Commission reviews west plan

Affordable housing a focus during Thursday discussion

— During a discussion about the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan on Thursday, Routt County planning commissioners expressed discouragement about their ability to create truly affordable housing.

The plan lays out officials' goals for future development in the area west of town. An earlier draft of the plan went through a public review process in the fall; officials have crafted the adoption draft to reflect comments made by officials and the public. A final adoption hearing is set for April 18. Before that date, the Routt County Board of Commissioners and the Steamboat Springs City Council will conduct reviews.

Despite the fine-tuning on the affordable housing element of the plan, planning commissioners had a lot of discussion about housing on Thursday.

The plan states that developers must include at least 15 percent affordable housing within a residential project. The units are affordable, the plan states, if a family earning 80 percent of the county's Annual Median Income can buy or rent them.

Commission Vice Chair-woman Diane Mitsch Bush said she was concerned that using annual median income as the standard would not meet workers' housing needs -- an argument she previously raised in the public forum. Instead, Mitsch Bush said, officials need to take a look at the average wage in the area. She said the majority of workers are in the service industry and make far less than 80 percent of the annual median income.

Commissioner John Ayer said he agreed. However, he said, the city of Steamboat Springs has passed an affordable housing ordinance based on annual median income, and the west plan was long ago drafted using the same measure for affordability.

"I think it's just past its time for being accepted," Ayer said.

Commissioner Terry Hunter agreed. The county doesn't need affordable housing, he said, it needs entry-level housing to serve workers who are just getting started. Using 80 percent of the annual median income won't provide the units, he said.

"It's just a shame, it really is," Hunter said.

Mitsch Bush said that officials could lower the income standard to 60 percent, but that no developer would want to build under those conditions.

Ayer said the only thing officials could do at that point was to encourage the use of wages as an affordable standard instead of annual median income. Perhaps officials could provide incentives for doing so, he said.

Commissioner Fred Nichols said he thought that the plan did a good job of giving developers incentives to go beyond the minimum requirement for affordable housing.

Several commissioners agreed with him. But they weren't completely confident about efforts to create affordable housing.

"Terry's hit it on the head," Chairman Don Alperti said. "We aren't solving the problem."

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