Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Affordable housing ordinance advances

County P&Z endorses mandate for new subdivisions

Express Staff Writer

A proposed ordinance requiring all future subdivisions in Blaine County to include a percentage of affordable housing was recommended for approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission during a Feb. 23 hearing.

Several details of the ordinance were tweaked in the hearing, most notably the percentage of affordable housing that will be required from each future subdivision.

Written by Bill Collins, a planning consultant from Jackson, Wyo., the ordinance was designed to require all future subdivisions in Blaine County to include 20 percent affordable housing. The Planning and Zoning Commission decided to lower that requirement to 15 percent.

The change was spearheaded by Commissioner Donald Nurge, who felt the 20 percent requirement would place too much of a burden on developers and cause the price of free-market units in the county to rise even more.

"I see it as the cities should be taking more of an aggressive approach than the county," Nurge said.

Developers will be given four options to fulfill the county's requirement:

· The applicant builds community housing on the site of the subdivision.

· The applicant builds community housing off the site of the subdivision.

· The applicant conveys land for community housing.

· The applicant pays a fee-in lieu of providing community housing.

Sun Valley and Hailey have already adopted similar "inclusionary" affordable housing ordinances—Sun Valley requires 15 percent, Hailey 20 percent. Ketchum has an incentive-based program that allows for increased density in developments that include affordable housing. Bellevue and Carey are exploring similar actions.

Another key component of the ordinance pertains to eligibility.

Collins initially wanted one--third of the affordable housing to be distributed among income categories 4, 5 and 6, which includes households earning 80 percent to 140 percent of the county's median household income.

But Nurge felt those in income category 3 (60-80 percent) should also be eligible for the housing. The rest of the commissioners agreed.

P&Z Chairman Larry Schoen expressed concern that the ordinance could create unintended consequences in the county's agricultural areas, including Carey. The problem, Schoen said, is if a farmer wants to build a house on his property for his children he will also have to provide land, or pay a fee-in lieu, for affordable housing.

"I have concerns about adding costs on top of costs. This is not something they need in this area," he said. "My preference is to see the Carey area excluded from this ordinance because I think they're grappling with a different situation at this time."

The Planning and Zoning Commission passed the ordinance unanimously on the condition that the county commissioners address concerns regarding lot sizes, placement and clustering in agricultural zones.

County commissioners will review the ordinance in the coming months before making a final decision. A hearing has yet to be scheduled.

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