But as it looks at new affordable housing projects for the remaining slices of land at Lawson Hill, the county is in favor of price caps.
“Because there haven’t been price caps, you end up with something beyond what’s called affordable housing,” said San Miguel County Commissioner Elaine Fischer, a reference to a common perception that the cost of housing at Lawson Hill has escalated beyond the reach of many local employees.
Very little housing at Lawson Hill is price capped. Instead, the employee deed restriction put into place when Lawson Hill was approved is designed to keep the housing there affordable by requiring residents to be employed in the R-1 school district. The concept was to control prices by limiting demand. But Fischer, among others, believe it hasn’t worked.
The issue emerged again at last week’s meeting of the county commissioners, when two separate efforts to initiate new developments at Lawson Hill were discussed. The Lawson Hill HOA has argued that the original scheme has in fact successfully housed locals, and that price caps on some properties at Lawson Hill but not others would be unfair. As Lawson Hill HOA director Pam Hall explains, price caps could hurt property values, particularly if the county tried to impose price caps when properties that don’t currently have them are sold.
“One would have to question whether price caps work or not, depending on how it goes with a project,” Hall said.
However, Fischer said this week there’s a deep misunderstanding about the county’s intentions over price caps. They would usually only be required in situations where federal or state monies were involved.
“It all has to do with new development or if the county is going to have to buy out a foreclosure,” she said. “The county is not going to come in and price cap your (pre-existing) house.”
Said County Commissioner Joan May: “There’s a huge fear about something that exists out there, when it doesn’t.”
While Hall agreed there may be “some confusion” about how price caps may impact future development, she also predicted that the HOA membership would vote against price caps again, if asked.
Meanwhile, new projects are being considered with the question of price caps very much unresolved.
The first of the proposed new projects is for Lot C, located on the south side of Society Drive west of the Society Turn Business Center “Our project to create single-family homes at Lot C has met with unexpected obstacles and a lack of buyer’s interest,” owner David Kenny stated in a letter withdrawing an application for a rezoning. “Meanwhile, we have determined that the best use for the property would perhaps be a deed-restricted, multi-family project. It also appears that this type of project is more in tune with community needs.”
“For private enterprise to try to do this as affordable housing, it’s not going to work,” he told the commissioners last week. “And I think the county is going to realize this.”
Kenny said if the various parties involved in any project – the county, the Lawson Hill HOA and possibly the Town of Telluride – can work out their differences, then the land may be suitable for 20 units of deed-restricted affordable housing.
However, while Fischer insisted that anything with county involvement should include price caps, Kenny said price-cap economics put the “squeeze on a developer more intensely.” In addition, Kenny said, his group doesn’t want to get caught in “a trap” between the county and the HOA over any potential conflict over the price-cap question.
Another project moving slowly through the county pipeline involves lot A-1 (the land between Viking Rentals and the Conoco Station at Society Turn). During Wednesday’s commissioners meeting, a memorandum of understanding was approved to pave the way for a feasibility study and search for funding for an affordable-housing project for the parcel.
A letter to the county from Lot A-1 property owners Bill Ellison, John Gearty and Ginny and Bill Gordon states there’s a “window of opportunity at this time to study this five-and-a-half-acre parcel creatively. We suggest planning with the private sector to meet common goals. These goals could include affordable housing, intercept parking, transportation needs, county offices and neighborhood commercial uses.
“In preliminary discussions with staff members and interested persons in the Town of Telluride, the Mountain Village, San Miguel County and the Lawson Hill HOA, we feel encouraged that forward thinking members of these organizations see this potential as well.”
However, at the back end of the discussion, Fischer once again stated that she would only support projects that included “price caps for affordable housing.”