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Durango Planning Commission approves city housing plan

New high set for permitted units
The Durango Planning Commission on Monday approved a plan to encourage more affordable housing. The city wants to see more affordable housing like the units available for low-income residents at Lumien Apartments on east 32nd Street. The city also wants to encourage more market-rate housing.

Last year, the city permitted more than 350 housing units, setting a record high, and it’s looking to encourage more residential construction with market-friendly policies.

Members of the Durango Planning Commission praised and critiqued the city’s draft housing plan Monday before passing it unanimously.

“It’s great work. You covered all your bases,” Commissioner Jason Cross said.

The plan would prioritize market-friendly regulations, more density, creating a housing trust fund, creating a land bank, and establishing 1,000 long-term affordable units by 2040.

Some market-friendly regulations have been discussed for years, including reducing parking requirements and allowing secondary housing units, such as mother-in-law apartments, in more areas.

Some goals outlined, including reducing parking requirements and increasing density in some areas, will require more public meetings and land-use code changes.

“After all this work, we are really just at the starting line,” Planning Manager Scott Shine said.

The plan will be reviewed by Durango City Council later this month.

As they offered critiques, commissioners suggested some new ideas, including using the Mason Center property on East Third Avenue for housing. The building previously housed the city’s gymnastics program, before the program was moved into a remodeled building in Bodo Industrial Park. Since then, city officials have talked about holding public meetings to determine the future of the property.

A few commissioners suggested not limiting the future of the site to the realm of parks and recreation.

“I would like the city to actually take the lead on something because we have been talking about this for a long time,” Commissioner Joe Lewandowski said about affordable housing.

He also urged city officials to prioritize items to act upon.

“The thing I worry about is we are going to get into analysis paralysis,” he said.

Commissioner Geoff Hickcox suggested the city consider different regulations for those people renting out single rooms in their homes to vacationers in contrast to those renting out their entire home. Renting out a room in a home can help residents achieve and maintain homeownership, he said.

Some commissioners praised the city for setting a definitive goal around affordable-housing units, to serve low-income residents. Residents would have to qualify based on their income to occupy the 1,000 units the city hopes to see built by 2040.

Plans envision using city land and money to help encourage developers to build more affordable units. For example, the city could sell land to developers at a discounted price or provide a matching grant or a loan.

Among the ideas to raise the money for these initiatives, the plan states, the city could:

Approve a dedicated sales tax or excise tax with the approval of voters.Increase the fee charged to demolish a house.Apply for state and federal funding.The city raises its current source of housing revenue through its fair-share ordinance and requires those who build four or more units to set aside 16 percent of the units as affordable housing or pay fees in lieu of the affordable units. The fees go to HomesFund, a nonprofit group, to assist homeowners with mortgages.

Commissioner Peter Tregillus suggested broadening how the money is used to benefit renters as well as homeowners.

“My finding would be the use of the city’s funds has not been for the benefit of all residents. ... It’s been for the residents that are aspiring homeowners,” he said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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