Despite the objections of its planning commission, and with the intent to boost workforce housing supply, the Routt County Board of Commissions voted unanimously this week to allow rural homeowners to construct secondary units of up to 800 square feet and, in the case of secondary units attached to larger homes, on lots as small as five acres.
County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he disagreed with Planning Commission’s finding that the allowance of secondary dwellings was in conflict with the county master plan provisions that call for the avoidance of “any construction activity that changes the basic character or use of the land.”
“I don’t believe secondary units reflect a change in the basic character or use of the land,” Corrigan said. And “I’ve come to believe they probably are a component of improving the situation with affordable housing.”
The commissioners agreed that, in many cases, developing secondary units will not be easily accomplished, due to the need to comply with state regulations governing domestic water well permits and the county permitting process for wastewater treatment.
Planning Commission voted 8-1 Nov. 3 to recommend denying the changes in county policy. Among their concerns was a fear that secondary units could be used for short-term rentals.
Aware that building lots and homes for sale that meet the budget requirements of working households have become scarce, not only in Steamboat Springs, but also in the rural county just outside the city, the commissioners have explored different means of easing the shortage this year.
Commission Chairwoman Cari Hermacinski, frustrated by the inability of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan to deliver new housing stock, took a stab at encouraging additional suburban subdivisions — such as Heritage Park, Steamboat II and Silver Spur — to the west of Steamboat, but city government disagreed, indicating a preference for the established policy of annexing any new residential developments.
The conversation about allowing secondary units began in January and has stretched through nine public meetings. Speaking against allowing secondary units were recent former planning commission chairman Jay Gallagher and former County Commissioner Ben Beall.
Gallagher applauded the Board of Commissioners’ desire to “diversify housing stock in the county, but questioned whether they were following the right path. He characterized secondary units as being an “up-zoning” of existing property. Gallagher also worried that the Board of Commissioners’ vote amounts to undermining the credibility of the planning commissioners.
“I’m concerned about the long-term effects of this move and public disregard of planning commission votes eroding confidence in the prescribed process of county government,” he said.
Yampa Valley Housing Authority Director Jason Peasley urged the Board of Commissioners to consider that it will be necessary to change existing regulations to achieve the goal of increasing workforce housing supply and meet the projected demand for thousands of new units in the next 15 years.
“Demand is outpacing supply in every housing market in Routt County,” Peasley said, adding, “We’re going to need every single opportunity. I don’t want to see this get passed by.”
Planning Commissioner Bob Woodmansee, who made the motion to deny the allowance of secondary units, called it a “significant erosion of the master plan (last updated in 2003), which was a well-thought-out, citizen-supported (plan) that included many different stakeholders and wide participation.”
He added that the master plan represents “the will of the people” and went on to suggest county commissioners were attempting to override the Planning Commission, which is charged with representing the citizens.
Hermacinski suggested to Steamboat Today earlier this year that the master plan no longer reflects current conditions in Routt County.
“I think (it) is a little dated and prevents us from doing some things — how to grow without sprawl if the city is not going to annex,” she said.
Hermacinski predicted that, ultimately, the impact change in the regulations would be “quite small” and that a significant percentage of new secondary units would amount to an addition to an existing home.
“I’m fully in support of this,” she said.