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Among the many items on the recent agenda for the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) was their review and approval of an adjustment to the county’s definitions of Area Median Income (AMI) to match the realities that Chaffee county is now considered to be described as a “Rural Resort” community.

The BoCC was asked to evaluate the proposed AMI petition (adjustment) for the county to submit to the state for consideration; it’s due to the state October 15.

The Alpine West Major Planned Subdivision Development plan may still have more changes to it before the hearing, continued to Oct. 18.

The state of Colorado default AMI is 60 percent for those seeking to rent, and 100 percent AMI for those attempting to purchase a home. The problem, based on the most recent Chaffee Housing Needs Assessment survey, with the increase in housing costs in Chaffee County — buyers who want to purchase in new housing areas such as the Alpine West Development have to have an AMI of 140 percent to be able to buy a home.

“The ownership AMI is 120 to 140 percent,” said Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA) Executive Director Ashley Kappel. “This focuses in on the “missing middle” contingent that hasn’t yet been the focus of our housing needs assessments. We’ve been focused on the 30-60 percent AMI — the very bottom of need.”

“This is our middle workforce,” said Chaffee Deputy Administrator Beth Helmke.  “This redefines low income at the 120 percent AMI. Our experience here in this county is that this is low-income. In the rest of the state it’s 60 percent AMI.” She added that the structure of the final application could impact how many housing units  in developments such as Alpine West could then be deed-restricted.

“I’ve been a champion of this,” said Commissioner P.T. Wood. “We need to be looking at a broader range of housing – I took a look at the listings this past weekend and its like $500,000 for the cheapest house in the valley.”

The BoCC noted that the sketch plan for the Alpine West project was approved last October in a two-step process; Planning Commission approval followed by a final subdivision application running concurrently. Approval of an AMI adjustment now would help qualify the project to apply for a grant, but before the BoCC gives final approval of the project itself.

“I think this is a situation where we can distinguish between them – in no way diminishing our vigilance and intentionality in dealing with the plan, holding the developer to the same standards we’d hold anyone to,” said Commissioner Greg Felt. “Acknowledging that the way this is set up by the state, I don’t know how we can achieve the goals we’ve set up, except by adding ‘provided the developer meets with our approval’, we support shifting the AMI and approving the request for a $1.2M grant.

“It’s the same parallel of approving grant monies coming in for the county,” said County Attorney Daniel Tom.”We’re supporting infrastructure, not a specific project.”

“We need to make it clear – now – that this is not tandem to approving any specific development. This is enabling to make it more accessible to people with limited income. It does not amount to a final approval, nor is it making a promise to approve any additional projects,” said Commissioner Keith Baker.

“The actual land will be owned by the CHA, not the developer,” added Kappel. “This grant application is to land-bank the land so we the CHA can provide housing at some point. This is an opportunity to take a partnership forward – I know you can’t approve the zoning change now, we just want to bank the land.”

“I fully support expanding those AMI options,” added Wood. “That just requires some thumbs up.”

“Our initial understanding was that the AMI average crossed the county – but now it is based on the project [Alpine West] itself – because of that you almost can’t look at them separately, but the petition doesn’t mean that the design is approved, or the zoning changed,” said Kappel.

“The first ask is relative to the AMI adjustment – so it is on record,” clarified Baker. “The staff summary in our packet says there is no action required now – yes?

In the end the BoCC unanimously approved the adjustment of the county’s AMI definitions for this particular application to allow the CHA to work with the county to apply for a $1.2M grant, that if awarded, would allow it to begin to landbank for future middle-income housing.