EDITORIAL: Downtown Development, Beyond Your Wildest Dreams, Part Three

Read Part One

Although the Town of Pagosa Springs has budgeted $50,000 for 2018, to begin addressing our local housing crisis — and a matching amount has been budgeted by the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners — we all understand that local government is not going to solve the problem by allocating a dollar amount insufficient to purchase even one used mobile home.

The Town and County governments have no intention of entering the housing industry. They are struggling just to maintain the public streets, roads and facilities already in their keeping. The housing crisis is going to be addressed — if it gets addressed at all — by private industry, or by the non-profit sector. That much is pretty clear.

But the Foothills affordable housing project, first proposed almost two years ago, seems to be on hold — perhaps permanently — due to a lack of government commitment.

Now the Town Council has been shown another affordable housing proposal, by privately-owned BWD Construction. The presentation on January 2 was conceptual, and the government subsidies requested by the private company were presumably also conceptual. As mentioned in Part One, the BWD proposal suggests:

  • 40 units of workforce housing
  • 19 townhomes
  • 5 single family homes
  • One 16,000 sq. ft. office building to include a convention center on the 3rd floor, ‘co-working space’ on the 2nd floor, and retail space on the 1st floor.

Here’s a sketch of the potential “workforce housing” units.

Proposed “workforce housing” sketch presented by BWD Construction at the January 2, 2018, Town Council meeting.

As we discussed yesterday, the rental prices suggested by BWD for these apartments were in the $800-$1,200-per-month range.  Whether that kind of pricing fits the needs of Pagosa’s working class is a big question.  The recent Archuleta County Housing Needs Assessment (which you can download here) suggests that the housing crisis would be better addressed by housing in the $500-$700-per-month range.

And here is the potential retail/commercial building which would face onto Hot Springs Boulevard.

Sketch of a commercial building proposed by BWD Construction for a vacant parcel on Hot Springs Boulevard.

At the very beginning of the January 2 Council meeting, Mayor Don Volger allowed the public to offer their thoughts to the Council — as is the tradition at Town meetings — an hour prior to Ryan Searle’s presentation.  However, the information in Mr. Searle’s presentation had been included in the Council packets distributed publicly prior to January 2, so some of us arrived already informed about the proposed project and subsidy request.  One of the citizens who had read the packet was business owner Mike Heraty.

“I understand the Town is going to be asked, this evening, to look at waiving $250,000 in impact fees for a proposed new development.”

“Last year, as you recall, Town Manager Greg Schulte proposed that the Town place a moratorium on impact fees — and there was discussion, and I think it was decided that it might be appropriate to revisit the study that was used to create the impact fee schedule, because that study was done in 2006 and a lot has changed since then.

“At present, I haven’t heard where Town Council is, in that process.  But I would counsel the Council tonight of the danger of looking at individual requests for waivers of impact fees — ahead of creating an impact fee policy that you publish, after you’ve vetted it and discussed it and adopted it and made it public.

“Because these kinds of circumstances, where individual projects come in requesting waivers, can create the appearance that things aren’t being done on a level playing field for all the developments and projects that might come before you.

“I generally don’t prefer impact fees, personally, and I’ve made that known in the past, but I also think when there are significant effects that can be measured, and those costs can be calculated and assigned to a particular project, I think that may be an appropriate way for the Town to recoup those investments.

“But again, it needs to be done on a fair and even basis.  Infill projects within the town, where there are no significant additional impacts on roads, sidewalks, lighting and so forth — that’s a different kettle of fish, in my estimation, than a project that involves more new infrastructure and impacts on roads that weren’t designed for the high levels of traffic that might be generated.”

Like Mr. Heraty, I have not been a fan of impact fees — for many reasons.  I understand that the TABOR amendment has made it more difficult to pass tax increases on both the state and local levels, and that state and local leaders have taken to imposing “fees” instead of taxes, to meet their revenue goals.

In many cases, the “fees” thus imposed put an undue burden on the “newcomer” when a voter-approved “tax” would distribute the burden more evenly and fairly. Impact fees are exactly that type of unfair “taxation” when they require newcomers to pay — for example — for road maintenance in a completely separate part of the community. This happened recently when Walmart paid out nearly a half-million dollars in Town impact fees, and the Town Council then used the money to repair neglected streets in the older neighborhoods south of downtown.

Perhaps a more important problem with the Town’s impact fee policy is that it helps drive up the cost of new homes, at exactly a time in the community’s history when we desperately need additional housing — and especially affordable housing.

If I were king, I’d do away with all impact fees for infill developments, no matter whether they are claiming to be “affordable” or not.  Infill development is exactly what has been missing from the community’s development pattern over the past 30 years — and the resulting sprawl is the very reason we cannot afford to properly maintain our streets and roads and public facilities.

Potholes on Dayspring Place, near Lake Pagosa. April 2017. A close inspection reveals historical traces of asphalt pavement.

People in Archuleta County live too far apart, given our limited tax base.  Only by encouraging infill development can the Town and County begin to resolve its housing and transportation issues.

BWD — Beyond Your Wildest Dreams — has some good ideas and is headed in the right general direction.  If the company could find the time to sit down with one of our local affordable housing task forces and do some brainstorming, that “generally good direction” could be made even better.


Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.