Council shelves affordable housing fee waivers
Post Independent Staff
A tool for getting affordable housing built in Glenwood Springs is being pushed to the back of the toolbox.
Even as City Council approved an 84-unit affordable housing project Nov. 17, it rejected waiving nearly $500,000 in development fees sought by the developers.
It hinted at that decision earlier the same evening when it also said “no” to affordable housing fee waivers in connection with a far-smaller project.
The decisions sent developers a message that, at least in the city’s current financial condition, a majority of council is in no mood to be giving up revenues in support of private developers’ affordable housing initiatives.
Those on council who denied the waivers included even some strong supporters of a 120-unit apartment project at Glenwood Meadows, which would include 84 units restricted to lower-income residents.
“We don’t have the right to throw this money away,” said Joe O’Donnell, who earlier had strongly advocated bending the city’s rules on building height limits and park requirements in order to help the project proceed.
Said fellow council member Chris McGovern, “This is not a nonprofit building. The developers are doing a fantastic job, the community is definitely being served, but there is profit in it. It is not our place to subsidize development.”
Also at the meeting, council denied about $9,000 in fee waivers in connection with a 22-unit development on Center Drive in West Glenwood, although it approved the project. Developer Byron Vinger had sought the waivers in connection with two deed-restricted units in the development.
Earlier this year, another development in that area by Vinger provided the first deed-restricted housing unit required of housing developers in Glenwood Springs under a 2001 ordinance. However, only one person applied for the unit, which is cheaper than market-price units because its deed limits its annual appreciation in value.
Glenwood’s affordable housing fee waivers also have been of limited use up to now. They were instituted in connection with the Machebeuf low-income apartment project in the early 1990s. The Glenwood Meadows project was the first significant development since Machebeuf that would have made use of the waivers.
The waivers are designed to apply to fees for such things as development reviews, construction permits, water and sewer taps, off-site transportation impacts and school impacts.
They also are designed to be granted at council’s discretion. But council member Larry Beckwith thinks if developers meet certain requirements, the city should waive fees. Otherwise, he said, it shouldn’t have the ordinance.
Council member Dave Merritt noted that the fee waiver ordinance was adopted because the city recognized the need for affordable housing and sought ways to help provide it.
“We took a long time to get to this point,” he said.
But council member Kris Chadwick argued that developments should pay their own way. Several council members noted that the city is currently evaluating water and sewer rates. Failing to charge some developers for new impacts on the water and sewer system could make it more likely that all users of the system will have to pay higher rates.
Both Chadwick and McGovern feared setting a precedent by approving the waivers. And O’Donnell said a waiver isn’t appropriate after city voters approved a streets tax by only 11 votes earlier this month. The city faced the prospect of making significant budget cuts if the tax hadn’t passed.
In supporting the waivers, Merritt said housing is a part of a larger Glenwood Meadows development with a significant retail component that will generate a lot of sales tax revenues for the city.
“We’re making that money on the backs of the lower-wage folks that will be working there,” he said.
Of the fees developer Robert Macgregor sought to have waived at Glenwood Meadows, $353,784 would go to the city and $141,273 to the Roaring Fork School District Re-1. The city decides on the imposition of the school impact fees. When Macgregor asked council if it would at least waive the school fees, they told him they didn’t think it would be fair to deny the schools their fees while collecting the city fees.
Re-1 had opposed the fee waivers, but Macgregor contends district employees could benefit from the affordable housing the project would create.
Macgregor had called the fee waivers crucial to making the apartment project financially feasible. However, concessions council made on issues such as the building height limits and when a 1-acre park will have to be built gives him some other financial breathing space, and he hopes to make the development work.
Representatives with Catholic Charities, the Garfield County Housing Authority and Mountain Regional Housing Corp. spoke in favor of the development, as did former council member Don Gillespie and former mayor Larry Emery.
“There’s a big need for our kids around here to find something that’s affordable,” Gillespie said.
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