County, city to study feasibility of assured housing policy
by Molly Marcello
The Times-Independent
Oct 19, 2017 | 4468 views | 0 0 comments | 140 140 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Grand County and Moab City are moving forward on a study to determine whether mandatory affordable housing requirements are feasible given the community’s economic market.

An assured housing policy could require all new residential and commercial developments include some component of affordable housing.

According to Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine, many county officials — and residents — felt more comfortable with such a policy if a study evaluated its feasibility with hard data.

“With respect to mandatory assured housing ordinance, everybody — whether they are for or against the policy — philosophically feels better about commissioning a formal economic study,” Levine said. “I think that’s a good thing to ground the conversation in data.”

During their meeting Oct. 3, the Grand County Council approved a contract award to BAE Urban Economics, a planning and consulting firm, to conduct the study for both government entities.

Moab City and Grand County will share the cost of the feasibility study, which could run up to $80,000 if both entities decide to move forward with a nexus study as well.

“A feasibility study will determine if affordable housing requirements either in the form of fees or actual units is feasible given our market,” Levine said. “The first question is to ask, is it feasible to implement these requirements, and if so what would the outcome be in terms of impacts on new development?”

Ben Riley, executive director of the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah, was part of the search committee for a planning consulting firm. He called the feasibility study a “great step” for both Grand County and Moab City.

“Moab is a fickle community in the housing arena, I think,” Riley said. “Since we are rural with a relatively low population, especially one that is seasonal, it’s very important to get the facts straight before making any decisions regarding the assured housing ordinance.”

If the study finds that an assured housing ordinance is feasible, Levine said that Moab City and Grand County have the option to pursue a nexus analysis, which would identify the actual parameters of an assured housing policy.

In their bid application, Matt Kowta — managing principal at BAE Urban Economics — outlined the company’s experience with preparing studies and policy with regard to affordable housing, in areas as varied as New York City to the Lake Tahoe region.

“BAE is well suited for this study because we have a long history of proposing policies that work. We have served as an advisor to public entities on affordable housing projects, prepared numerous affordable housing linkage fees and inclusionary studies, and conducted policy studies related to housing across the U.S.,” Kowta said. “Our work is crafted to calibrate a balance between achieving much-needed affordable housing without dampening the profit incentive to stimulate development.”

Levine expects the results of the feasibility study this December.

In the meantime, Levine says the county’s planning commission continues to work on an “incentive-based overlay approach” to create more affordable housing.

Three recent public open houses — held between August and September — allowed community members to study maps and ask questions regarding the county’s draft high-density development (HDD) overlay districts.

These districts, Levine said, include incentive-based regulations that could enable higher density developments in “strategic locations” with the expectation that affordable residential units would be included.

In certain areas, some incentives include densities of up to 25 units per acre when the development includes a “substantial level” of affordable housing units, or a minimum of 20 percent of the overall development.

Levine said the county staff and the planning commission continue to engage with stakeholders regarding the HDD overlay districts “to make sure we’re capturing all of our residents’ concerns, goals, ideals, and opportunities.”

“Based on the feedback, I’m pretty certain there will be ongoing refinement of the regulations that have been drafted so far,” Levine said. “With respect to the high-density overlays, we’re still early on in the process. Anybody who feels they want to contribute to the conversation, they still very much have that opportunity.”

He anticipates the HDD overlay districts will be ready for formal review at the end of the year, “around the same time the feasibility study will be completed.”

Citizens can review the HDD overlay districts by visiting Maps and information can be found on the Community Development Department’s page under the “Current & Upcoming Projects” tab. For questions or comments, contact the Grand County Community Development Department at 435-259-1371.

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