County OKs affordable housing guidelines
In a bid to help local workers find homes they can afford, the Eagle County Commissioners approved a new set of guidelines that will encourage developers to provide affordable housing based on the size and type of project they are building.
After three years debate over a set of requirements to help curb future housing shortages in unincorporated Eagle County, the three commissioners instead approved a less-binding set of guidelines. Although the Eagle County Planning Commission had supported the requirements, County Commissioners Tom Stone and Michael Gallagher supported the guidelines because, both have said, they provide more flexibility.
County Commissioner Arn Menconi, whose campaign in 2000 focused on affordable housing, called the guidelines a “good starting point.”
“Guidelines can have as much impact as regulations,” said Menconi, who is running for re-election this fall. “These guidelines speak of a commitment to maintaining community.”
The goal of the guidelines is to ensure that affordable housing for locals is built alongside new development in the unincorporated areas of Eagle County. The guidelines recommend that developers provide 10 percent of the housing needs that are generated by their developments, said KT Gazunis, Eagle County director of housing.
“The guidelines establish a framework for discussion and negotiation of applicable affordable housing criteria,” Gazunis said. “A developer will need to come with a proposal to address some of the affordable housing needs that he is helping to create.”
Although the county already had affordable housing guidelines, the new ones are more refined and include incentives to provide affordable and employee housing, she said.
“With these guidelines, we are telling developers how to provide affordable housing, we give them a plan that didn’t exist before,” Gazunis said. “Before, they had to think what was best for them. Here we can tell them, ‘Here is a starting point.'”
Housing shortages have been a problem in Eagle County, where rents are consistently among the highest in the state. The guidelines should provide locals with more places to live as their need for continues to increase, Gazunis said.
“The private developers are going to be able to address a portion of those needs,” Gazunis said. “Currently, 49 percent of the homes in Eagle County are owned by second-home owners. This will grow and that will put additional pressure on the working classes, putting them (farther) away from their jobs.”
The number of out-of-county commuters has increased by 600 percent in the past 10 years, said Rebecca Leonard, senior planner with Eagle County. Menconi said the state’s demographer projects 36,000 people will be commuting into the valley by 2025.
“The studies have shown in the past years that the need for affordable housing in the valley will increase dramatically,” Menconi said. “This is the opportunity for setting aside a small guarantee of affordable housing with future developments.”
Stone said the new guidelines will give the county flexibility to deal with housing shortages on a case-by-case basis. Regulations wouldn’t have allowed that, he said.
“They also allow us to recognize what the current economy is and what the current availability of housing is,” Stone said. “We can tailor-fit affordable housing for each development.”
The guidelines also include a whole section of potential incentives, Gazunis said.
“For example, the county could defer development fees as an incentive,” she said. “These incentives are part of the discussion and negotiation process.”
To Stone, the new guidelines are enough to deal with the housing needs of lower-income families in the county.
“When you look at the developments that are happening now – Miller Ranch and Middle Creek – the free market is doing a pretty good job,” Stone said.
At Miller Ranch in Edwards , 280 lower-priced homes will be built while crews are working on 142 apartments at Vail’s Middle Creek complex.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.