In their regular meeting on Tuesday, February 22, the Buena Vista Board of Trustees voted to approve two more changes to the Municipal Code and Unified Development Code (UDC) as well as the extension of the condominium moratorium originally set in August of 2021.
Multifamily Dwellings in Highway Commercial Zone District
The first proposed change the board heard would amend certain sections of Title 16 of the Municipal Code to allow for large multifamily dwellings (five or more units) in the Highway Commercial (H-C) zone district. This change was originally part of four proposed changes the board was presented within their January 25, 2022, meeting.
Planning Director Joseph Teipel explained that, currently, there is no option for a stand-alone apartment building in the H-C zone district. The proposed changes would allow for an exemption from the current mixed-use requirement if they prohibit more than 30 percent of units from becoming condominiums. They can also reduce the required parking for a project if they restrict availability to buyers making no more than 120 percent of the adjusted median income (AMI).
The goal of this change, as well as the others discussed in both the January 25 and February 8 meetings, are to increase the amount of available long-term housing in the town.
“The ability and the existence of multi-family in our town right now is pretty limited,” said Teipel. “This is one example of an opportunity we’re using to increase housing options.”
Trustee Devin Rowe said he felt it was a great way to utilize space and properties that just have vacant land in town that they’re not using.
“Having apartments along the highway, or behind buildings for a lot of them, will be great,” he said. “A lot of the sidewalk is already in place…The only issue I would say is the incentive to have less parking,” Rowe added. “I would wonder where they would park.”
Principal Planner Mark Doering clarified that it was just a reduction in minimum parking, and Mayor Duff Lacy said that it also gave them the deed restriction to keep the units as affordable housing.
“It is lowering the minimum threshold that is needed,” Doering said. “That’s not to say that there isn’t an opportunity for the developer to provide more [parking].”
Trustee Dave Volpe said that while he agreed with what the town was trying to do, they had just voted to spend $47,000 on a code audit in seven months.
“I don’t know why we would rush to approve this or the next [proposed change] that’s coming up when we can just couch them in the toolbox that’s going to be reviewed in seven months,” he said. “In Business Item B, the code audit is cited is as a reason to act now, but we’re asked to disregard the code audit for these two items, and I don’t understand why we would rush through this…I don’t have any issue with the proposals, I just don’t know why we’re piecemealing it rather than waiting for a comprehensive discussion on it.”
Rowe said that he saw Volpe’s point, but didn’t see how the audit would change the outcome. Trustee Cindy Swisher voiced her own concerns about water use and where that would go but expressed gratitude that the height was restricted.
The board voted 5-1 to approve the change, with Volpe voicing the only “no” vote.
Single Room Occupancy
Single Room Occupancy (SRO) has previously not been available as a zoning option. Teipel explained that SROs would allow for more flexible rentals, seasonal use, and housing diversity. He added that the change could also allow the town to bring nonconforming buildings up to safety and building codes over time.
One of the major concerns brought up by the board on January 25 was short-term rental (STR) use in SROs. Teipel said they brought forward two versions of the ordinance, one allowing STRs capped based on the number of units in the building and one not allowing STRs at all in SRO-zoned units. Teipel said that the STR allowance would increase the likelihood that SROs are used as a zone.
Town Administrator Phillip Puckett said that this conversation has been going on for a while.
“We are aware of dorm-like scenarios in our town, especially for seasonal staff,” he said. “And there was a desire to amend the code or come forward with a code proposal to make that a legitimate use so we could guide people through how to structure that in compliance with the code — as opposed to being something that just does not have a definition in our code.”
Town Attorney Jeff Parker clarified that if something isn’t listed in the code, it isn’t allowed.
Trustee Libby Fay noted that in the Municipal Code, STRs can be an entire structure or two or fewer rooming units, and she wondered if it could be limited to two STRs total, regardless of how many rooming units there were in a building. Special Project Manager Joel Benson clarified that allowing three or more STR units in a building with eight or more rooming units would go against the code.
During public comment, Mark Jenkins said he wanted the board to be wary of rejecting STRs. “I think [STRs] is a great incentive for someone who might have a property that could offer a few SROs but still give them that option to have the STR, and maybe that way it could be affordable,” he said. “I think it’s worth it to maybe give up an STR or two to have more SROs.”
“I totally understand that the STR helps bring in financial vitality for the property owner,” said Trustee Gina Lucrezi. “I wonder if there’s another way we can incentivize that.”
Rowe said that in a group rental situation, those involved have a say. SRO renters might not have that same ability.
“I see this as a way where renters wouldn’t necessarily have a say in who is living with them in a house,” he said. “I have a hard time being supportive of that because it gives more power to the landlord and less power to the renter…If there are STRs in that house as well, you have no say in what kind of people are coming and going from the property you live in…I don’t really support this because I feel like this makes it harder on the renters who live here.”
The first motion, to accept the ordinance with a limit of two STRs to align with the code, failed 2-4. The second motion, to approve the ordinance for SROs with no STRs allowed, passed 4-2.
Condominium Moratorium Extended
The board heard a report and a request for action on the soon-to-expire condominium moratorium. During the Board’s August 24 meeting, the board voted unanimously to adopt an emergency six-month moratorium on the acceptance, processing, and approval of applications to convert existing buildings to condominiums.
Attorney Parker said that the longer the condo moratorium goes without reasonable progress, the less justification there is for one, so town staff wanted them to consider their options and prepare to make progress.
The board voted unanimously to extend the moratorium for another six months. Fay and Lacy clarified that they would be prioritizing finding a solution, and would work with staff for a timeline.
The board’s next regular meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. on March 8, with a 6:00 p.m. work session on Historic Preservation Commission Architectural Design Guidelines. No decisions will be made during the work session. Meeting agendas and information packets can be found on the town website.