Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bellevue approves affordable housing mandate

Express Staff Writer

A vote by the Bellevue City Council last week suggests that the need for affordable housing has penetrated the entire breadth of the Wood River Valley, from the north all the way south.

No longer can the city of Bellevue be considered the last bastion of affordable, market-rate housing, the vote further suggests.

On an evenly split 3-3 tally last Thursday, City Council members authorized the implementation of a new "inclusionary" affordable housing ordinance. Because of the split vote, Bellevue Mayor Jon Anderson was forced to break the tie.

After considering the issue for a moment, Anderson gave a "yes" vote to approve the ordinance. The tie-breaking vote is only the second such vote he has made, he said.

"It's about time you earn your keep," Councilman Chris Koch quipped.

The newly approved inclusionary housing ordinance will require that developers provide a certain percentage of affordable, deed-restricted housing units in new residential housing projects. Based on a previous recommendation by the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission, the City Council chose to require a 14 percent contribution from developers.

The P&Z made its recommendation to the City Council at a previous meeting held Sept. 21.

Bellevue Planning and Zoning Administrator Craig Eckles, who was at the September P&Z meeting, said the commissioners concluded that Bellevue does in fact have a shortage of affordable housing.

"They do believe that," Eckles said.

The P&Z decided to go with the 14 percent rate at its Sept. 21 meeting based on the results of a recent housing needs assessment conducted by Melanie Rees, of Rees Consulting in Crested Butte, Colo. The study was conducted for the city of Bellevue and the rest of the Wood River Valley.

Among its conclusions, the study indicated that affordable housing is seriously lacking in Blaine County, to the tune of some 1,200 units.

While they had considered higher contribution rates, in the end commissioners expressed discomfort with going any higher than Rees's recommendation.

On Thursday, the council also considered but ultimately tabled a separate affordable housing ordinance pending further discussion.

The ordinance—called the Workforce Housing Linkage Ordinance—would require developers to mitigate for the housing demand that new construction, whether residential or commercial, creates. During its Sept. 21 meeting, the P&Z recommended a 10 percent contribution based on the total housing demand created by new developments.

The City Council will consider the linkage ordinance again at a special meeting Nov. 2.

With the passage of its own inclusionary housing ordinance, Bellevue has joined Sun Valley and Hailey as the third municipality in the Wood River Valley with such an ordinance on the books.

For the moment, Sun Valley requires that 15 percent of residential developments be affordable, deed-restricted housing, while Hailey requires a higher 20 percent contribution. Officials in Sun Valley are considering upping their deed-restricted housing requirement to 20 percent, however.

In Ketchum, officials are in the early stages of discussing whether the city should join their municipal counterparts and enact an inclusionary housing ordinance.

For the moment, Sun Valley is the only municipality in the Wood River Valley with a workforce housing linkage ordinance on the books.

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