Some progress but tense conversations
[ By Kendra Walker ]
The Mt. Crested Butte town council discussed several affordable housing-related topics during their November 2 meeting, and while several initiatives are moving forward, tensions in the room made it clear that the affordable housing topic is still one the town has not quite figured out how to handle.
Expediting affordable housing developments
The council moved an ordinance forward that helps expedite the permit review process for community housing projects.
“We’re adjusting the language so that any affordable housing development that comes in gets priority in terms of processing applications, so that does incentivize people who are doing affordable housing to move to the front of the line,” said town manager Isa Reeb. She explained that it also makes Mt. Crested Butte more competitive for grant funding because it helps show that the town is doing its due diligence to put incentives in place.
Council member Lauren Koelliker noted that developers would rather pay the payment in lieu than build affordable housing because the cost to build right now is so high. “There’s an incredibly high cost of construction and building right now…looking at what we charge for our housing in lieu, why are we not doing a cost of construction increase for payment in lieu?” she asked. “I know we use a formula, but it seems to me that the formula is not based on comparable towns. I’m wondering if there’s a way to incorporate these growing costs of construction. Is that something that could be explored?”
Reeb said she would check in with local housing consultant Willa Williford, but also explained that the payment in lieu cost is typically considered for an increase every five years. “That was just done in 2020 and generally you don’t want to update something like that too frequently because people will put in a lot of applications right before it’s raised,” she said.
A new short-term rental (STR) ordinance to help improve compliance and reduce the impact of STRs to the community went into effect on September 1. In a memo to council, town clerk Tiffany O’Connell noted that compliance enforcement has already improved.
Additionally, the town recently hired Heidi Sheldon as the town’s new STR officer. She will take the reins to manage STR licenses and renewals, performing inspections and identifying non-compliance.
O’Connell also noted that the town’s last email update to STR owners included information on the town’s new Housing Matters program, which incentivizes owners to switch their STR to a long-term rental. “The goal is to encourage STR owners to look into Housing Matters before applying for their 2022 STR license,” she said.
The council also discussed the possibility of enacting a general noise ordinance for the town to help control the noise level of STRs. Currently the town only has a noise ordinance for construction. However, the council felt comfortable passing on it for now unless they hear from police officers that it’s needed.
Council member Roman Kolodziej asked how and when the housing discussion was going to play into the town’s Master Plan. “How does the Master Plan relate to housing initiatives when it’s been so focused on the base area and we know we want rentals and housing?” he asked.
“What we determined during the Master Plan process is that if we don’t have a successful base area, we can’t really determine how town growth is going to happen,” explained Reeb. “We have to start somewhere and so that’s the best place to start because that’s the biggest impact on the growth of the town and then you understand what the rest of the growth means.”
Reeb assured Kolodziej that the Master Plan is not ignoring housing or the rest of the town; the discussions have just started with the biggest impact location. “Norris [Design, Master Plan contractor] is addressing housing on the rest of the Master Plan, you just haven’t seen it because we’re still working on it,” she said.
“The comments I’m hearing repeatedly are, if this is a Master Plan where are all the comments on the rest of town, like the North Village all this other stuff, and we’ve just been given a zoning map,” said Kolodziej.
“Because that’s what a Master Plan is, it’s a land use map,” said Reeb.
Kolodziej asked for further clarification, looking at transportation as another example. “If the Master Plan is going to comment on our transportation and it’s not done yet and Mountain Express is doing a transportation study next year, how does that affect how we decide to spend money? Because everything has been, wait ‘til the Master Plan is done, but we’re planning on doing all these transportation initiatives with funding before it’s done and the additional studies are done. So are we kind of wasting money by putting things in that might become obsolete after the studies are done?” he said.
“The cost would not change based on any recommendation that the Master Plan might come out of, so I’m very cognizant of how all those things work together,” said Reeb.
She continued, “To be fair, I’ve only worked here since March so saying, wait ‘til the Master Plan is done, has that actually been that long? So trying to keep that in context that usually Master Plans take about 18-24 months to complete, understand that there is a process that has been extremely expedited because we understand there are all these unanswered questions. But you also sort of just have to trust the process sometimes,” she said.
“I’m not talking about the cost of things, I’m talking more about if they should be postponed,” said Kolodziej.
“I understand what you’re saying, but I believe that my planning background has set me up very well to understand that you can have a Master Plan running concurrently and also understand what other needs are necessary that aren’t going to conflict or be not worth it,” said Reeb.
“And I suppose I’m just trying to be taken along for that ride,” said Kolodziej.
“And I understand but I also have 14 years of experience and three degrees doing this,” replied Reeb. “Some of it you’re just going to have to trust.”
“And I get that but a little context rather than saying, you’re wrong…” started Kolodziej.
“Well I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m trying to give you context,” said Reeb.
“I’m not trying to say that you need to impart 14 years of experience on me or us…”
Reeb cut Kolodziej off. “Well I’m doing the best that I can, and I think that we should move on, Janet.” Reeb said she needed a minute and left the room in an emotional exit.
In a follow up conversation with the CB News, Kolodziej noted, “There was no ill intent. Our town manager has a lot on her plate and she’s made an incredible amount of progress in a short amount of time. If I fail to understand a certain issue I try to dig deeper, and she can’t always explain the nuance of a particular issue in the moment. One of my goals is to try to be as professional and supportive of staff as I can be.”
General housing crisis discussion
Council member Nicholas Kempin noted that he wanted the council to continue talking about the housing issue and exploring solutions. “We voted no on the [STR] moratorium but I don’t think that should be an end to the discussion,” he said. “I also understand we have limited staff time to devote to that. But I just don’t want to let our vote on the moratorium be the final word on it.”
Mayor Janet Farmer pointed out that the town has made progress over the last several months and the new STR officer can bring ideas to council once she’s further ingrained in the role.
“You’re referring to other legislative action we can take. License caps and other channels right?” council member Steve Morris asked Kempin.
“There’s a whole host of other things and tools to talk about and discuss,” said Kempin. “I just want to keep the discussion going. I’m not asking staff to bring us research. We’ve talked about all the details but there’s some bigger questions that I think we could keep talking about.”
“I think it’s important to get our current things approved and up and running and assess the viability of those,” said Reeb. “We can’t really test what’s working yet. We also just need time to get those things running. You approved a lot of stuff in a very short amount of time but that’s a long process to actually get it going.”
“I think it’s important to understand whether or not we as a collective have a general consensus on what is worth working on,” said Kolodziej. “I’m talking about us having an agreement about what we’d like to start moving forward on.”
“If you share those with me I can talk with Isa about trying to figure those out,” said Farmer. “If I don’t know what those topics are I can’t get it on the agenda.”
“Please email our mayor so she’s aware that there’s a majority on the council who would like to pursue continuing to talk about STRs in some fashion,” said Koelliker to her fellow council members.
“It only takes two councilors to get something on the agenda,” noted Morris.