Friday, March 10, 2006

Workforce housing law needs review by P&Z

County commissioners will wait for P&Z recommendations

Express Staff Writer

A proposed workforce housing ordinance that would establish fees on all new residential dwellings over 2,500 square feet in unincorporated Blaine County has been passed down to the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

Blaine County Commissioners hosted a public workshop on the ordinance Thursday morning, with only one member of the public attending.

Blaine County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael said placing the ordinance before the Planning and Zoning Commission will provide a "clearer decision path allowing us to do it under state law."

The ordinance is another attempt to increase affordable housing throughout unincorporated Blaine County, which according to county and city officials is woefully behind other counties that are also home to a mountain resort. The city of Sun Valley has already adopted a similar ordinance.

In late February, the Planning and Zoning Commission endorsed an inclusionary housing ordinance that would require all future subdivisions in unincorporated Blaine County to include 15 percent affordable housing. County commissioners will review that ordinance in the coming weeks.

The workforce housing ordinance is designed to collect fees that will be stored in a community housing trust account. The account will be used to fund planning, subsidizing or developing affordable housing for people in categories 1, 2, and 3—the lowest household-income categories in Blaine County. The inclusionary housing ordinance would pertain to people in income categories 3 through 6.

The fee amount would fluctuate according to the size of the house and the region where it's located. For example, a 3,000- to 3,999-square-foot house in Region 1 (north valley) would require a fee of $6,956. The same size house in Region 2 (mid-valley) would include a fee of $6,395. The fees drop dramatically in Region 3 (south valley), where a 3,000- to 3,900-square-foot house would be charged $3,927.

The ordinance first went before the county commissioners on Feb. 23, with mixed reactions from the public.

Some felt the ordinance should apply to all new homes—not just those over 2,500 square feet—and that new commercial developments should also be forced to pay fees.

Others felt the fees were unfair in a county that already imposes a high cost of living. Two Carey residents were upset over the fact that the ordinance will be enforced on additions over 120 square feet in size. Adding on a room for children should not draw a fee, they said.

There were also unanswered questions over exactly how attics, decks, and other non-livable spaces will be treated by the ordinance.

County commissioners are asking the P&Z to focus on whether houses under 2,500 square feet should also be included in the ordinance. House remodels and additions, and fee percentages will also be reviewed by the P&Z.

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