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Ongoing review of Snowmass Village’s master housing plan focuses on big-picture ideas

Council discusses local needs, “road map” to future developments

Snowmass Town Council tour one of the fifteen Coffey Place units as the project wraps up in Snowmass Village on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Snowmass Village Town Council continued its review of a new master housing plan with nearly an hour-and-a-half of big-picture discussion at its April 19 regular meeting, focusing on policy questions and overarching ideas rather than project specifics.

Housing Director Betsy Crum first presented the plan at the April 12 work session with an overview of what she calls a “road map” to the future of workforce housing in Snowmass Village.

FINDING SUPPLY TO MEET THE DEMAND



There’s no doubt about whether there is a need for workforce housing in Snowmass Village.

“There is truly no market-rate opportunity” within town limits for local employees, Crum said — even with “rock bottom” mortgage rates.



The town currently manages nearly 300 rental units and 175 deed-restricted units for employees in Snowmass Village and Pitkin County. It can take five years of employment time to rise to the top of the waitlist for a rental, and applications for deed-restricted units for sale outnumber available inventory 15 to one, according to an agenda summary included in this week’s meeting.

With the sale closings of 15 deed-restricted units in Coffey Place this spring, the town still has 185 units to go in its goal to add 200 more units to the workforce housing stock.

The question, then, is not “if” but “how,” a query that the master housing plan aims to address by identifying potential developments and considering policy issues — like regional collaborations, parking allocations and designated housing for municipal employees — that will guide the direction of future work toward that 185-unit goal.

The plan names five opportunities for future development: the land behind Town Hall, the Snowmass Inn, numbered lots 10 to 12 on Carriage Way, numbered Lot 1 and the existing Carriage Way Apartments building, and a small plot next to Public Works on Owl Creek Road.

Among the key considerations at the April 19 meeting: rentals versus deed-restricted inventory.

“There is a demand for both” — but not an “overwhelming” surge for one over the other, Crum told council. She recommended that the town maintain its current two-to-one ratio of rental to deed-restricted units and focus the next housing development on rental stock.

“It’s more of a gut feeling than super data-driven in terms of what’s the right balance,” Crum said.

There are perks to both options: rental units have a much lower cost barrier to entry and may be appealing to those who, as Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk noted, may not want to take on a home purchase.

“We also have people that could buy but prefer to rent. … I think it’s very important to have different options, and people’s life circumstances change,” Shenk said.

Deed-restricted units allow homeowners to plant roots and invest in property in the long term. (The town has an extensive list of resale criteria that vary by unit to determine the resale price of a home and ensure that it is attainable for the local workforce.)

Mayor Bill Madsen recognized that there is a “huge gap” between renting to owning that makes rental units a key component of the town’s housing strategy. But for-sale units are valuable too; the “long haul” sales contribute to community-building and the availability of deed-restricted units “provides people with some hope,” he said.

Seasonal housing considerations also were up for discussion April 19, but council and staff agreed that the existing and immediate demand for year-round housing outweighs any potential interest in shorter-term accommodations for the time being.

“Until our year-round need is met, I wouldn’t move to seasonal,” Crum said. Only one property in the housing department’s inventory — the Snowmass Inn, which the town acquired last year — currently offers seasonal housing without kitchens; the town is exploring pathways to convert those units into studios with kitchens so they can be rented year-round, according to Crum.

When it comes to dedicated housing for municipal employees, council likewise expressed a preference for focusing on the existing needs of the overall Snowmass Village workforce.

The town can currently give priority to town staff on some rental units on a case-by-case basis for those with a “compelling” need, Crum said, but there is only one dedicated unit for the town manager.

There are some town staff — public works employees, for instance, or first responders — for whom being in close proximity to the town they serve is in some cases even conducive to their work.

“This is another type of housing that needs to be considered going forward. … I just want to identify the need,” Kinney said.

Council members Tom Fridstein and Bob Sirkus expressed some resistance to the idea, citing concerns that other local employers may feel short-shifted by the creation of housing earmarked for municipal employees. But as Kinney noted, “it’s not an ‘or,’ it’s an ‘and.’”

STICKS AND BRICKS

While some variables in the housing master plan could shift over time as needs change (rental and sales demand, for instance, or interest in seasonal housing) some elements hinge on more concrete factors.

Nearly 94% of all buildable land in Snowmass Village has been developed, leaving few options for future housing structures.

Of the five proposed housing projects in the master plan, only the Town Hall draw site and Public Works infill site would be built on undeveloped land; two other projects would utilize space at the numbered lots on Carriage Way (but would generally retain the existing spaces for parking) and one would further develop the site at the Snowmass Inn and Daly Lane Bus Depot.

That could weigh on decisions to participate in regional partnerships with other community groups or designate some homes in new developments as free-market units, according to Fridstein.

“We have to keep in mind that we’re very restricted on the amount of buildable land that we have, more so than any other community in the valley,” he said. Financing can come from a number of sources, but the “sticks and bricks” — and the land they’re built on — should be dedicated to housing the workforce who already needs housing in Snowmass Village.

Fridstein suggested looking elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley for build sites for community partnerships; Snowmass Village could still participate but from a financial and planning standpoint rather than a land standpoint.

The amount of buildable land also limits how much parking the town could offer to residents of any prospective new developments. Most sites proposed in the plan average one parking space per unit. That’s fewer spaces per unit than current zoning regulations and past parking allocations but would enable more space for housing itself.

“There comes a time when (we have to consider), ’Do you want workforce housing or do you want parking?’” Councilman Tom Goode said.

Car-share programs and close proximity to public transportation could encourage residents to own only one car — or no vehicles at all.

“I do think that it can be something that can be led more than followed,” Crum said.

But as Fridstein noted, it isn’t always possible to move the needle in that way; limiting parking spaces could just result in more cars parked somewhere else.

THE ROAD AHEAD

The preliminary nature of the master plan allows town staff to adapt to council’s feedback on matters like parking and regional partnerships and take input into consideration; it’s hardly a set-in-stone decree at this point.

And the town still has a long way to go before breaking ground on any new projects, though they are likely to discuss a potential upcoming Snowmass Water and Sanitation District workforce housing project next month, according to a draft agenda for council’s next regular meeting May 3. (That project is spearheaded by the Water and Sanitation District to build onsite housing for employees and is unrelated to the upcoming projects proposed by the town’s housing department.)

Ongoing review of the master plan is on the draft agenda for the May 3 meeting, marking the third consecutive meeting with a focus on housing.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com


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