Blaine County Land Use and Building Services staff strove to give commissioners a deeper idea of what density in the county’s Community Housing Overlay District would look like during a meeting Tuesday about potentially amending that part of county code.
Blaine County commissioners and planning staff are working through proposed community housing rule changes that would reduce density and facilitate creation of income-based housing without developers’ building it themselves. The overlay ordinance, originally passed in 2004, gave developers certain incentives for building homes in much of the area between Cold Springs Drive, south of St. Luke’s Wood River, and Hospital Drive, just north of the hospital along state Highway 75.
Developments are allowed to have more units per acre if a certain percentage is dedicated to income-based housing. Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said Tuesday that his understanding is that the higher densities help developers pay for the land in an expensive area, and Commissioner Larry Schoen said it also helps to offset the cost of the less-profitable community housing.
The proposed ordinance would allow developers to convey land to nonprofit housing organizations such as ARCH Community Housing Trust or the Ketchum Community Development Corp., allowing those organizations to leverage their status as housing organizations to gain grants to build the actual units. Clear Creek LLC, the development company responsible for Quail Creek, which is in the community housing district, has already proposed such an arrangement to fulfill its housing requirement.
The ordinance also seeks to change the density of the housing overlay. The density proposed would be less than that proposed by county planning staff and less than that in current ordinance. Under current ordinance, the overlay at full buildout would have accommodated about 3,200 residents; the proposed changes would reduce that to about 1,350 residents. The area would have about 210 community housing units.
County Planner Kathy Grotto addressed concerns expressed in public comment last week with a presentation during the meeting Tuesday, comparing proposed densities in the area with other known developments in the area. Proposed average densities for the area range from four units per acre in the Cold Springs Bench area behind St. Luke’s Wood River to 15.8 units per acre in the light industrial area between Hospital Drive and state Highway 75.
Grotto said the Cold Springs Bench area would be less dense than old Hailey, which is zoned at roughly six units per acre with an average lot size of 7,200 square feet. She said that’s the minimum density that makes public transportation viable.
Much of the overlay district would have eight to nine units per acre, a density that Grotto said made it “very possible” to have single-family homes. Grotto said only densities over about 13 units per acre really require a multiple-family building.
Commissioner Angenie McCleary proposed removing the separate subdistricts in the overlay—the current version of the amendments calls for five subdistricts—and narrowing it to three. The districts would allow the commissioners to zone the Cold Springs bench for less density, while retaining higher density near the hospital and a middle density for the overlay south of the hospital.
“We want to make this ordinance as straightforward and simple and usable as possible,” she said. “If we have fewer subdistricts, it will likely be simpler.”
Schoen said he supported allowing current landowners to expand and improve their buildings by up to 15 percent without requiring them to comply with the area’s housing requirement. Both he and McCleary said such an allowance would encourage “beautification” for the area.
Under the existing ordinance, Schoen said, “those owners were stymied from making the simplest improvements.”
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