City OKs carrot for ADU program |

City OKs carrot for ADU program

Standing firm on its “carrot as opposed to a stick” approach, the Aspen City Council voted unanimously Monday to encourage rather than require homeowners to rent their attached dwellings to local workers.

The council upped the financial incentive the city offers homeowners to rent out their so-called accessory dwelling units, but stood firm on its earlier decision to refrain from requiring that the units be used for housing.

Homeowners can build an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, along with their free-market home to get a break on an impact fee the city charges, based on the livable space of the main house.

The ADU program was created in hopes that the units would help alleviate the employee housing shortage, but the city has determined that only a quarter of the existing ADUs have actually been rented out to local employees. In light of that finding, council members directed staffers to suggest ways to improve on that 25 percent mark.

Last month, however, the council rejected a staff recommendation to require mandatory occupancy of any ADUs built in the future. Instead, council members asked city planners to come up with better enticements for homeowners to voluntarily build and rent out ADUs.

The expanded incentive endorsed last night will completely exempt homeowners from impact fees if they rent out their ADU.

Under the old rules, every home built on an empty lot or any home that’s larger than the one it’s replacing is subject to mitigation costs of $42 per square foot. However, homeowners could cut that fee in half by building a detached ADU or agreeing to mandatory occupancy of the unit.

Last night, the council approved an amendment that lets homeowners out of the mitigation fee entirely if they build an ADU that is detached from the main house and is occupied by a local worker.

Nonetheless, the council’s decision to back off on mandatory occupancy of ADUs generated some criticism.

Housing board chairwoman Jackie Kasabach relayed her “terrible disappointment” in the decision. Speaking not for the housing board but as an individual citizen, Kasabach questioned how many homeowners will provide employee housing just to save a few bucks in mitigation.

“What’s $200,000 on a $2 million or $5 million home?” she said.

“That’s nothing. It’s like a bottle of cheap wine.”

But council members said mandating occupancy of the units could lead to litigation and threaten the housing program as a whole.

“I guarantee there would be a legal challenge,” said Councilman Tony Hershey. “And I’m not willing to jeopardize the entire housing program and violate the U.S. Constitution to make [occupancy] mandatory.”

Mayor Rachel Richards added that particularly in a conservative state climate, in which “takings” cases have generally gone in favor of the landowner, it might be wiser to use voluntary incentives to achieve occupancy goals.

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