The Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday night signed off on a planned-unit development application from the Blaine County School District and nonprofit developer ARCH Community Housing Trust, advancing the organizations’ plan to build up to five rental units for public-school employees in Hailey.
The project envisions a two-story, four-unit apartment building and an additional one-story detached studio unit at 128 West Bullion Street. The district-owned 0.3-acre lot borders the BCSD administrative offices.
Hailey Community Development Director Robyn Davis said the site previously housed a historic home. The structure was unable to be relocated and was demolished four years ago, Davis said.
“Now, the school district and ARCH have come together in a collaborative effort to repurpose the parcel and provide employee housing,” she said.
According to preliminary renderings presented by architects Susan Scovell and Marty Kaplan, the building would have four three-bedroom, two-story apartments and a separate accessory dwelling unit.
Units would range in size from 1,370 to 1,410 square feet, and the detached studio would be around 650 square feet. Each two-story apartment would have its own front door and two-car garage, and residents would also have access to another 11 parking spaces in a lot shared between the fourplex and the district’s main office next door.
ARCH Executive Director Michelle Griffith told the P&Z that the school district preferred three-bedroom units because it’s hoping to hire more couples—ideally, two people filling jobs at the district—who may have children.
Griffith said the school district would act as the landlord of the property and rent the units to employees at no more than 30% of their adjusted gross household income.
The plan is for the BCSD to lease the land to ARCH for the next 99 years and pay operating expenses. ARCH, meanwhile, would design, develop, construct and manage staff housing on the property, she said.
Griffith noted that ARCH has raised “very nearly $2.5 million” for Blaine County School District housing since July 2022, including a $300,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and another $900,000 from a private ARCH fundraiser.
As a condition of the leases, Griffith said tenants would need to stay employed in the district to rent the units, and households would still need to pay a maximum of 30% even after salary increases.
Griffith told the Express that she wouldn’t be able to estimate the construction cost until the roof design and engineering plans are refined.
“We’re not trying to have the rent pencil,” she said. “There’s no debt service that we’re trying to cover here. We’re trying to make sure that whoever the district needs to hire, they can hire, and we will charge them a reasonable rent based on income.”
Griffith noted that the 30% income cap was an “industry standard” for affordable housing. Those paying more than that are considered “housing burdened,” she said.
According to the most recent American Community Survey data, the median household income in Hailey was about $63,830 in 2021, Griffith noted in a phone call Tuesday. But, she said that figure had “probably increased” to closer to the countywide median income of $79,300 in 2022. If so, a 30% cap would place rent at around $2,000 per household.
Griffith also said the BCSD would factor in childcare costs and other expenses when considering someone’s “adjusted gross household income.”
“The school district may choose to say, if you have student loans related to your degree, those could be adjusted,” she said. “The goal really is to make this housing as attractive as possible.”
Public-private partnership a response to ‘crisis’
The school district has been struggling for years to attract and retain new employees and the problem is getting worse, BCSD Superintendent Jim Foudy said Monday. About half of the district’s roughly 500 employees are eligible for retirement in the next five years, making recruitment efforts more urgent, he said Monday.
“Whatever solution we come up with, we’re going to have demand that exceeds [available] units,” Foudy said.
It’s not just a lack of housing units, but also skyrocketing sales prices.
The median home sales price in Hailey reached $850,000 in 2022, County Commissioner Muffy Davis reported last month. So far in 2023, the average sales price in Hailey has been near $800,000, Griffith said, citing a report from Windermere Real Estate.
To address the gap in affordability, the BCSD started a $1 million employee housing relief fund in 2021 and has also implemented a rental stipend for existing and incoming staff, which many employees have availed themselves of.
Foudy said the district is also making sure employee-occupied units stay that way. Last year, for example, a director of special programs position went unfilled for more than six months until a unit on Winterhaven Drive “coincidentally” built by Wood River High School students became available, allowing an applicant to accept the job and relocate into the community.
“She has subsequently found and purchased her own home, and we’re making it available to another employee and his family now,” Foudy said.
Still, Foudy said the waiting list for staff who are looking for housing is “long.” Dan Turner, speaking on behalf of the Blaine County School District Board of Trustees, said he couldn’t overstate the current dearth of housing or the district’s staffing struggles.
“The amount of turnover we’re seeing with our staff, at this point … we are in a crisis. People are leaving the industry in droves,” he said. “We’ve seen our retirement rate go from 8% to 15% in the last three years.”
Commissioners weigh neighbors’ concerns
P&Z commissioners reviewed the BCSD’s planned-unit development application concurrently with design plans on Monday night, ultimately signing off on the PUD but continuing the design-review hearing to April 3.
During the comment session, neighbor Tom Dale suggested flipping the studio unit and fourplex so the studio would front Bullion Street and the mass of the building would be shifted away from the road. He also suggested shifting the layout so the front doors on the fourplex would not face his home.
Project engineer Samantha Stahlnecker said the applicant team had anticipated his concerns, and reorientation “would work.”
One neighbor whose name was not discernible in the meeting said she was concerned about safety and privacy.
“I think it’s a little creepy that the people who would rent there would have to come out of their garages under the nose of their superintendent,” she said. “Children playing on their tiny bikes in the School District parking lot—it just seems slightly off to me.”
Other neighbors called the project “overdevelopment,” taking issue with the three waivers requested as part of the PUD application, including a waiver to decrease the minimum lot size from the required one acre to a third of an acre.
Commissioner Owen Scanlon acknowledged that the density waivers were “a big ask.”
“Obviously housing is going to continue to be a situation, but I’m not sure we should throw caution to the wind completely,” he said.
Commissioner Sage Sauerbrey said he believed the density “ask” was warranted and five deed-restricted affordable local units would be too good to pass up.
“I actually live a few blocks away and walk by that area every day. It’s a place in a buffer zone between commercial and residential development. For that reason, it’s one of the few places where we can increase density with the least impact possible,” he said.
Commissioner Dan Smith said the General Residential zoning district should allow smaller lots.
“If we had 4,500-square-foot allowances here, we could have three residences and three [accessory dwelling units], and [the School District] would be able to break this up into smaller, less intrusive structures,” he said.
Smith also voiced concerns about speeding traffic on Bullion Street.
“I think we need to improve our education system, particularly in the math area, because some people can’t read the numbers on speed limit signs,” he said.
On a more serious note, he said, “this will provide much-needed housing. Hopefully 99 years from now when the lease runs out, the valley will have enough housing for people we consider essential workers, not the least of which are educators.”
“I’ve seen what happens to mountain towns who don’t create a space for their teachers and doctors, and the result isn’t pretty,” Sauerbrey said.
The planned-unit development application will head to the Hailey City Council for a vote on final approval, likely on April 10, according to Davis. ￼
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How about those of us struggling with housing with no stipend or relief fund, but having to pay taxes to fund them?
We're glad to see this housing built in town instead of more sprawling developing at the outskirts, that would affect wintering habitat for wildlife. A close to town location can reduce automobile traffic, as residents might chose to walk or ride a bike to/from work, shopping, etc. We live in the original Hailey town plat and days can go by without pulling our car out of the garage.
Welcome to the discussion.