Eagle County: Cheaper homes may be coming | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Cheaper homes may be coming

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Eagle County now has a newer, beefed-up set of housing rules that officials said will bring more workforce housing to the area.

Commissioners unanimously approved county housing guidelines Tuesday, which require developers to provide for the housing needs their projects create at the time it is built, said Alex Potente, managing director of the county’s Housing and Development Department.

County staff has been working on revising the county’s existing guidelines for the past 16 months, getting feedback from housing experts, developers and town governments.

Many town officials and businesses ” including Vail Valley Medical Center and Michael Kurz of the Vail Valley Partnership ” urged commissioners not to put off adopting the guidelines.

“We have a very unbalanced and unaffordable housing situation, even for very successful families,” Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe wrote in a letter to commissioners. “We’ve talked about it for long enough. Now it’s time to take action.”

Eagle Town Planner Bill Gray said the guidelines are appropriately aggressive. In fact, Eagle may take some cues from the way the county developed its guidelines, he said.

“These are a good balance in what government’s role is in providing affordable housing and how private business can participate in that,” he said. “Also, this will increase our ability to retain and attract workers.”

However, some developers and residents remained opposed to the guidelines.

Planner Dominic Mauriello, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the guidelines, argued in several letters to commissioners that the guidelines will choke development and drive builders out of the valley.

However, Commissioner Peter Runyon said developers will have a find a way to build at costs affordable to the community, just like in the rest of the country.

“We need to be proactive. We just can’t sit idly by and not provide for our future,” he said.

Others, such as Eagle resident and real estate agent Donna Spinelli, disagreed with the guidelines’ basic philosophy.

“We should work on diversifying the market and stimulating it, not subsidizing it. It’s not the business of government to be providing housing,” she said.

The county has worked to make sure that while the guidelines are stringent, they have benefits for developers.

“These guidelines ask a lot of developers, more than most communities in the country, but most communities don’t look like this,” Potente said.

The new guidelines provide clear rules for developers and gives them several choices on how to fulfill the requirements of the guidelines, he said.

“We’re heard form the development community ” ‘Tell us what the rules are, and as long as they’re not outrageous, we’ll creatively comply,'” he said.

The guidelines are designed so that developers can “break-even” on workforce housing. To make that possible, the guidelines call for developers to build affordable housing at a range of income levels, sometimes even at levels above the average median income.

“We’re not asking developers to come out of pocket to build the housing stock. We’re asking developers to build more and give us a larger portion of it. If you have an impact on the community, we ask that you mitigate it,” he said.

While the guidelines will need tweaking as they are implemented, Commissioner Sara Fisher said she thinks the end result is a good start.

“The only thing that could be better about them is if we had put them in place earlier,” she said.

Under affordable housing guidelines, developers would have several choices.

For residential projects of more than five homes, developers must do one of the following:

– 35 percent of the total square footage of the project must be workforce housing

– 30 percent of the project must be workforce housing, and another 10 percent owned by local residents. However, these locally owned homes can be sold at market rate.

– 30 percent of the project must be affordable housing, and all the market-rate homes would be sold with an added 1.5 percent “transfer fee.” That fee would go toward the county’s affordable housing funds.

– 25 percent of the project must be affordable housing, 10 percent must be locally-owned but sold at market rate, and the transfer fee will apply to all market rate sales.

For commercial projects, developers have to build enough workforce housing to provide for all of the jobs generated earning under 140 percent of the average median income. That comes out to about 715 square feet of affordable housing for every 1,000 square feet of commercial space.

Mixed-use projects have to choose between the residential and commercial requirements, whichever option produces more housing. Also, hotels would have to build 204 square feet of affordable housing per hotel room.

Other deals, such as donating open space to the county, can also be made by developers, but that will be at the discretion of the board of commissioners.

Staff writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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