‘Affordable by design’ elusive at Stott’s Mill
September 22, 2006
A developer’s aspirations to make a Basalt housing project “affordable by design” has proven to be a tough goal to achieve.The Stott’s Mill project received the first of three approvals it needs from the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 19, despite concerns that many of the 99 residences won’t be affordable for households with modest incomes.”The project was initially touted to us as affordable by design,” said planning commission member Brian Dillard. “I’m looking at what a 2,000-square-foot house is at in Basalt today and wondering how these will be affordable for first-time buyers.”Brikor Development LLP and its principal, Briston Peterson, proposed a concept earlier this year that intrigued town officials. The initial proposal was for 109 residences between the Southside subdivision and Basalt High School.In the heart of the project were 68 long, narrow lots that Peterson and his partners felt were perfect for a row-house type design common in larger cities. Limiting the lot sizes, and thus the house sizes, would limit the sales prices, his development team said. They proposed limiting the house size to an average of 2,200 square feet.The plan also included seven larger house lots and 31 multifamily units.During six months of review, town officials whittled the number of dwellings down to 99, so the developer altered the size of the lots. One-third have restrictions designed to keep them affordable: 21 multifamily residences will have deed restrictions on appreciation rates and incomes of the buyers; 12 single-family-home lots will be limited to 1,728 square feet, including a garage.Those 12 houses represent the affordable by design component. The 21 deed-restricted units meet the town code’s requirement for affordable housing.Peterson said he needed the ability to build larger homes on the remaining house lots to offset the affordable housing and the reduction in the overall number of units. He sought approval for 33 houses of up to 2,600 square feet; 16 house of up to 3,700 square feet and the seven larger lots of up to 4,600 square feet. The plan also has 10 multifamily units without deed restrictions.The planning commission voted 5-1 to approve the plan, with Dillard dissenting. The majority said they felt it was a good project, even if affordability by design didn’t entirely work.”That’s a great buzzword but I just don’t see it,” said planning commission chairman Bill Maron. “Let’s not fool ourselves.”Construction costs of about $200 per square foot will push the 2,600-square-foot houses above the $500,000 level, planning commission members noted. Land costs could boost them above $700,000.House-size limits of 2,600 square feet, modest by today’s standards, will do little to hold down prices, commission members said. People will pay whatever is necessary if they want those homes bad enough, Maron said, and that could make Stott’s Mill a candidate as a second-home neighborhood.”I’d hate to see a bunch of big, dark houses really close together,” Maron said.Peterson agreed. Brikor will put a resident-occupied requirement on the initial sales of all residences in Stott’s Mill and market the project locally rather than nationally.The planning commission’s vote was advisory only. The Town Council will review it this fall.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.