EDITORIAL: Shelter from the Storm, Part Eight

Read Part One

As in all great places, it is the locals who pioneer and take ownership of the unique identity that attracts visitors. Locals need to be served first to make an authentic place.

— Houston Downtown Mixed Use Retail Core report, 2011.

Back in July of last year, I used the above quote to introduce Part Eight of an editorial series I’d written about Pagosa’s affordable housing crisis: “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” Part Eight was the final installment in that series, and it celebrated the pending approval of Ordinance 861, which would revise the Land Use and Devlopment Code for the Town of Pagosa Springs to better allow for the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) within the Town limits.

The quote above from the Houston Downtown Mixed Use Retail Core report summarized a simple but powerful idea. If you want to see a successful retail core in your community, you probably need to encourage housing within that same core area. Without the presence of local residents in the downtown core, you will be hard-pressed to support an “authentic” commercial neighborhood.

We don’t want our downtown to turn into a fake Disneyland, in other words. Do we?

Pagosa has been striving for authenticity for the past decade. In particular, the Pagosa Springs Area Tourism Board — formerly known as the Town Tourism Committee — wants people to believe that our community is “refreshingly authentic.”

Which might bring us, in a very roundabout way, to the Joint Town-County meeting held yesterday at Town Hall. The agenda was not extensive, and a couple of the more important items touched the current housing crisis. The Board of County Commissioners was fully represented at the noon meeting, and most of the Town Council had also showed up, and we heard a general agreement about the approval mechanism that will be created to distribute approximately $400,000 in tax revenues… to try and address three pressing community issues:

1. Broadband internet access

2. Early childhood care

3. Affordable housing

On the issue of throwing tax money at these problems, everyone around the table seemed on the same page. Yes, these are government priorities in 2018.

The agreement on another housing-related issue — impact fees — was less evident, however. In fact, County Commissioner Steve Wadley made it very clear that he would need to be convinced, via some kind of compelling argument, that the imposition of impact fees on new construction was a sensible idea in 2018.

As our readers may be aware, the Town has been charging impact fees for commercial and residential construction since about 2006 — to insure that “new construction pays its way.”

Prior to 2006, then, newcomers to Pagosa had not been required to pay their own way. We were the lucky ones.

But although the County government has had access to the very same Impact Fee Studies (from 2006 and 2009) as the Town has had, the BOCC has thus far refused to assess impact fees on new construction.

During yesterday’s joint meeting, I had the impression that the Town Council not only supports the continued collection of impact fees for development projects within the Town limits — but actually supports the idea of paying for a new Impact Fee Study that everyone assumes will recommend even larger fees than what the Town is now collecting.

If the BOCC does not want to participate in the new Study, that will presumably make the process somewhat simpler for the consultants, because the study will not need to look at the “impacts” outside the Town limits.

I wish I had a dollar for every “study” I’ve read and analyzed for our Daily Post readers since 2004. Very few of those “studies” were produced by local consultants. Instead, the Town and County and the School District and our numerous other local governments nearly always hire someone from Denver or Colorado Springs, and — from what I can tell — those out-of-town consultants mostly sit in their offices in Denver or Colorado Springs and crunch numbers available from various state and federal databases. Rarely do we get a “study” based upon a deeply sympathetic understanding of our little rural community.

I’ve read the 2006 Impact Fee Study, and the 2009 Impact Fee Study. Presumably, I will soon have a chance to read the 2018 Impact Fee Study. But we are going to take a moment and look — in an anecdotal way — at the results of charging impact fees within the Town limits since 2006.

Here are some photographs, shot on the morning of January 31, 2018, of properties that have been sitting vacant — undeveloped — for at least the past decade, while the Town government has been eagerly collecting impact fees to make development “pay its own way.” Some of the vacant properties shown are located downtown. Some are located in Aspen Village or in the Harman Park subdivision:

All these vacant properties are within the Town limits and would be required to fork out impact fees under current Town regulations, no matter whether the development was commercial or residential.

And here are two notable developments, where the newcomers were actually willing to pay the Town’s impact fees:

Refreshingly Authentic?

I understand that the Town government wants to collect as much revenue as possible, to help fund the maintenance and expansion of streets and parks and other infrastructure. But as we noted yesterday in Part Seven, the amount of revenues shown in the 2016 Town budget were more than three times the amount shown in the 2007 Town budget. During that same decade, as we noted, the population of the town has increased by about 150 people.

If we are in the midst of a housing crisis — and everyone I talk to seems to agree that we are indeed in the midst of a housing crisis here in Archuleta County — why would Town officials seem eager to increase the cost of housing in our community?

And especially, if the Town is trying to promote “Smart Growth” — and has been writing grants to promote “Smart Growth” — why would we penalize development within the retail core, by assessing fees that are collected only when you build within the retail core?

I’d really like an intelligent explanation.

Before it’s too late.

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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.