Affordable housing regs in BOCC’s cross hairs |

Affordable housing regs in BOCC’s cross hairs

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Garfield County’s elected leaders want to give developers a break when it comes to the county’s affordable housing mitigation requirements, as a way of stimulating the local construction industry.

Rather than simply eliminating the “inclusionary zoning” section of the county’s land use codes, however, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has recruited a group of citizens to come up with suggestions about how the codes can be changed.

The impetus for changing Article 8 of the land use code, which contains the affordable housing regulations, is two-fold, according to members of the BOCC.

“We’re trying to take a chainsaw to the land use code, to whittle it down to the right size,” said Commissioner John Martin on Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, the board eliminated the code’s requirement that development proposals comply with the county’s Comprehensive Plan, before the formal land-use review process can begin.

The affordable housing changes are meant to be temporary, as an incentive for local builders to start building despite the sluggish economy.

The idea of changing or eliminating the county’s affordable housing regulations is part of a broader effort to make the county more “business friendly,” as the commissioners have described in their goals.

“My constituents, the people who elected me, would tell me to throw affordable housing out completely,” remarked Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, at a work session of the BOCC on Wednesday.

The free market, in such a scenario, would then be free to provide housing to those who need it, Jankovsky explained, noting that he felt aspects of the affordable housing rules are “punitive” and “onerous” as they affect developers.

But, he continued, in this region the free market has not been able to provide affordable homes to large numbers of working residents.

As a result, he said, “I’m really concerned about throwing affordable housing out.”

Geneva Powell, executive director of the Garfield County Housing Authority, encouraged the BOCC to change the affordable housing rules rather than get rid of them. The rules are part of a system known officially as the “inclusionary zoning” regulations.

“Instead of taking the inclusionary zoning out of your guidelines,” Powell said, “there may be some things that we can do.” She suggested keeping the rules in place while providing incentives to area builders.

She presented a list of ideas that she hoped could achieve the county’s goals without killing the affordable housing rules. Powell said she is worried that if the rules are removed, it could take a long time to reinstate them in the future.

Currently, the codes require that projects of five or more units must sell 15 percent of the units at affordable prices.

Powell suggested lowering the percentage to 10 percent, or raising the threshold from five homes to 10 or more, among other possible changes.

Powell said she also worries that if the BOCC eliminated the affordable-housing requirement, developers would rush to apply for projects, “get their vested rights and then shelve it” until the economy improves.

“The economy will come back, you know that better than I do,” Powell told the BOCC. “And when we see the economy pick up, we’d be right back where we started.”

Her concerns were echoed by Colin Laird, executive director of the Healthy Mountain Communities nonprofit, who told the BOCC, “It took a lot of time for this board to adopt inclusionary housing.”

Turning to the argument that the current recession has lowered housing costs to the point where there is no need for affordable housing, Laird disagreed. He said prices still are not low enough for “to make it truly affordable” for average workers.

Others at the work session, however, argued in favor of more drastic changes to the rules, or at least creating a way of waiving the affordable housing requirements for developers, until the economy gets better.

Ken Williams of Carbondale suggested that while both Carbondale and Glenwood Springs may be able to benefit from affordable-housing regulations, the western end of the county was doing fine without them.

He maintained that free market homes remained affordable from New Castle to Parachute throughout the housing boom that ended with the recession of 2008.

“Why would you want to have a constraint on the western part of the county?” Williams asked. “The western part of the county has the ability to be like the rest of the nation.”

The BOCC directed county staff to work with a committee of citizens, formed at the Wednesday work session, who have shown an interest in the topic.

The result of that work will be a proposed course of action to be presented at a public meeting before the BOCC on Sept. 20.

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