Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Affordable housing rules could go citywide

Express Staff Writer

Despite the delicate nature of cities requiring developers to include a portion of their projects to include affordable housing units, the city of Ketchum is considering expanding inclusionary zoning requirements to all zoning districts.

"The need for affordable housing is ... citywide," Councilman Steve Shafran said during a special meeting Monday, Aug. 28. "Why isn't that burden being shared citywide? We should be as expansive as we can. Philosophically, we want to share the burden or challenge or solution on all segments of our community."

The citywide burden manifests itself, according to city officials, when residents suffer because city departments can't staff emergency service departments. Other segments of society, such as the business sector, are also feeling the impact of not being able to hire or retain workers because of the high cost of living here. The loss of low- and middle-wage earners also means fewer people spending money locally.

The city is reviewing the downtown regulating code while it implements a downtown master plan. Aspects of the code include land uses, form-based code, transfer of development rights and inclusionary zoning.

"Our plan is to have an incentive-based component to the form-based code," said Mayor Randy Hall.

The City Council is also working under an interim moratorium that prohibits all-residential projects in the Community Core, Tourist and General Residential-High Density zoning districts.

While the spirit of the proposed ordinance would be the same for all districts, requirements could differ from zone to zone.

Although Ketchum leaders have been debating inclusionary zoning for months, they are now under a looming deadline.

In November, voters will decide on Proposition 2, which would require cities to reimburse landowners if their properties are downzoned. Downzoning can affect the resale value of land because it limits what can be built there. Cities across Idaho are scrambling to have ordinances in place before the law, if passed, would go into effect.

"It'll impact them if they tear (homes) down or if they go to sell because it will impact the price of their property," said Councilman Baird Gourlay.

The percentage requirement for inclusionary zoning—or an in-lieu fee—has to correlate to need, said City Attorney Ben Worst. It cannot be a revenue generator for the city.

"You have to structure this so it can have a better chance of withstanding a (legal) challenge," he said. "No matter what we do, we still have to withstand an 'arbitrary and capricious' challenge."

Getting a needs assessment from the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority is one way to document a justifiable percentage.

One option under consideration is to limit the amount of square feet a dwelling can be. If a property owner wants to make it bigger, they would be subject to inclusionary zoning requirements on the additional footage.

"We're looking for a justified approach to limiting house size," Shafran said. "At the end of the day, if a property owner's really disgruntled, there's a court system in this country that will tell us if we're right or wrong."

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