Wednesday, September 6, 2006

How much is enough affordable housing?

Ketchum P&Z hones in on recommendation

Express Staff Writer

As the Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission narrows in on a range of affordable housing requirements to recommend to the City Council, local citizens are still hoping to sway the body to greater or lesser percentages.

During a special meeting Thursday, Aug. 31, commissioners reviewed a third draft of the downtown regulating code's inclusionary zoning section. The P&Z is leaning toward recommending a range between 15 and 20 percent. The exact figure will be designated by the City Council.

Rebekah Helzel, founder of Ketchum-based Advocates for Real Community Housing, spoke to the commission, expressing dismay about what she says is a paucity of knowledge on inclusionary zoning.

"We were under the impression we were well-educated on the subject," Helzel said.

Information was available during Community Housing Week through national speakers, she added.

"We invited all of you to come," she said. "It's a little disappointing to us that none of you came and ... that the inclusionary zoning education process still needs to go on."

ARCH supports a plan for between 20 and 24 percent of projects to include affordable housing units.

"Inclusionary zoning is not the only solution, but it's one of many, many things that needs to be done," she said.

Real estate broker Dick Fenton urged caution when selecting a number.

"I support the notion, but what we're struggling with is the economics," he said. "The private sector isn't going to build the units unless it's economic. I strongly caution you against a number that feels good but is not economic because nothing will get built."

Commissioner Harold Johnson shared that concern.

"I do have a real fear we could stagnate housing development in the commercial core," he said, "but I don't want to give it away."

Although developers and Realtors have been frequent attendees at the special meetings, affordable housing activists equaled their numbers Thursday.

"I understand the economics and the importance of that," said Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority Executive Director Michael David. "If we don't provide (units) ... the desirability of this town will go down."

He said that if too low a percentage is enacted, all the developable land will be taken.

"People are going to jump on it, and it's gone forever," he said.

David recommended that the city take another look at building up to accommodate housing demand.

"That's where we have, in theory, unlimited land," he said. "That's where we're looking at a realistic solution to this issue."

In a letter to the commission, Maxine Veloso and Marlene Rinerson, owners of The Rustic Moose restaurant, said that more affordable housing is needed to help fill jobs as well as seats at their tables.

"When we first opened, our primary customers were locals," they wrote. "Over the years this has changed. Now we are mostly tourist-supported. While we still have locals who regularly dine, most have moved away or can no longer afford to eat out on a regular basis. Affordable housing could potentially change both of these trends."

They advocated for an inclusionary zoning percentage requirement of no less than 20 percent, saying that would represent a compromise with developers.

Commissioners noted that if the city requires a high percentage, it would encourage developers to maximize their spaces to increase profitable units, and the projects would end up box-like.

The other concern, however, is that a housing study suggested the city needs 800 affordable units, half to be built by private developers and half by city initiative.

"We ought to have some path to get there, and I don't see it based on my 18 percent (recommendation)," said Commissioner Greg Strong. "In the future, we could back off if we decided it was onerous to development."

The P&Z will look over code revisions before making a recommendation to the council.

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