Affordable housing plans still on the table in Woodland Park

The first actual plan to open the door for affordable housing pursuits in Woodland Park by making key regulatory changes is still moving ahead.

However, the subject of high priority housing is quite controversial and complex and won’t be resolved anytime soon. Officials still are unsure about the number of estimated workers who are employed in Woodland Park at various stores, businesses, schools and nonprofits and must commute lengthy distances to make ends meet.

Another side issue deals with plans to alter the rate structures for residential tap fees, one of the big hurdles for developers of workforce housing. Also, a few future projects may impact the housing landscape.

The Woodland Park Planning Commission could hear new code changes, aimed at facilitating more multi-family units and apartments, as early as Oct. 13. Some of these proposals would loosen up current land use rules through the possible up-zoning of certain commercial tracts and non-residential parcels, so more units can be built on properties that pursue these types of projects. In turn, developers, builders and property owners could face restrictions pertaining to the income level of future tenants and residents who occupy these units, or confront deed restrictions.

Ultimately, the city council will make the ultimate call on a subject that has generated much discussion over the last 15 years, but one that has yielded few tangible results.

Several consultant studies have indicated huge affordability gaps in the ability of local workers to live in Woodland Park based on their annual salaries and income levels.

The commission has already had several work sessions on housing and ways to address this problem. The issue has been spearheaded by an earlier city decision to allocate an additional 400 water taps for high priority housing. These units could be comprised of workforce housing projects, along with apartment and condo/town home developments in the downtown area and those that address senior housing. One of the city’s overall goals is to facilitate more multi-family housing, a market that has never been pushed much in Woodland Park.

According to city planner Scott Woodford, projects that accommodate senior and downtown housing would not face income restrictions for future tenants or home owners based on preliminary discussions. He said the new code changes would initially address projects that facilitate affordable or workforce housing. Also, a limit may be placed on how many units can qualify for this high priority arrangement for each proposed development.

The issue, though, has been somewhat controversial.

According to several planning commissioners, concerns have mounted over the accuracy of a recent consultant study that indicated huge financial gaps and demonstrated a big increase in the population of Hispanics, seniors and employees who can’t afford the community’s current housing inventory. Some planners believe the affordability gap may not be quite as wide as previously reported.

Still, most agree that Woodland Park has a serious housing problem when it comes to meeting the needs of local workers and those employed as store clerks, teachers, entry-level government employees, police officers, cooks, bank tellers, low-wage workers and so forth.

“You want your employees to work and play in the same community,” said Planning Director Sally Riley, during an earlier discussion.

Other issues complicating these affordability housing projects deal with future projects. Conceptual plans have been introduced for a 150 to 175-unit apartment complex development, proposed near Eagle Fire Lodge by Eric Smith, in a new area included as part of the Downtown Development Authority district. However, officials aren’t certain if this project would qualify for these high priority housing units.

Also, the new proposed Andrew Wommack Ministries project, which calls for a 3,000-student bible college, would have housing on their property for at least 500 people, according to preliminary plans. But again, it’s unclear if these potential housing units would be part of the equation. Altogether, the city has identified land areas encompassing about 150 acres that could qualify for these high priority housing units. Many of these are located off the Hwy. 67 corridor and in the downtown.

Another pressing concern is not exceeding the city’s water limitations. Woodland Park has enough current and future resources to support a population of nearly 14,000 people, according to Utilities Director Jim Schultz. This is due to the fact that most residents are now using less water and are more cautious about conservation. Based on this analysis, the city is comfortable with wagering a gamble on allocating 400 additional high priority housing units. These future dwellings would increase the town’s capacity population by 12 percent.

But some community leaders are worried about pushing the town’s water limitations too much. As noted by Schultz when the idea of high priority housing was initially discussed last spring, “When we are dealing with water, we are always dealing with risk. No matter what we do (regarding water resources), there is some risk.”