Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Council mulls two-pronged approach to housing

Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum City Council indicated Monday night that it is leaning toward enacting both a linkage ordinance and an inclusionary zoning ordinance to help stem the flow of residents to less expensive housing markets.

The exact figures are sure to disappoint affordable housing advocates, who want to see the city get tough in creating such units, which fall severely short of estimated need.

The figures are also sure to anger some developers, who say high requirements won't make projects economically feasible, curtailing new projects and, by extension, the affordable housing units that would be a part of them.

Spurred on by a statewide takings initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot, the council is racing to enact changes to its code that may not be possible if Proposition 2 passes. The initiative would require municipalities to compensate property owners for actions that reduce property values.

The city is trying to make inclusionary zoning an incentive rather than a perceived tax, taking, or penalty. To do so, the city is considering increasing allowable density.

The P&Z last week recommended a range between 15 and 20 percent for the inclusionary zoning figure, with a maximum floor area ratio of 2.25 in the Commercial Core. FAR is the size of the building in relation to its lot.

"The (P&Z) commission discussed switching it to an incentive-based approach," said planning consultant Lisa Horowitz. "Legal counsel advised that was a better plan of action."

The current regulations allow a floor-area ratio between 1.4 and 1.75 for most buildings downtown, with a maximum three floors.

Under consideration by the council, and recommended by the P&Z, is to lower the minimum to 1.0 and raise the allowable density to 2.25. If developers wanted to take advantage of density higher than 1.0, they would have to provide 20 percent of the residential space as affordable housing.

Inclusionary zoning units, which would be integrated in market-rate private development, would be geared to a higher-end affordable-housing buyer.

Publicly built units would target more moderate-income earners and would be supported by linkage fees, the Urban Renewal Agency and the Community Development Corporation.

The city's downtown master plan, researched and compiled under the direction of economic development consultant Tom Hudson, proposed the creation of 800 affordable housing owner units, with half being supplied by private development.

The council was set to debate Tuesday night inclusionary zoning regulations in the General Residential-High Density and Tourist zoning districts.

Also under consideration Monday was a linkage ordinance, which would apply to development citywide. Linkage is a way to mitigate impact on workforce housing that new development creates.

"If you're going to bring in a hotel, you're obviously going to have a very large workforce," said Councilwoman Terry Tracy.

Linkage requires housing units or an in-lieu fee. The linkage fee has a formula based on the impact of development.

Although the draft linkage ordinance was based on Sun Valley's model, P&Z commissioners recommended the fee be less than half their amount.

"We did not want this fee to be onerous," Commission Chair Jack Rutherford said Monday. "Every construction project in town contributes a little bit (through development impact fees). That's why we went in this direction."

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