Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Affordable housing plan raises concerns

Housing authority board worried about plan to place units on school district land

Express Staff Writer

Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority Executive Director Jim Fackrell says a proposal from a Wood River Valley developer could glean additional community housing units for the Blaine County School District. The proposal, however, could prove problematic. Photo by Mountain Express

A proposal by Wood River Valley developer Harry Rinker and the Blaine County School District would place affordable housing units required for Rinker's Peregrine Ranch subdivision offsite on land owned by the school district in Hailey.

The discussion occurred two days after the school district announced it has received a donation of 25 acres, valued at $3 million, from Rinker. That donation was said, according to the school district, to be contingent on the city of Bellevue's approval of an annexation request filed by Rinker for a proposed 660-unit subdivision within the south-valley city.

The degree to whether or not the proposals are interrelated is as-yet unclear.

The preliminary plan for construction of affordable housing required in the Peregrine proposal was discussed Wednesday, April 18, at a meeting of the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority's board of directors.

Specifically, Rinker's proposal would place all of the mid-valley subdivision's affordable housing units on two separate parcels of land owned by the school district near the Woodside Elementary School and Wood River Middle School, housing authority Executive Director Jim Fackrell said.

Rinker is proposing to build 72 homes along with a nine-hole golf course on the 158-acre Peregrine Ranch property between Highway 75 and Buttercup Road, north of Hailey. Plans for the subdivision haven't been approved by Blaine County, which has jurisdiction over the development.

Under the county's inclusionary housing ordinance, building affordable housing units offsite is allowed, but developers are required to provide additional units if they choose this route, Fackrell said.

Under the county requirements, developers must provide affordable housing units equal to 20 percent of the number of market-rate units when they're provided onsite, he said. For those choosing to build the units offsite, the county requires developers to provide an additional 20 percent above the number of market rate units, plus affordable housing units.

Therefore, under Rinker's proposal, 15 affordable housing units would be required if they were built onsite, while 18 units would be required if they were built off site.

In his pitch, Rinker actually proposed to build three additional affordable housing units above the requirement, for a total of 21, Fackrell said. Even so, the housing authority lobbied for more still, requesting a total of 23 affordable units.

County regulations also require developers to place affordable housing on privately owned land, Fackrell said.

In this case, Rinker and the Blaine County School District are proposing to place them on school district land, which is public property.

This is just one more aspect of the proposal that concerns the housing authority board of directors, Fackrell said.

Another board concern is that buyers of the affordable housing units wouldn't take ownership of the land, but instead would lease it, Fackrell said.

The plan would mean Rinker would build the homes on land already owned by the school district, Fackrell said.

"That in and of itself is a bit problematic," he said. "The developer is not paying for the cost of the land."

The money Rinker would save from not having to purchase the land is one reason why the housing authority requested 23 affordable housing units, Fackrell said.


Another concern of the authority's board of directors is the preference employees with the Blaine County School District would receive for purchasing the homes, Fackrell said. Under county regulations, the more than 375 households on the housing authority's affordable housing waiting list are supposed to be given the same preference.

"Community housing is supposed to be for the entire community, not just a small segment," Fackrell said.

Still, the Rinker plan would create much-needed affordable housing for school district employees, the Blaine County School District's Business Manager Mike Chatterton said Monday.

All governmental agencies in Blaine County, including the school district, are heavily impacted by the lack of affordable housing in the county and "getting hit hard," Chatterton said.

The preliminary plan forged between Rinker and the school district would prioritize school district employees first, employees from other governmental agencies second, and those registered on the authority's waiting list third, Chatterton said.

"Tentatively, that's what we want," he said.

For a housing unit to be offered to employees of other governmental agencies or those on the housing authority waiting list, 90 days would have to pass without any interest being shown, Chatterton said.

That portion of the proposal also concerned the housing authority board of directors.

"We think that's a bit lengthy," Fackrell said.

Although he wasn't in attendance at the meeting, Chatterton described the concerns of the housing authority board of directors as surprising.

"I had thought we had everything pretty well hammered out," he said.

Sometime later this week, representatives for Harry Rinker and the Blaine County School District will meet with the housing authority to attempt ironing out the issues raised during the meeting.

The plan will likely need some tweaking before both sides agree to it, he acknowledged.

"It's something that's never been done before," Chatterton said. "We're all struggling with how to make this work."

Last Wednesday's meeting between the housing authroity and Rinker representatives wasn't the first go around as far as an affordable housing plan for Peregrine Ranch subdivision is concerned.

An earlier plan submitted to the housing authority at a meeting last October would have placed 14 or 15 deed-restricted affordable housing units near the subdivision's golf course.

Under that plan, the deed-restricted units would have been added to the development on about seven acres at its southeast corner.

At the time, a Rinker representative said a decision had not been made on whether the golf course should be open only to buyers of the market-rate units, to residents of the deed-restricted units as well, or to the public at large.

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