Friday, June 22, 2007

Does Sun Valley need affordable housing?

Debate reveals policy rifts

Express Staff Writer

Express file photo Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman called on the city to re-evaluate its approach to workforce housing.

A recently released report demonstrating a need for affordable housing in Sun Valley brought criticism from Sun Valley Co. on Wednesday.

During a City Council meeting, the council, mayor, Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman and citizens weighed in on the results of a comprehensive Housing and Transit Maximization Compendium compiled by city Associate Planning Director Marisa Nelson.

The debate centered on two components:

· Does the city need a workforce housing strategy?

· If so, how should the city go about implementing such a plan?

Nelson's report stated that 80 percent of the jobs located in Ketchum and Sun Valley are filled by people who do not live in the North Valley. The report concluded that if the cities maintain their current rate of housing about 20 percent of the workforce, and if the job market grows at its current rate, an additional 1,375 daily commuters will be added to Highway 75 by 2012.

"I think the actions we can take to impact the situation with transportation are the most important," City Councilwoman Ann Agnew said. "There are two main reasons we want to live up to workforce housing¾one is the environment (alluding to the carbon footprint caused by commuter traffic) and the second is to add life to our cities."

According to the report, the average employee traveling alone to work contributes about four tons of carbon per year. A person using mass transit contributes one ton per year.

Huffman contended there were flaws in the report.

"Two things have happened here," he said. "You have chosen to rely on an analysis done by an advocate, and the data collected exclude all employee housing already provided by Sun Valley Co."

Huffman said the workforce housing provided by the company is substantial.

"We provide housing for 60 percent of all our workers," he said.

In addition, he said, "we run a free bus to Twin Falls every day of the year, and again, none of this was included."

Huffman's argument is that Sun Valley Co. owns nearly all the undeveloped land in Sun Valley. Under the city's plan, with its workforce housing and linkage fees, most of the burden of paying for workforce housing is placed on new development, leading Huffman to conclude that Sun Valley Co. will "be stuck footing the bill."

Mayor Jon Thorson refocused the discussion.

"The objective is to respond to the need (for affordable housing) in terms of housing and in terms of transportation—that's been articulated by every resort community in the West," Thorson said. "Every community I've walked into and talked to have said this is a problem. I don't know what we're going to do, we don't know what we are going to do.

"The next step is to take this compendium to the CDC (Community Development Corporation), BKHA (Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority) and to ARCH (Community Housing Trust). Allow them to analyze it and get back to us."

Sun Valley resident Ross Jennings was blunt in his assessment of Sun Valley's governing body.

"You folks just don't listen," he said. "We don't need affordable housing in Sun Valley."

The report stated that even if ample affordable housing were available in Sun Valley, "a majority of Blaine County residents already live in their first-choice location and would not choose to move regardless of housing prices." In addition, it stated, "a majority of people would rather live in Ketchum than Sun Valley."

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