Opening the door to Durangoans : City Council passes inclusionary zoning ordinance

While some county residents struggle to stay afloat in the home market, others may find it easier to break into it once and for all.

Last week, Durango City Council passed a Fair Share Housing inclusionary-zoning policy by a 3-2 vote. Councilors Michael Rendon, Scott Graham and Leigh Meigs voted in favor; Doug Lyon and Mayor Renee Parsons opposed, although for opposing reasons. Parsons said the policy was “too dense” and did not go far enough in helping alleviate the affordable housing problem while Lyons said it put an undue financial burden on builders and would facilitate more sprawl.

As part of the city’s Land Use and Development Code, the new rule will require developers to provide 16 percent of units as affordable or to pay an in-lieu fee for each new development.

For councilors voting in favor and ordinance authors, approval marked a triumphant end to several years of wrangling over the language of the policy. “It’s been in the works for four

or five years,” said Jen Lopez, director of the Regional Housing Alliance of La Plata County. “Inclusionary zoning was something the city was already doing, we just put rules around it.”

Since the city started using inclusionary zoning, it has struck an agreement for $20 million from the Three Springs developers and $5 million from Twin Buttes. “Those are huge commitments. The community’s

really starting to make some serious headway in moving toward providing affordable and attainable housing,” said Lopez.

Although homebuilders say the policy will only pass on costs to homeowners, thus increasing home prices, Lopez disagrees, adding that inclusionary zoning is just one of the tools in the RHA’s five-point approach.

In addition to the inclusionary zoning, the RHA also offers down-payment and second-mortgage assistance, affordable rentals, price caps and shared appreciation for county households making less than $75,000 a year. According to Lopez, more than 400 families are on waiting lists for affordable rentals or home ownership assistance.

The RHA is shooting to provide 80 to 100 new opportunities a year, 22 percent through Fair Share inclusionary zoning. “It is a significant part of our plan, but it is not all of it,” she noted.

– Missy Votel