Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Sun Valley mandates affordable housing

City becomes first in valley to pass 'linkage' laws

Express Staff Writer

Mayor Jon Thorson and Councilman Blair Boand work to implement workforce-housing regulations in Sun Valley. Express photo by Megan Thomas

In an action nothing short of historic, the Sun Valley City Council last week approved legislation to require nearly all new developments, including single family homes, to provide a degree of workforce housing.

The decision came Thursday, April 21, after three separate readings and public hearings to consider the proposed regulations. The vote Thursday also set aside a city moratorium that had halted the processing of new development applications.

"Since August of 2000, I have had 64 employees," said Jay Emmer, owner of Ketchum Dry Goods. "Most had to leave because they became disenfranchised with the community because they couldn't afford to buy."

Emmer's support for the workforce-housing regulations mirrored numerous sentiments expressed during the course of the public hearings. Supporters of the legislation included a real estate agent, fireman, school headmaster, builder, former mayor and resort representative.

The Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission first tackled the issue over a six-meeting marathon, which ended in March with a recommendation to the council. Throughout the series of meetings, the commission worked closely with community leaders, Sun Valley Co., Elkhorn Springs developers, the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority, and a city consultant to outline mandates for community housing.

The P&Z drafted the ordinances in response to a request from Mayor Jon Thorson. The council then considered the P&Z's recommendations.

The action to move ahead with the regulations began with a motion by Councilman Kevin Laird, who called for a third reading of the so-called "Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance."

The ordinance—one of two approved as part of the regulations—mandates workforce housing as a matter of public policy. The third reading of the ordinance received a pre-emptive applause from the audience, before another motion was made to formally adopt it as law.

The council then voted unanimously to approve the ordinance. Councilman Lud Renick did not attend the meeting but offered his support for the ordinance through a written statement.

After the ordinance passed, the crowd again offered their approval through applause.

The new ordinance applies to new residential subdivisions and multi-family residential developments. Specifically, it requires that 15 percent of the total number of dwellings or approved lots are designated as deed-restricted units. As part of the policy, developers would be allowed density bonuses so they are not penalized for developing the required workforce housing.

The ordinance also provides alternatives to building on-site workforce housing. The alternatives include a fee paid in-lieu of building the units, a conveyance of land or a Real Estate Transfer Assessment payment.

The ordinance aims to develop on-site housing that would be sold to professional wage earners, including doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, police officers and teachers. The city defines the workers as those citizens who earn between 80 percent and 140 percent of the "Area Median Income," or AMI.

The AMI is defined as the combined gross income of adults living in a dwelling unit as calculated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The housing for professional workers is intended to be for-sale duplex, triplex or single-family units that align with the city's design standards. The ordinance aims to provide 195 for-sale units, housing 325 professional wage earners, at the city's build out.

After quickly passing the first ordinance, the council tackled the second ordinance, known as the "Workforce Housing Linkage Ordinance." That policy requires workforce housing for nearly all new residential and non-residential developments. The regulation links new construction to the number of jobs generated by the projects.

Council President Ann Agnew moved to adopt the Workforce Housing Linkage Ordinance. Both Agnew and Councilman Blair Boand voted in favor of the ordinance. Laird abstained. Renick expressed concerns about the ordinance in a letter.

The adopted Workforce Housing Linkage Ordinance considers the number of jobs created in various industries per 1,000 square feet of new construction and the number of home maintenance jobs created by the size of residential construction projects.

"Each time you build a building, it takes people to make it work," said Jack Cloud, community development director.

The approach mitigates for 20 percent of the jobs generated by residential projects and 10 percent by non-residential projects. It establishes a fee based on the square footage of a property. New residential property of 1,000 square feet or less falls exempt from the regulation.

The city determines the number of employees generated by a formula that takes into account the mitigation rate, multiple jobs and the average number of employees per household.

The ordinance also provides alternatives to building a unit on site, including a payment in-lieu fee and a conveyance of land. The goal of the ordinance is to pool fees from smaller projects to build a larger workforce housing project. The council voted to raise the average size of a unit from 600 square feet to 850 square feet.

The ordinance aims to develop rental apartment and dorm units built for retail and service workers. The number of units that will be built is dependent on the size of market units built within the city.

The council also unanimously approved a resolution to establish a fee schedule for payments made in lieu of providing workforce housing.

In addition, final action was taken to allocate $300,000 from the city's surplus funds to add to the city's Workforce Housing Fund.

"It brings into play the people that live here," Boand said.

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