Friday, January 18, 2013

County eyes changes to housing rules

Amendments could encourage development near hospital

Express Staff Writer

If approved, proposed changes to the county’s community-housing regulations could draw new construction to the McHanville area south of Ketchum, above.

Proposed changes to Blaine County’s community housing rules would reduce density and facilitate creation of income-based housing without developers’ building it themselves.

On Tuesday, the county commissioners began to consider an amended version of the county’s Community Housing Overlay District ordinance.

The ordinance, originally passed in 2004, gave developers certain incentives for building homes in much of the area between Cold Springs Drive, south of St. Luke’s Wood River, and Hospital Drive, just north of the hospital along state Highway 75.

Under the current ordinance, developments are allowed to have more units per acre if a certain percentage is dedicated to income-based housing.

In 2010, the county denied a request by developer Clear Creek—owner of the still-unfinished Quail Creek development north of The Meadows mobile home park on Highway 75—to convey land to the ARCH Community Housing Trust, which would take responsibility for housing construction.

Blaine County Planner Kathy Grotto said the proposed amendment would make it much easier for developers to provide for the construction of affordable housing without doing it themselves.

“The purpose of the overlay is to incentivize development with community housing,” she said. “But it did the opposite.”

The ordinance tied the construction of community housing to the sale of market-rate units; if there was no demand for regularly priced units, then income-based rental units could not be built. It also was difficult for a developer such as Clear Creek to sidestep that regulation and allow community housing to go up faster by donating land to an affordable housing entity such as ARCH or the Ketchum Community Development Corp.

Grotto said the new ordinance would simplify the processes by allowing developers to fulfill community housing requirements through land donation, cash donations to housing entities or building community housing outside the proposed development.

The proposed amendment also reduces the requirements for the percentage of a development that must be community housing.

Blaine County Housing Authority Executive Director David Patrie said he worked with Blaine County Land Use and Building Services to lower requirements that might have been too onerous and discouraging to developers.

“We really attempted to find a sweet spot,” he said. “Through this ordinance, we tried to get to a number that will truly inspire community housing to be built. If it’s too onerous, we don’t get anything.”

Patrie said there is still a large demand for affordable housing in Blaine County, as county wages have fallen along with housing prices.

“I often hear, ‘Housing prices have gone down, so why do we still need community housing?’” he said. “What has not been clear to everyone is that wages and household income have also gone down. The need hasn’t diminished.”

However, Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle said that despite demand for community housing, he did not support the community housing overlay at all because it could damage the tourism industry in the valley. He said that even with the proposed amendment, the ordinance would allow more than 1,300 new residents in the McHanville and hospital areas.

“That amount of people in the area is too many people,” he said. “This ordinance is a terrible idea. It was terrible from the outset, it was terrible when presented to the P&Z and it is still terrible today.”

The ordinance would also remove The Meadows mobile-home park from the community housing overlay along with 25 acres of land between Highway 75 and Broadway Run. Grotto said The Meadows is proposed to be removed because it is essentially 100 percent affordable housing. If redeveloped, she said, there would not be as large a percentage of affordable housing in the area.

However, the staff report authored by Grotto cites “concern” regarding the removal of 25 acres from the overlay district.

“The area to be removed represents nearly a quarter of the overlay district, and, more importantly, the most likely area for [community housing/planned-unit development] development as it is comprised of larger vacant and under-developed parcels,” the report states.

The report also says the parcel is important because there are no similar parcels in either Ketchum or Sun Valley, where there is a keen demand for affordable housing.

The commissioners will continue to debate the proposed amendments during a public meeting Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 1:30 p.m.

Kate Wutz:

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