Real Estate & Construction  September 2, 2016

ADUs can help address Estes workforce housing shortage

There’s an old saying in public policy that “Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.” Well, sometimes things go SO slow they seem fast. A recent proposal to reconsider regulations for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) is one of those issues.

First, some background: An ADU is a separate living unit in a single-family home. It can be a mother-in-law apartment, or an apartment in a basement or over an attached garage. ADUs are currently prohibited in the Estes Valley Land Use Code. These units could provide affordable housing for both seasonal and year-round workers and could help families afford a home by providing rental income. In this case, new draft regulations have only been proposed for ADUs that are attached or enclosed in the primary home — not standalone cottages.

Last week, the Estes Valley Planning Commission considered proposed code change to allow long-term rental of these housing units, and we heard comments that the town is rushing into this with little consideration and transparency.

Let me provide even more background.  The issue of whether to allow ADUs has been discussed for years.  The first time I recall serious discussions was in 2012, when I was serving as the Larimer County Manager. At that time the Planning Commission, Board of County Commissioners and the Town Board could not agree on the details of new regulations and ultimately, the issue was dropped. In the meantime, the workforce housing crisis continued to grow.

The issue of ADUs was raised again during the August 12, 2014, Town Board study session, as staff continued to respond to the board’s publicly adopted Strategic Plan to “Serve as a catalyst to develop housing solutions for all segments of our community.”  A key option presented at that meeting was to consider:

“Regulatory options could include revising the development code to remove regulatory obstacles such as prohibition on renting ADUs or allowing for ‘grandfathered’ density, increasing density allowances (support rezonings), allowing additional market rate units where workforce housing is included, or requiring workforce housing with new developments.”

In 2015, the town invited a team of key housing professionals and municipal leaders from the Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST), to present a brief overview of housing issues. Estes Park has a great deal in common with other CAST communities. Many are mountain resort towns that have been addressing their own serious issues with workforce and affordable housing for some time. CAST includes many mountain towns, like ours, that are not ski towns, such as Ouray and Glenwood Springs.

The conclusions from the CAST report included:

If nothing changes then it’s likely Estes Park will:

• Continue to be the oldest community in Colorado (2010 average age of residents was 51 years old); keep losing families and middle-income workers; increasingly become a town for second homeowners; and experience population growth primarily from retirees who made their living in other parts of the state (or other states).

• Continue to have a shortage of workers, rely increasingly on in-commuters to fill jobs, impair the operation of local businesses, decrease the year-round tax and revenue base attributed to locals, and compromise the visitor experience (your primary economic driver).”

The 2015 CAST recommendations included ADUs as an important issue that needs to be addressed.   Among CAST communities, most encourage and give incentives for ADUs. Estes Park is alone in prohibiting these types of rental units within existing homes.

The 2016 Housing Needs Assessment sponsored by the Estes Park Housing Authority, with support from Bank of Colorado Bank of Estes Park, Economic Development Corp., Estes Park Board of Realtors, Estes Park Medical Center, Estes Park School District, Forward Estes Park Foundation, Rocky Mountain National Park and the town of Estes Park, addressed the need for ADUs as No. 4 of 11 key housing-plan recommendations. This plan was presented in well-attended public meetings held by the Housing Authority and the town earlier this year.

ADUs were also identified in the May 2016 Housing Summit meeting — a priority recommendation of the Housing Needs Assessment to pursue:

Accessory   dwelling   units   (ADUs)   are   often   allowed   and   incentivized   in   mountain   towns   where   land   is   limited   and   preserving   community   character   is   important.  These  units:

• Typically   provide   long term   rental   housing   for   moderate/middle   income   families.

• Rent   for   rates   higher   than   charged   by   apartment   projects,   since   private   rents   cannot   be   controlled   in   Colorado,   and   the   attractiveness/location   of   the   units   enables   them   to   command   higher   rents.

• Contribute   to   the   affordability   of   the   primary   residence   by   providing   a   source   of   income.      In   other   words,   one   accessory   dwelling   unit   enhances   the   affordability/availability   of   two   units.   

• Fit   well   within   existing   neighborhoods   in   terms   of   architecture   and   scale,   often   only   need   one   parking   space   given   their   small   size   and   location,   and   can   be   designed   to   be   compatible   with   various   neighborhood   configurations   through   attached   and   detached   designs.

• Add   to   attainable   housing   at   no   cost   to   the   Town;   however,   Town   incentives   increase   effectiveness.

Most recently, the town has heard from many employers who are very concerned about the impact of the upcoming closure of U.S. Highway 34 for reconstruction. They have commuting employees who express an intention to quit and find work down in the valley. In an attempt to retain employees, employers are seeking affordable-housing options to allow some of their employees to stay in here in Estes Park.

Regarding discussion of new ADU regulations — “fast” is in the eye of the beholder, but this discussion has been going on for well over five years. In the meantime we, as a community, have failed to meaningfully address the issue of workforce housing as it continues to get worse.

Whatever the future of ADUs is to be, that will be decided by your representatives on the Planning Commission and elected officials on the town board and Board of County Commissioners. This issue has been on the public plate for half a decade, and our housing issue is not going to get better on its own. It’s one potential solution to help address a big problem. The better question is not, “Why is this happening so fast?” but, “Why is this taking so long while the housing problem continues to grow?”

Frank Lancaster is town administrator for Estes Park. For more information on the proposed ADU code amendments and a tentative review schedule by the Planning Commission, Town Board and Board of County Commissioners, visit www.estes.org/EVDCAmendments.

There’s an old saying in public policy that “Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.” Well, sometimes things go SO slow they seem fast. A recent proposal to reconsider regulations for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) is one of those issues.

First, some background: An ADU is a separate living unit in a single-family home. It can be a mother-in-law apartment, or an apartment in a basement or over an attached garage. ADUs are currently prohibited in the Estes Valley Land Use Code. These units could provide affordable housing for both seasonal and year-round workers and could help…

Related Content