Housing – how to meet the growing demand for it, make it affordable and maintain what is already available at reasonable prices – became the main theme during a broad working session of the Carbondale Board of Trustees on Tuesday.
As in such working meetings, no decisions were made, but many ideas were exchanged.
The evening’s agenda began with a joint meeting where Garfield County commissioners were invited to share their thoughts before engaging in discussions on the Town Center property that had recently come into the city’s hands.
The evening concluded with a preliminary discussion of a possible ballot later this year or next year seeking an increase in Carbondale’s lodging tax, in part to help fund affordable housing efforts, as now permitted under state law is.
“I’m an economic development guy and housing is economic development,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said when the issue of housing came up in discussions between him and his colleague John Martin with city officials.
“If we don’t have a place to live, the economy stagnates,” he said, referring to the struggles for employers and their workers.
Also discussed was the recently formed Roaring Fork Regional Housing Coalition, which is seeking funding to begin meeting housing needs on a regional basis from Aspen to Parachute.
While Carbondale agreed to formally join the coalition, including providing $10,000 in seed capital, Garfield County commissioners declined in a 2-1 vote earlier this spring – for now. Jankovsky advocated joining.
The commissioners on Monday agreed to sign a letter of support for the Housing Coalition’s application for a $75,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Innovative Affordable Housing Strategy Program. The coalition, using seed funding provided by participating local governments, would raise $25,000, according to the grant proposal.
“I’m fascinated by the amount of money in the state of Colorado and how we can bring it to Garfield County,” Jankovsky said during Tuesday’s meeting with Carbondale.
Carbondale Mayor Ben Bohmfalk said the city is a “small player” in this regional effort. At the same time, Carbondale has consciously done its part to meet local housing needs over the past decade, he said.
One example is the approximately 200 new or under construction residential units along the Colorado Highway 133 corridor near the Main Street roundabout.
“It took a lot of effort to do this, but it’s the culmination of 10 years of very deliberate planning on the part of the city and it’s gratifying to see that coming to fruition,” said Bohmfalk.
Aside from the 20% of units that are deeded to maintain affordability, open market rents for those units at around $2,500/month are well outside of what is considered “attainable,” he admitted.
In all, Carbondale has about 355 copyrighted units in its housing stock — including the Roaring Fork School District staff quarters — and another 28 are pending, Town Manager Lauren Gister said.
Commissioner Martin urged city managers to consider older residents when solving housing needs.
“We have to take care of the people who have been here the longest and who cannot afford to stay here now and who are losing their homes,” Martin said.
One area where the city and county could work together is to work to preserve RV parks that exist both inside and outside city limits, Bohmfalk suggested.
He pointed to new state laws allowing RV owners to pool to buy the separately owned parks where they are now required to rent space.
Talks in the city center
When it comes to future development of the 3.5-acre downtown lot surrounding the Thunder River Theater that was donated to the city in late 2021, “residential development is predictably high on the list” as far as what’s there is to be placed , said Böhmfalk.
After brief discussion with the District Commissioners, the Trustees turned their attention to additional public input and ‘next steps’ on how to proceed with planning the site.
The city will likely seek some form of public-private partnership to develop the properties, either through a formal tender (RFP) or the less involved tender (RFQ).
Land use consultant Bob Schultz said that a call for tenders might be a better way, as it allows for a more focused exchange of ideas before committing to a specific proposal.
A current public input session on site The event, held as part of the June 3 event on the first Friday, generated many ideas for the use of the property, but housing was definitely high on most people’s minds, Bohmfalk said.
This will likely be the focus of any development proposals along with some limited commercial/retail space or possibly live work units. The city is also inclined to work within the existing zoning for the mixed-use lot.
A potential development partner could include Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley. Habitat President Gail Schwartz and Future Projects Director Jon Fox-Rubin were on hand to discuss the possibility.
Habitat is becoming more flexible in the types of projects it pursues to meet local needs, Schwartz said. This includes examining rental housing projects versus apartments for sale and even the possibility of living and working space, she said.
Schultz noted that when the city brings together multiple development partners, it should be careful that they don’t compete for the same potential sources of funding, such as low-income tax credits. That could counteract the project, he said.
Lodging Tax Options
Another potential source of funding for housing is the state of Colorado’s new regulations on the use of local occupancy taxes.
Trustees on Tuesday heard a presentation from members of the Carbondale Tourism Council on the city’s existing 2% lodging tax, which is used to fund tourism promotions.
There are a few ways to increase this tax bill for other purposes such as housing. In addition to providing some taxpayer money to house local workers, tourism officials said they also want to do more to ensure tourism “carries its weight” in relation to a variety of impacts on the city, tourism council member Andrea Stewart said and Sarah-Jane Johnson.
Recently, other municipalities in the area have solicited and received voter assistance to provide a portion of lodging tax money for housing needs. Carbondale could try to do the same.
In addition, the city could also apply for a separate excise tax on short-term vacation rentals. The city now needs a permit to convert a living space into a vacation home. A consumption tax would be charged in addition to the occupancy tax.
The Trustees will further discuss the proposal at their July 12 meeting, including a recommendation from staff on what type of tax or taxes to charge.
The board could decide to follow up on a poll question this November or wait a year.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.