Eagle Co. may revamp housing regs | AspenTimes.com

Eagle Co. may revamp housing regs

Melanie Wong
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” The county hopes to encourage more affordable housing and limit the number of second homes by making its housing guidelines stricter, officials said.

A new county housing proposal requires developers to build more affordable housing per project and sell more homes to local residents.

The policies will offer developers a tradeoff of affordable homes for density and hopefully encourage more projects like the West End, said County Housing Director Alex Potente.

The recently approved West End in Edwards is a mix of businesses and homes and will provide the county with 72 affordable homes.

County officials and local businesses saw the a draft of the guidelines over the last couple weeks and will be making changes and adopting them by early 2008.

The county encompasses El Jebel and part of Basalt in the Roaring Fork Valley.

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The proposed guidelines require that half the total square footage of new developments have to be locally owned, and 30 percent of that must be affordable and deed-restricted. Previously only 20 percent of the development was required to be affordable.

“This is to keep the ratio of second-home owners to locals where it is today,” Potente said.

Commercial developments would also have to do their share under the proposed rules.

All commercial developments would have to completely cover for its “commercial impact” ” that means a development would need to make a payment, donate land, or build enough affordable homes elsewhere to cover the number of jobs it would create. They either have to do that or meet 30 percent affordable housing requirement, whichever is higher.

Under the old guidelines, developers had to meet both affordable housing requirements and cover for commercial impact, Potente said.

The “commercial impact requirement” comes out to about 35 homes built for every100 jobs created, he said.

“We want to make sure the county is no worse off than before the development came in. Hopefully the developer will come in and contribute even more to show why (the project) would be beneficial to the community,” he said.

The new guidelines also target a higher income group. The old guidelines aimed to build homes for people making an average of $45,000, or 80 percent of the area’s average median income.

But studies show that Eagle County residents tend to make more than that, and it is not feasible for developers to build homes at those lower prices, Potente said.

“No developer would build it. Now we’re aiming for an average of 105-115 percent of the average median income,” he said.

But that does not mean all the homes built will be that expensive ” those percentages are averages and developers will still be required to build homes for people with incomes lower than that also, Potente said.

The guideline’s “cost recovery” component makes building affordable housing less risky for developers, Potente said.

If developers keep the prices within the required price range with no more than a 5 percent profit, they can earn another 5 percent profit by imposing a transfer fee on home sales.

“We’re guaranteeing them a profit. Unlike before, they don’t have to pay out-of-pocket to build it. We see it as a win-win situation,” Potente said.

The draft guidelines will go before the county commissioners in a public hearing in the next few weeks.

Another cross-community effort to get more affordable homes built is the county’s so-called “housing action team.”

The group includes representatives of all the valley towns, several businesses and development companies. They have been meeting over the last few months to consolidate housing guidelines and procedures, said Don Cohen, executive director of the Eagle County Economic Council.

“Right now every town has its own department figuring out housing. It’s very inefficient. No one quite knows what the other is doing,” he said.

The group is also working on a database of affordable homes and guidelines so buyers and developers can come to one place for information, Cohen said.

The housing action team is the first step to getting lower prices and more housing built, Potente said.

“We want to remove incentive from developers to play the towns against the county, and see where they can get the best deal. By approaching it as a united front, they’ll know you’re going to get the same deal everywhere,” he said.