At the April 4 Grand County Commission meeting, Planning Director Elissa Martin presented the department’s progress on its 2023 priorities and asked commissioners for guidance on how they’d like to tackle some thorny issues, particularly on the High Density Housing Overlay.

The HDHO was created in 2018 to promote affordable housing for the Grand County workforce, offering developers the ability to build more units but requiring that ownership be restricted to local workers. 

Since it was passed, the HDHO was the subject of a lawsuit and some developers say that some parts of the ordinance’s restrictions are hindering projects from getting off the ground. 

“[When we started the HDHO], it was a novel idea and it was created with the full intent to do good,” said Commissioner Mary McGann. “Now we need to look at what didn’t work and what did work and adjust it so that it’s more effective.”

Commissioners asked Martin to prioritize aspects of the HDHO that create challenges for financing projects, as well as a requirement outside the HDHO that asks the developers of subdivisions to widen roadways. 

“That has been something we’ve been tracking in [Planning and Zoning] for the last year and a half,” said Martin. “We’ve had multiple minor subdivisions proposed, but they could not move forward due to the costly requirement of paving the public right of way as required by the construction standards. For large developers, this cost can be absorbed without too much impact. But for small mom-and-pop applicants, this is often a deal breaker.”

Commissioner Bill Winfield, who has many years of experience as a contractor, emphasized the challenges due to financing, saying, “These projects take a lot of money upfront, and many [local] developers don’t have that kind of money.”

Local developers and realtors wrote in and spoke during the meeting, with some also asking for changes to HDHO requirements that homes be purchased by Grand County workers.

“That’s a tougher issue, I think,” said Vice Chair Kevin Walker. 

Commissioner Evan Clapper agreed, saying that there were plenty of people looking for housing in Grand County that fit the eligibility requirements laid out in the HDHO. 

“It wasn’t designed to be a retirement program,” said Clapper. “It wasn’t designed to attract unemployed college students…I don’t want to see out-of-town remote workers that are getting Bay Area wages or Manhattan wages to compete with the guys scrubbing the dishes on Main Streets.”

The commission directed the Planning & Zoning Department to prioritize challenges to financing and identifying requirements that may not be appropriate for smaller developments. A joint meeting of the county commission and the planning commission was slated to be scheduled. 

“I think [starting with] the lower hanging fruit, it’s going to be a little bit less controversial,” Walker said. “It would be nice to make quick progress on some things. But we’re not going to stop there.”