Basalt moves to toughen housing rules for developers
BASALT ” New rules that would require developers to provide more affordable housing received initial approval by Basalt officials last night, but devilish details ” such as who will qualify for the units ” were left unresolved.
The Town Council and the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the primary concepts shaping the new rules. Developers of major residential projects would be required to provide 35 percent of their square footage as affordable housing. Current rules require as much as 20 percent of the total number of units to be affordable housing.
The switch will increase the number of units of affordable housing without driving up the subsidy from developers, Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said.
Councilman Pete McBride said Basalt currently has lots of $1 million houses and very inexpensive affordable housing, but little in between. The new rule will fill in that middle ground, he said.
Basalt used Eagle County’s affordable housing requirement as its model. Planning commission Chairman Bill Maron said that might be a mistake. “Just because Eagle County or Pitkin County is doing something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for us,” he said.
He labeled the 35 percent requirement an experiment that might not work in Basalt, where undeveloped land is scarce. He said the town wants to get as much affordable housing as it can, but doesn’t want to snuff all development with regulations that are too tough.
“If we push it too hard we get nothing,” Maron said.
Housing requirements for commercial development were also overhauled. The new rule will require major commercial projects to provide housing for 25 percent of the employees generated. The old formula was similar, but was based on how much commercial square footage was built.
Basalt resident Mark Kwiecienski, who is working on a residential project, was generally supportive of the town’s direction but said commercial developers should provide housing for more than 25 percent of new employees.
“We’re too heavy on the residential, too light on the commercial,” he said.
Councilman Chris Seldin agreed. That level just means more employees will be driving in from out of town, he said.
Despite misgivings here and there, both code changes were granted the first of two required approvals.
Guidelines covering everything from income and asset caps for affordable housing buyers to the criteria used to prioritize buyers weren’t approved after it became clear the boards need to dive further into the details.
The priority system used to determine who gets first dibs on affordable housing units is shaping up as the most controversial issue. As proposed, essential community workers like teachers and police officers would have the highest priority. No objections there.
But additional layers of priorities give preferences to people who work in the area between Catherine Store and Old Snowmass. The Aspen Skiing Co. asked the town to adjust those secondary priorities to include people who have lived in Basalt for at least one year and work full-time in Pitkin County or the Roaring Fork Valley portion Eagle County.
The Skico owns at least three pieces of vacant land in Basalt and is considering affordable housing projects. As proposed, the priority guidelines could prevent the Skico from housing its own employees if it builds a project.
The affordable housing code and possibly the guidelines will be discussed again April 14.
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