordable housing appeared to be the biggest gap. Under town subdivision and Area Plan regulations, any new annexation must have 60 percent of its developed units be “affordable.” That usually means they must be deed-restricted and sold to people living and working in the area.
The Foothills proponents are proposing approximately 153 total units; 55 units, or about 36 percent of the development, would be deed-restricted affordable housing. Town staff is recommending that at least 50 percent of the annexation is deed-restricted and the developers also be forced to build a deed-restricted duplex to accommodate local teachers. The staff also suggested the proposed commercial building include some deed-restricted affordable units.
“Having deed-restricted units in a commercial building would make it very difficult to sell and finance the commercial buildings,” said lead Foothills attorney Jim Starr.
Planning commissioner Billy Rankin insisted on a large amount of affordable housing in the project. “One of the big carrots when this first came to the town was the amount of affordable housing,” he said. “For me, 35 percent isn’t even close. I’d ask, why even keep going ahead here? I understand what you are saying, but for me, I want the percentage closer to 60 percent.”
Rankin said he was also expressing the view of chairman Alan Bernholtz, who was not at the meeting. Neither were commissioners Skip Berkshire and Leah Williams.
Commissioner Kimberly Metsch agreed the 35 percent figure was too low. “But I am willing to compromise,” she said. “Perhaps we utilize some of the commercial space as a sort of incubator commercial space. We can look for ways to help young businesses.”
Commissioner Reed Betz said the developers were way off the mark. “As I said at the last meeting, shoot for the moon,” he said. “I’d like to see 70 percent affordable housing. That 35 percent isn’t even close.”
The other planning commissioner at the meeting, Dan Escalante, chimed in as well. “Maybe smaller, simpler spaces could be approved,” he said. “I want to see it at least 50 percent.”
Starr agreed affordable housing was a critical issue. “It is important to the proponents, like it is to everyone in the community,” he said. “But you have said if something we ask for doesn’t meet the regulations we should give you a good reason why not. We think we have good reasons.”
Starr said their research shows only one community has a similar requirement that went into effect, “and it happened in Breckenridge only after the town gave the developers the land. It just doesn’t pencil out at 40 or 50 or 60 percent. The smaller the development, the harder it is.”
Starr said the proponents wanted to give the town undeveloped lots connected to infrastructure to be used for affordable housing. He said it would save and/or generate millions of dollars for Crested Butte. “And remember the town has the authority to be flexible with the numbers,” he said.
Starr argued that the development should also get credit for being carbon-neutral and allowing a 1 percent real estate transfer fee for sustainability; that would keep utility costs low and thus keep housing costs affordable. “The bottom line is that we can produce the 35 percent and a significant amount of money and savings to the town,” he said.
Rankin reminded Starr that the town flexibility could work both ways. “We could ask for 90 or 100 percent affordable housing,” he said. “At every town we look at in Colorado, the lack of affordable housing is always one of the major problems everywhere. And is giving us land really a benefit to the town? That’s a topic for further discussion. At this point, 35 percent won’t come close and I’m guessing that the staff recommendation of 50 percent is the very minimum.”
Town resident John Banker concurred. “Communities are held together through things like affordable housing,” he said. “It is impossible to even listen to the arguments Jim is making without seeing the development numbers and seeing how much more affordable housing cuts into their profit margins. What are their business projections? How much money they make off this development is none of our business unless they want to share it with you, so talking about the numbers not penciling out isn’t really a valid argument.”
Rankin asked the town staff to probe into the benefits of getting land for affordable housing from the developers.
The commission and developers touched on other topics, including the amount of on-site and valley-wide open space required; how to fairly deal with the old town dump that sits on both town property and the developer’s property; how much water and water infrastructure the developers should provide the town; the overall fee structure; the amount of land that should be dedicated as park, public and school land; and again, whether sidewalks should be counted toward the subdivision trail requirements. There is still plenty to hammer out. But both sides agreed that progress had been made and there were areas of close agreement such as limiting development close to the cemetery border, general density numbers and the need for a river park.
Resident Sue Navy, a semi-regular participant in the Foothills work sessions, said she was surprised so many housing units were located on the parcel east of the Slate River. “I thought everyone had agreed that shouldn’t be heavily developed,” she said. “Given elk migration, open space concerns and access issues, I thought that was being avoided, but there are a lot of units on the proposed map. I don’t remember that being agreed to.”
With the biggest chasm between the sides appearing to be affordable housing and the biggest question mark being the situation with the old town dump, the town and developers will continue to march forward. The proponents hope to move into the sketch plan phase within a week (see story, page 1) and get a decision on their plan before the November election and a possible new town board.

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