Friday, May 5, 2006

Affordable housing cause plows ahead

Developers face 20 percent community housing requirement

Express Staff Writer

Developers will be required to donate 20 percent of all future subdivisions to affordable housing if an inclusionary housing ordinance passes the Blaine County Commission in the coming weeks.

County commissioners spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning reviewing and revising the ordinance, which was recommended for approval Feb. 23 by the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

The most significant change made by the commissioners was raising the inclusionary requirement from 15 percent to 20 percent.

The ordinance was crafted by Will Collins, a planning consultant from Jackson, Wyo., to boost affordable housing in the county, specifically for people in income categories 4, 5 and 6—households making between 80 percent and 140 percent of the county's median income. The average annual household income in Blaine County is $71,200.

The public hearing was continued to a later date, when the revisions will be nailed down by the county's planning staff and Collins.

In February, the P&Z decided to lower the inclusionary requirement to 15 percent because they felt 20 percent would place too much of a burden on developers and increase the already high price of free-market homes. They also decided to add income category 3—people earning between 60 percent and 80 percent of the county's median household income—to the mix.

Commissioners agreed to keep income category 3 with the intention of balancing future affordable housing needs across all four categories.

If the ordinance is approved by commissioners, developers will have four options to fulfill the 20 percent affordable housing requirement:

· Build community housing on the site of the subdivision.

· Build it off the site of the subdivision.

· Convey land for community housing.

· Pay a fee in lieu of housing.

Commissioners Sarah Michael and Tom Bowman both expressed concern that the fee in lieu option would be abused by developers, since it would be less costly than building affordable housing units.

For that reason, commissioners decided to eliminate density bonuses for developers who opt to pay a fee in lieu. The other three options will allow developers to build with greater density. Plus, the fee in lieu will include an additional 50 percent charge as an added disincentive.

"I think this will go a long way toward achieving our goal in the future of not letting this get out of hand," said Michael David, executive director of the Blaine Ketchum Housing Authority. "The inclusionary ordinance is meant to deal with what's ahead.

"This will help us keep up with the future."

The lack of affordable housing in Blaine County—less than 60 units countywide—was one of six major issues the commissioners wanted to address during the subdivision moratorium, which was enacted in January 2005 an expires this July.

Sun Valley and Hailey have already adopted similar ordinances, with Hailey requiring 20 percent and Sun Valley 15 percent.

The commissioners have yet to set a date for the next hearing.

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