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Council members wrangle over calculating affordable housing bonus

Friday, June 7, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

After a contentious and at times confusing debate, City Council has decided to take another look at the way affordable housing calculations are done in Planned Unit Developments.


Council voted 5-2 to begin the process of codifying a single affordable housing calculation for PUDs with Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting no.

But in general, Council directed staff to calculate fees for extra density based on the bonus area.


The one thing that was clear after more than an hour of discussion was that clarity on how to calculate the fees was badly needed. There was some debate on how much examination the provisions called for, and whether a full stakeholder process and study was warranted.


In the end, it was the original proposal that passed, albeit with a request that the interpretation return to Council in the next 60 days and a suggestion that staff coordinate with the work already being undertaken on the Downtown Density bonus plan (which is expected back at Council by the end of June.)


The resolution asks that staff examine how the calculation for affordable fees-in-lieu are done, but retains language that limits the calculation to the “bonus” area that is gained from a change to PUD zoning. With this direction city staff will now talk with stakeholders and go through the normal public process to come up with a formula that will hopefully be more consistent than the current interpretation of the code, which varies wildly from source to source. (See In Fact Daily,  May 14)


Several people spoke in favor of an alternate calculation, which is based on the total square footage of a project, saying it was the original intent of the ordinance.


Morrison said that while she could support reevaluating the ordinance, she did not support a change. She felt the calculation should be based on the total square footage, and remembered that as the original intent.


“To change it now without any analysis, to change it now and say we want it to be ten percent of the bonus… This is decimating the amount of affordable housing that we have in our code right now,” said Morrison. “For me it is just the wrong way for this city to be heading.”


“How can we go ask the taxpayers to pay for and support affordable housing, when we are going to, without an analysis after having gone through years of discussion…say it’s not okay, so we’re just going to change it,” said Morrison.


However, Council Member Mike Martinez disagreed, saying he had a “clear recollection” that calculations should be based on bonus area. He noted that those who disagreed with the interpretation would have an opportunity to bring their opinions forward as this one interpretation goes through the codes and ordinance process.


Martinez pointed out that if the affordable housing option was too aggressive, it could have the effect of discouraging participation in the program, essentially taking money away from affordable housing.


“That’s the scenario we are facing with these different interpretations of the PUD ordinance,” said Martinez. “If we are really trying to achieve on-site affordability or generate revenue for affordability, we need to create something that is that balance, where it does happen.”


Council Member Bill Spelman remarked that he could see why there was so much confusing, saying the discussions seemed to come from “two different universes.” He pointed to a 2009 article from In Fact Daily that showed city confusion about the calculations already taking place, and similar to the one on the dais Thursday night.

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