Council warms to housing fee waivers
Glenwood Springs City Council members are showing a renewed interest in the concept of waiving fees for affordable housing projects.However, that doesn’t necessarily presage the outcome of the decision they are to face soon on a major affordable housing project at Glenwood Meadows.Council voted 4-3 Thursday night in favor of waiving $8,647 in city fees associated with an affordable housing unit that will be included in a housing development in the 2300 block of Bennett Avenue.The vote marked a departure from other recent decisions to reject fee waivers, even though they are allowed by city ordinance. Some council members have voiced reservations about subsidizing private developers, forgoing needed city income and setting a precedent for other waiver requests.Council member Joe O’Donnell hasn’t changed his mind on the issue.”I don’t think we want to start waiving fees. We’re going to be hit with a pretty big (request) here very shortly.”Developers of a 120-unit apartment complex at Glenwood Meadows plan to ask council again for fee waivers associated with their project. Council rejected almost $500,000 in waivers last November even as they approved the project. It would result in 120 rental units, most of which would be restricted to lower-income residents.The project’s developers recently have approached the city and Garfield County for financial assistance to help cover skyrocketing construction costs since last year. County commissioners recently committed $1.5 million in funding. Developers plan to ask City Council to provide a similar amount of assistance through means that could include reconsideration of housing fee waivers.Council’s past reluctance to grant waivers has had some council members questioning why it even has an ordinance allowing them. The city requires developers of new subdivisions and multifamily housing projects to provide 15 percent of their units as deed-restricted community housing. Council member David Merritt said he believes the city also has a moral and ethical responsibility to waive fees for affordable housing. As for council’s reluctance to do so, Council member Larry Beckwith said, “Maybe we’ve been wrong in the past and this is the time to get it right.”Mayor Bruce Christensen and fellow council member Kris Chadwick also supported the Bennett Avenue waivers. Chris McGovern, who voted against them, said she would love to support waivers, and wishes the fees weren’t in place to begin with because they drive up housing costs. But she said it’s misleading to call them fees because they represent costs the city incurs related to developments. The fees are charged for things such as building permits, water and sewer improvements, and development reviews.Despite Thursday’s decision, Christensen and Merritt didn’t see it as any predictor of what decision council might make on the Meadows waivers.”I think they are separate issues and will be weighed on their merits,” Christensen said.While a majority of council has come to support the waivers philosophically, Merritt noted that it’s a lot easier to waive some $8,500 in fees than to waive the kind of money at stake at Glenwood Meadows.Council’s actions Thursday on the 10-unit, five-home housing development on Bennett Avenue were a victory for not just waivers but the concept of infill development, which seeks to boost housing stock through developing within town boundaries rather than encouraging sprawl.The concept can be hard to put into practice because it can draw objections from neighboring residents. Council had postponed action on the Bennett Avenue project at the developer’s request last month after voicing reservations about the size of the buildings, and hearing concerns from several neighboring residents. However, the developers made changes that included reducing the building heights, and only one neighbor raised objections Thursday, citing the project density and other concerns.
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