As Carbondale grows, it grapples with affordability
They might not agree on the town government’s role in affordable housing, but most trustee candidates agree that the town needs a better relationship with developers.
Carbondale is in the perfect storm of high valuations, increased taxes and no housing availability, said candidate Dan Richardson.
If you don’t have any housing available, that’s where you need to focus first, as opposed to affordability, he said.
The town will have to decide if it wants more for-sale homes built or if it can allow higher density areas, he said.
“The town also doesn’t want to push a developer into building affordable housing if that’s not its expertise.” Rather, the town should look to organizations like Habitat for Humanity for that, he said.
“The town can also deal with the VRBOs and Airbnbs, which are contributing to the tough rental market. But it will have to do it without hurting the tourism economy.”
Richardson is one of eight candidates running for three trustee seats in the April 5 mail election, for which ballots have arrived at voters’ homes.
Candidate Wayne Horak says affordable housing simply isn’t an issue for the Board of Trustees to tackle.
Recently the town has had three crises: affordable housing, a proposed property tax increase to pay for infrastructure and the threat of City Market taking its sales tax revenue elsewhere, he said.
The problem they all have in common is that they’re being regulated by the trustees, said Horak.
If the town gets out of the way, developers will serve the community like any business treats customers. The customers require small affordable houses, so the companies will create a supply for that demand, said Horak.
If the town regulates affordable housing, “We’re going to end up with affordable, deed-restricted housing that costs the same as the free market houses.”
One of the main things the trustees can do is create an atmosphere where a variety of housing types can get built, said Allyn Harvey, the only incumbent running.
“But I don’t think us becoming less involved is going to help get more housing,” he said. Carbondale needs to build up its housing stock with both free market homes and deed-restricted homes, said Harvey.
The board can create opportunities through zoning, such as for the tiny house movement or for people who want to subdivide lots, said Harvey.
And people don’t like to think about more trailer parks, but they are affordable housing, he said.
“Carbondale is coming out of a recession, during which not a lot of houses were added to the supply,” Harvey said. “And there’s a draw to the town because of its proximity to Aspen and lots of good press in the outdoors magazines.”
Michael Durant said the town should stop raising taxes and stop standing in the way of developers who want to build.
The town should streamline the development process, he said. “Let them build the ugly building” and don’t drag developers before the planning commission and Board of Trustees numerous times.
Every time a developer has to come back before P&Z or the trustees, that’s billable hours for their architect, engineer, attorney or whoever else, said Durant.
Hold developers to specific price points and in turn give up fees, he said.
Affordable housing can help people get their start in real estate or it can house a workforce, he said. But Durant said he doesn’t believe it’s the taxpayers’ job to provide workforce housing.
And rather than bringing prices down, the town should work on economic development that brings in higher-paying jobs, he said.
All the candidates agree that there’s a lack of affordable housing, said Marty Silverstein. “Our teachers are staying for only a couple years but end up leaving because there’s no hope of being able to afford to live here.”
Carbondale has a bad reputation with developers, having voted down three major developments, that it needs to fix, he said.
That might mean a tradeoff in which the town compromises on density and gets some affordable housing as a result, he said.
Silverstein wants the town to encourage developments mixed with owned and rented homes, of which he said River Valley Ranch is a great example.
Ben Bohmfalk said Carbondale is inevitably going to be an expensive place, but allowing smaller units and expediting the development process will be key in increasing a variety of available housing options.
The town must proactively seek out land owners, developers and third parties such as the school district with money to put toward housing, he said.
The town’s process has been difficult for developers, he said. Concerns about building type and density end up chipping away pieces of the project making it less affordable. The developer ends up paying hundreds of thousands on consultants and lawyers as the process drags on.
Bohmfalk also wants the town to look at the tiny house movement and at allowing accessory dwelling units.
Patricia Warman said Carbondale has been talking about affordability since she arrived in 1984. She proposes the town develop strong public-private partnerships for affordable housing.
Warman said the town paid $14,000 last summer for a beautification project on a dog park that would have been better spent on human resources. She suggests the town donate that land, which is adjacent to Crystal Meadows. She estimates it could fit another 16 units of affordable housing.
The trustees need to make human beings more of a priority, and that might mean it can’t spend as much on parks and recreation or trails, said Warman.
John “Doc” Philip, who advocates the town seceding from the union and becoming its own nation-state, said Carbondale is only getting more expensive, and no one, especially not the town government, will be able to do anything about it.
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