Conflict issue arises in city housing talks
Talks aimed at providing financial incentives for developers to build certain types of more “attainable” housing in Glenwood Springs wound up eliminating two City Council members from even participating in the discussion.
City Attorney Karl Hanlon determined during a Thursday morning premeeting that council members Todd Leahy and Leo McKinney could not vote on a question about new water and sewer impact fees that was on the evening’s agenda.
They were also advised by Hanlon not to participate in the larger discussion about housing policies. That’s because both have direct ownership in properties that may be developed in the near future.
Mayor Michael Gamba said he raised the issue with Hanlon and acting City Manager Andrew Gorgey several weeks ago after questions arose about his own involvement as a contract engineer on one of the rental projects that could end up benefitting from any fee breaks that are granted.
Gamba said he will recuse himself, and in fact can’t even appear before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission or City Council while the proposed 116-unit Oasis Creek Apartments project comes under review this spring.
“The way it came down in talking to the attorney is that Todd’s and Leo’s conflicts were more actual, because they personally own the projects they’re considering,” Gamba said.
Leahy is looking to develop some of the residential properties that he owns in Glenwood Springs, while McKinney has been exploring a possible senior/assisted living development in conjunction with the Harmony House facility that he and his wife, Patty, operate in south Glenwood.
Gamba noted that he does not have a direct financial stake in the Oasis Creek project, other than getting paid on a contract basis for the engineering work he does.
impact fees reduced
As for the impact fees question on the table Thursday, City Council agreed on a 4-1 vote to adjust fees paid by developers for water and sewer system improvements, reducing the overall rate by $1,370 for each residential unit or equivalent.
The new water system rate of $4,710 per Equivalent Residential Unit, or EQR, represents a $2,255 reduction from the current rate.
The wastewater rate will increase some in an effort to adjust for future system upgrade needs, from $4,178 per EQR current to $5,063. That’s somewhat less than a near doubling of the fee that was recommended in a recent analysis that was done for the city.
Councilman Stephen Bershenyi voted against the fee modification, saying he was concerned about compromising system improvement needs in the future.
How that new rate gets applied to smaller residential units, as well as other possible incentives to encourage new rental projects in particular to be built, will be the subject of a follow-up discussion during council’s April 7 meeting.
Philosophical differences still exist among council members about providing breaks for developers to try to encourage certain types of smaller units that could be more attainable for middle-income earners, without some guarantee that rents will be kept in check over the long term.
Most everyone at the table agrees, though, that smaller, for-rent housing is sorely needed in Glenwood Springs.
“There’s little doubt that we need housing right now, no one is arguing that,” Councilman Matt Steckler said. “But I would like to see something put in place that ensures our policy intentions are followed.”
That could be done through some type of voluntary agreement with developers to maintain rents at a level that’s considered affordable for middle-income earners, Steckler said.
IS A PROMISE ENOUGH?
When it comes to rental housing, rent controls cannot legally be mandated on developers, however.
“I don’t know if a promise is enough,” Steckler said.
Gamba and others said it may take a combination of fee reductions for certain types of development, including rental housing, as well as changes in the land-use code to spur development of smaller residential units.
“Personally, I’m in favor of all of the above,” he said. At the same time, if down the road the city determines it has enough of a certain type of housing, council can always revisit any of those incentives and do away with them if need be, he said.
Gorgey said the city could put a sunset provision on any fee reductions or other incentives, so they would apply for only a certain period of time. He and other city staff will prepare a range of options for council to consider at its April 7 meeting.
Clark Anderson, speaking as a resident and director of the new nonprofit Community Builders, and also as a potential “mom-and-pop” infill developer in the city, said a lot of the tools are already contained in the city’s recently updated comprehensive plan.
While development does need to pay its way when it comes to infrastructure costs, “you do need to align your policies with your community development goals,” Anderson said.
“Right now it is hard to get people to come here” because of housing costs, he said. “This is a critical issue for us.”
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