Affordable Housing Showdown Looming In Woodland

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by Rick Langenberg:

 

 

Will Woodland Park finally enact legislation that may help in spearheading the demand for more affordable dwelling units or rentals, or will leaders want to continue to let the private marketplace dictate these solutions?

These questions will be decided on March 20 as the council conducts a hearing on a plan that would allow homeowners to have small accessory dwelling units in certain areas of town. In what is referred to as “mother-in-law” units, this plan could boost more housing options in Woodland Park. The town has a serious shortage of homes and dwelling units for local workers and young families and for seniors.

For two decades, the city government has toiled with ideas for facilitating more affordable units, but hasn’t succeeded in closing the deal. Virtually every plan to tweak regulations and land use rules, in an effort make it easier to have more affordable housing projects, has hit a political wall. In recent years, the city has considered such ideas as up-zoning properties, loosening land use and density restrictions and allotting hundreds of water taps for high priority housing needs. 

Under the latest plan, accessory dwelling units could be located next to current single family homes and would consist of a small area between 400 and 800 square feet. Similar regulations are permitted in Colorado Springs, Fountain, Monument, Manitou Springs and Teller County, according to the city planning staff. 

However, the latest plan is expected to generate much controversy, based on the preliminary comments made by several council members last week, when the measure was introduced and a public hearing was set for March 20. 

“Do we need it?” questioned WP Councilman Ken Matthews, who has been involved in the building industry for years. He noted that with some of the new housing projects in the works, such as the Trail Ridge Apartments, the city may not need to enact new pro-affordable housing rules. “Private enterprise is already addressing the affordable housing problem,” added Matthews, who cast the sole dissenting tally to advance the measure to the public hearing stage.

Councilman Gary Brovetto also gave the plan a cold response. “What is the impact on other people if we allow this,” said the councilman. Councilman Bob Carlsen, in a similar vein, asked about the rights of homeowner groups.

But Councilman John Schafer, who has served with the Habitat for Humanity group in Teller County, told his peers that this issue has been extensively discussed by both the planning commission and the city council. “We got a real reasonable ordinance,” said Schafer. “We do have a real need for these units.”

Schafer previously presented the plan during a joint session between the city council and planning commission. He has stressed the affordable housing crisis the town faces, with local workers having no realistic options. Current studies back up this proposition, concluding that Woodland Park’s housing demands are expected to increase, especially for local workers and even for seniors.

During his earlier presentation, Schafer cited this proposal as quite common in communities across Colorado as a way to give future residents more housing options. He also explained that it would give families more flexibility, if certain family members or relatives wanted to move in with them. 

Instead of hosting an extensive debate, the council, as part of their custom for initial readings of ordinances, set the stage for a public hearing.

In explaining the new measure, city officials cautioned that the new regulations would succumb to any homeowner association rules. Plus, the accessory dwelling units would only be permitted in single family and urban residential zones or commercial areas under conditional use permits.

Also, the new units must meet design guidelines and a limit of four people-per unit would be implemented. In addition, only one accessory dwelling unit per home is permitted.

The plan was endorsed by the planning commission by a 4-1 vote.

However, based on past history, it could face a more difficult hurdle during the final showdown before the city council. Elected leaders in Woodland Park haven’t won any awards for backing pro-affordable housing initiatives.